Find out about shimmering seas, gastronomic treats and natural wonders. Then discover its fascinating history
The name itself sounds rather like the gush of white wine into a glass or a gasp of amazement. Magically, these notional sounds became realities when dining or gazing at the natural wonders of the island.
Vis is the furthest out to sea of the Dalmatian archipelago and lies 45 kms from Split in Croatia. It is served by ferries and a catamaran (Jadrolinija; www.jadrolinija.hr) and the fastest crossing takes about 90 minutes.
The island used to be a military preserve under Tito’s Yugoslavia and was off limits to foreign visitors until 1989.This meant that it is only really waking up to the tourist potential of this area.
We had decided to base ourselves at Komiza, a small fishing port, 10 kms from Vis Town itself.
It had a dramatic palm-fringed bay, a number of secluded beaches and was surrounded by wooded hillsides. Dominated by a Renaissance Venetian fortress, a cluster of 16th-century houses huddled around the central square and quayside.
There was an uncrowded town beach near the one hotel in the town but we discovered more attractive coves a few hundred yards towards Stupisce. Although beaches were pebbly, the swimming was wonderful in the calm, translucent waters.
Diving was possible at a number of sites around the island (+385 91 2012 731;
www.scubadiving.hr) and Komiza was a popular anchorage for yachts.
The Blue Cave
A helpful tourist office provided us with an excellent map of the area, and through Srebrna Tours (21485 Komiza-o; + 385 21 71 36 68; www.srebrnatours.hr) we booked a tour to the Blue Cave, one of the most impressive attractions in Croatia.
It was located on the now uninhabited island of Bisevo. Excursion boats left at 10am (130 KN; UK£1=8 KN) and after a forty minute trip we reached Mezoporat beach and transferred to smaller boats for the cave exploration.
For a short time from about 11 to 12 the sun shines through a submerged side entrance and reflects off the sea floor creating a luminous turquoise colour in the water. It was, for us, one of nature’s more spectacular theatrical effects.
Around Komiza, the fortress housed an interesting Maritime Museum. Voji Boric the curator, a retired fisherman, gave us an insight into the changing character of the town. Once there had been a thriving sardine fishing fleet with all the land based factories. Now the future lies in fashioning a sustainable tourist industry.
Perched on the side of Mount Hum, the highest hill on the island, the Benedictine Monastery of Saint Nicholas was an attractive viewpoint from which to see the bay, town and the ancient Our Lady of The Pirates church by the beach.
Trails emanated from Komiza and we walked to the San Blaz Chapel which gave spectacular views across the whole island. It was also possible to climb Mount Hum which was the headquarters of Tito during the Partisan struggle in 1944.
With a reliable bus system, a day visit to Vis Town became a possibility. Greek and Roman ruins jostle for attention alongside lovely 17th-century churches and a British fortress. Surprisingly, there was a cemetery dedicated to British servicemen who had died during 19th and 20th century conflicts. Wreaths of poppies on the memorial stones provided a poignant tribute.
Cafes and restaurants were dotted along the promenade and it was possible to swim off the rocks or from a small beach which backed onto the cemetery.
Where to sleep and eat
We chose to stay at Apartment Kolelastra in Komiza which was just one of many self-catering options available on the island. It does get busy in the high season but agencies such as Darlic & Darlic (Ribarska6; +385 21 713 668; www.darlic-travel.hr) have a range of accommodation to choose from.
Lenko and Dubravka were thoughtful and hospitable hosts, collecting us off the ferry and driving us to Komiza. It was a spotlessly clean apartment which had a well equipped kitchen and a spacious balcony with breathtaking views across the bay.
Typically, our day would begin with a visit to the bakery at Trg Krulja Tomislava 1 to get delicious bread, chocolate croissants and pastries filled with cherry jam. We also bought fresh produce from the Green Market and there was a larger supermarket just outside Vis Town.
Hotel Bisevo offers reasonable rates (bed and breakfast from 210 KN) and it is sited next to the beach.
Bako Restaurant (Gunduliceva 1; +385 21 713 008) which had terrace tables right by the water was our favourite haunt. We had tangy lobster in red wine, seafood risotto, with sardine focaccia starters. Nearby, Jastozera (+385 21 713 859; www.jastozera.com), a converted Austro Hungarian-era lobster house had tables which were perched on platforms above the holding pen. It had numerous fish specialities and boasts famous customers like John Malkovich but it was delightfully informal.
Around the harbour there was good value pizza available at Charly’s and it was obligatory to sample some pogaca od srdele (baked anchovy) and viski lib (compressed figs and herbs) at one of the cafes in this area.
The island is justly famous for its white Vulgava and red Viski wine and it is worth sampling its Prosek, a sweet wine with heavenly properties.
In Vis Town we enjoyed the house speciality of seafood stew with beans and pasta at Restaurant Val (Don Cjetka Marasovica; +38521 711 763). Washed down with a half a litre of house white, the bill for two came to a very reasonable 220KN.
Vis has its own community and traditions and it will appeal to the independent traveller and to those with an adventurous streak. Our lasting memory, apart from the gastronomic treats, will be the glittering sea glimpsed from a variety of different vantage points around the island.