Discover the best things to do on Vis island with our insider’s tips on dining, diving and drinking
Written by Time Out contributors , Marc Rowlands & Justin McDonnell
The remote, rockyisland ofVishas ended its years of isolation and the tourists it now welcomes seek a different, more authentic experience than elsewhere in Dalmatia. Yachters and Hollywood stars might mingle around the marina, but you can easily find your own slice of paradise away from the clicking paparazzi. Secluded beaches, sunlit caves and succulent lobster make the longer crossing from Split well worth the occasionally choppy journey.
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The best things to do on Vis
1.Visit Tito’s cave
Almost halfway to Italy, Vis has always been of significant strategic importance. It is also rocky and isolated –which is why World War II leader Tito chose one of its caves for his headquarters. For several months from November 1943, with the war still in the balance, Tito and his Partisans were holed up here, planning attacks and devising strategies. The site, though poorly maintained and signposted, can be visited, either as part of a tour group or individually. You’ll find it as you approach Mount Hum from Podšpilje (Under the cave), where steps lead from a sharp bend in the road. There’s little evidence of his presence nor of the visit of writer Evelyn Waugh in 1944.
2.Marvel at the Blue cave
If Vis has one tourist attraction that everyone mentions, it’s Biševo. Set south-west of Komiža, an hour or so’s sail away, this sparsely inhabited island is invaded every day in summer between 11am and noon. The reason for such precise time-keepingis the natural phenomenon that occurs just as the sun is reaching its peak. Tourist boats plan their arrival at the mouth of the Blue cave (Modra špilja)for good reason. At a certain moment, it becomes flooded in blue light, everyone goes ‘wow!’ and some even dive in. It’s a sure-fire winner, and one that keeps the Komiža tourist agencies busy, arranging day tours that comprise lunch and an afternoon at the beach.
The best pizzeria on Vis, arguably in all of Croatia, since gaining its reputation on the islandKarijolahas spawned two popular branches in Zagreb. The founding principle is the same, though here you get a raised terrace with a gorgeous sea view and lashings of local Vugava wine from Roki’s. Named after the carriage that sturdy porters would use to transport tourist trunks from boat to hotel, Karijola makes best use of fresh greens and tomatoes, smoked hams and anchovies, their pizzas served amid soft lighting and chill-out music.
4.Bowl a few overs
On an island of historic anomalies, perhaps the strangest is the modern-day revival of the cricket club that was established on Vis by British sailors around the time of Napoleon. To keep his men busy during their six-year posting here, naval commander Sir William Hoste organised games of cricket, finding time in between to defeat French forces at the Battle of Issa in 1811. The story inspired a Croatian-Australian wine merchant living in Vis town to put a team together and play a series of fixtures every summer. Non-members are welcome to watch, umpire or even take part.
5.Bar crawl Škor
Few come to Vis for the nightlife – stay in Split for that – but the Komiža should have just enough action to keep most barflies buzzing. Its centrepiece is the landmark bar of the same name, Komiža’s hidden square of Škor, tucked in behind the seafront, is where to load up on a few drinks until the wee hours. Škor at No.11 will also show the football and probably spin the best tunes, but that varies from summer to summer. It’s also the only place with any kind of interior – everything else takes place across the overlapping terraces of three otherwise tiny venues.
6.Sail like the locals
One of the more unusual and unique outdoor activities arranged by the island's Alternatura company is the chance to spend a week sailing a traditional gajeta fishing boat (pictured), the kind used by Vis fishermen for generations. On the first day, you’re shown the ropes, tools and tricks, plus the principles of using a triangular lateen sail (as used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans). After that, you’ve a memorable agenda ahead of you, taking in the Blue cave, Green cave and numerous isolated bays and coves. You will also be shown how to fish like a native and if successful, you'll be able to cook up your catch on the beach.
7.Pick out prime lobster
If one venue can be singled out to define the transformation of Vis from remote, unsung outpost to wholly contemporary tourist destination, it’s Komiža’s Konoba Jastožera. Attracting foreign custom now for the best part of two decades, this former lobster pothouse (Jastožera) has built its whole business on the spiny crustacean, serving it with spaghetti, with four sauces, or as the prime attraction on a platter alongside other seafood. Diners, perched on planks which are lapped by the waves, may also choose the squid, fish or steak – but it’s the lobster most are here for.
8.Meet the ancient Greeks
The prime historic attraction in Vis town is surrounded by fortified evidence of the Habsburg's presence here in the mid-1800s. Within the Austrian-built battery, the archaeological museum houses finds from around 400BC, when the Greek tyrant Dionysus the Elder founded the colony of Issa here. The prize exhibit is the bronze head of Artemis, Greek goddess of the hunt. Other treasures, found on land and in clear seas, relate to the wine and fishing industries that have obviously been essential to island life here for well over 2,000 years.
For bars go to Hvar, for fish come to Vis. While there’s more than a grain of truth in this simple dictum – you wouldn’t find Prince Harry letting his freak flag fly in Komiža – there’s one bar right on the seafront that has been a reliable provider of messy drinking sessions since before the tourist boom. Bejbiis usually the last place to close in Komiža, offering a nice mix of locals and internationals, a fine excuse to get wasted, get acquainted and dance on tables should occasion demand. There’s no VIP room, no valet parking and no snobby attitude from staff or regulars. This is a bar. It does what it says on the tin.
10.Find a sunken wreck
With no industry, in fact, practically little modern-day activity, having occurred on Vis for much of the 20th-century, the waters around the island have remained crystal clear. As a result, the diving here is outstanding. Given the rocky coastline here, it's no surprise that many a boat has come to grief and interesting dive sites are therefore plentiful. But the prime find here, for experienced divers only, is a huge Flying Fortress plane (pictured) that went down over Cape Polivalo one night in November 1944. Now sunk to a depth of 70 metres, it’s visible from way above, its exterior remarkably intact. The Komiža-based Issa Diving Center can also take you on dives to more accessible wrecks, such as to the Greek cargo ship Vassilios which you can enter with the aid of an underwater lamp.
Ispod peke is a particular way of cooking native to Dalmatia. The peka is a long-handled pan with a dome-shaped lid that is placed with great delicacy into a mound of fiery coals and hot ashes. Whatever’s inside it – ideally octopus, veal or lamb, sometimes fish – is then slow-braised over several hours, bringing out all the juices and natural flavours. Having ordered earlier in the day, diners are then treated – ta-da – to one of the most divine dishes they’ll find around the Mediterranean. The best place to sample this specialty is the wonderful Konoba Roki’s, opened by a Croatian-Australian near a former RAF airstrip at Plisko polje, a short drive south of Vis Town. The restaurant also lays on transport for groups of four or more.
12.See Vis from its highest point
Hiking tours can take you to the top ofMount Hum–or almost. The highest point on the island, just behind Komiža, Hum is 587 metres above sea level, its pristine, panoramic views precisely why there is a military installation up there. Just below, the Church of the Holy Spirit is the perfect place to plot up and rest from your climbing exertions. All of Vis will be spread out below, as well as the sea and surrounding islands. It’s also possible to drive up there –but that’s cheating.
13.Kayak to the Green cave
Conveniently set a few hundred metres from the south-eastern tip of Vis, the outcrop of Ravnik is a favourite destination for sea-kayakers. It’s not just the short distance or relative ease of crossing for beginners –like Biševo on the other side of Vis, Ravnik is home to a strange natural phenomenon involving its rock formation and the passage of the sun. At the southern edge of the islet, the Green cave (Zelena špilja) is bathed in emerald-coloured light that floods through an opening in the top and spreads around the water. Sea kayak tours generally start here, then head round to secluded Stiniva Bay for beach time and a spot of lunch.
On a terrace just above Pod Kalifota beach, the seaside Konoba Bako provides some of the fanciest food in Komiža. In the gorgeous seaside setting - tables intermingled with pine trees and tall lamps - you are served with fresh langouste lobsters, (grilled, broiled or served in brudet- a Dalmatian stew). You can also opt for grilled grouper, snapper, rockfish or breaded anglerfish, perhaps prefaced by octopus cooked in the house wine. If all places are taken outside – try and make a point of reserving – within, you’ll find a display of ancient Greek and Roman artifacts recovered from the deep by the restaurant’s founder, Tonko Borčić Bako, who has dived here for decades.
15.Climb the Red Rocks
Behind Komiža, the Red Rocks (Crvene stijene) contain more than a dozen trails to suit all levels of fitness and experience, from beginners to experienced free climbers. Several agencies in Komiža offer guided excursions led by experts who show you the ropes, literally – you can even try your hand at abseiling. The reward, of course, is the unsurpassable view from the top. Helmets and equipment are all provided.
16.Taste the finest Vugava
Vis is known for two wines: the full-flavoured red Plavac Mali and the dry white Vugava, cultivated in the island’s sandy soil for thousands of years. Leading its modern-day revival has been local winemaker Antonio Lipanović. Not only are his labels the ones to look out for on any restaurant wine list, but his tasting rooms are unique - right at the mouth of a network of military tunnels blasted out by Tito after 1945. Lipanović produces both unoaked and barrel-fermented varieties and is happy to advise customers who are visiting by appointment.
17.Discover Croatia’s last formerly inhabited island
Until fairly recently, the year 2000 in fact, the Zanki family lived on the remote island of Sveti Andrija, 14 nautical miles from Komiža. Also called Svetac, it was here that several generations of Zankis eeked out a living from fishing and viticulture from the mid-1700s onwards. After the last resident died, members of the family (who now live a less rugged life in Komiža) still visit in the summer months to maintain the simple stone houses of their forefathers. Agencies in Komiža offer boat tours, docking at Pozlov Buk and showing visitors the ancient fortifications of Illyrian Queen Teuta. Luckier tourists might spot a rare Eleanora Falcon, known to breed here before the annual migration to Madagascar.
Named after the English king who famously lost America, Fort George was built by the British in Napoleonic times. Abandoned for generations, Fort George was recently reconfigured and reopened and now houses the Sunset Bar & Club, an open-air drinking lounge with spectacular views and superb cocktails. Live bands, mainly domestic acts, play on Friday nights and DJs spin party music most nights through the summer. There’s also a restaurant and art gallery.
19.Snack on sardine specialities
If you’re feeling peckish during the day or need a couple of tasty bites for the beach, the humbleViška pogačais the ideal purchase. A square of focaccia-like bread filled with sardines, tomatoes, onions and perhaps a little garlic, it’s just enough to allow you to skip lunch and last out until dinnertime. Thepogačais also a nod towards the traditional local economy –for generations, fishermen sailed out as far as remote Palagruža in search of huge shoals of sardines.
One of the most bizarre experiences you can have on Vis is to book a meal chez Karuza, a completely isolated eaterie set in the remote and picturesque cove of Mala Travna on the southern part of the island. Here chef-owner Karuza, a Robinson Crusoe character and well known Croatian writer, runs the Restoran Senko. More culinary show than a conventional restaurant, his few guests are treated to an interactive meal that can last several hours and often includes discussions on Vis's natural assets that can diverge to touch on social history and geography as well as gastronomy. Helping everything along will be lashings of own-made wine and grappa and, naturally, food. Freshly caught fish usually features, the menu based on daily supplies and highlighting traditional Vis dishes such as smoke-cured fish soup (brodettos) and fish grilled over olive-wood and vine embers. It’s not gourmet, the facilities are basic and you’ll need a taxi or boat to get there – but it is, quite simply, unique.
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