I first visited Vis in 2006 with my boyfriend and we loved it so much, we bought a 350 year old stone house that was partly in ruins on a street called Pirate street. I suppose our love affair with Vis was then like any newly minted romance, based much on lust and the immediate. In this case it was the crystal navy blue sea , the smell of wildflowers , the charming towns and vineyards and the sense that you were removed far from the world, in a time warp where clocks and calendars don’t matter.
Years passed and I learnt there was much more to love and appreciate about this island than first met the eye. Dalmats,Greeks and Romans had been inhabiting it since 3 thousand years BC and back then it was called Issa but when the Croats arrived it became known as Vis .The island fell to many nations and armies including a spell with a British occupation that was responsible for some cool fortresses.
In the second World War the Communist party led by Tito used the island as a military base , digging numerous submarine tunnels and bunkers honeycombing the subterranean in intriguing ways.
However this strategic importance came with a price for Vis, the island was out of bounds to foreign tourists for 45 years and economy was funneled into the upkeep of military. Vis became the juicy forbidden apple until the 1990 Balkan war and the dawn of Croatia’s independence. The island looked so untouched when we first visited since tourism was practically non existent .
But perhaps now it has to do with the fact that it is situated about 2 1/2 hours away from the mainland and Split by a ferry boat!
Vis is comprised of two townships , Vis and Komiza .Everyone has their favourite and of course Vis is mine because our house is there and I love Kut where it lays ; a hamlet where most houses are from the 16th century and stone staircases tightly meander around ancient stone that once belonged to the nobility . There is a wonderful architectural feel to this area that is lovely to walk through at night .However Komiza , on the other side of the island is also beguiling with it’s streets that drop off straight down into the ocean , the looming mountain behind it and a salty fisherman vibe about it that is more arty and dangerous than the main port of Vis.
Beyond the towns little villages dot the coastline, tiny and quiet and over the mountain lies a lush valley full of vineyards , pheasants and bees where homesteads hold little tavernas. These people are fiercely tied to the slow food movement and value how the food is handled. They all have their own marvelous wood fired grills, herb gardens and wine and here is where you will find the soul of Vis food .There is many of these family run restaurants but my favourite is Darko’s. He is a man who keeps his own goats and makes his own cheese, wine from his vineyard,cherry, myrtle and numerous aromatic herb liqueur concoctions and wild horta weeds he forages for his delicious salads . This is a bawdy man with a great heart who will go and catch an octopus for you if you so wish to try it under the peka , an ancient way of cooking under an iron bell covered with ambers. Everything i’ve tried there has been simply delicious. I also love to eat at Stoncica , a lovely little outdoor restaurant on a small sandy cove a rocky walk from the nearest car park or a leisurely swim from a yacht . There is something about this place that turns out the best grilled fish on the island; crispy but incredibly tender and juicy.
There are many beaches around the island, some of which we are still discovering. The coves dot the rocky coast and are strikingly pretty, the best ones hidden in pine forests, down incredible rock climbs or only accessible by boat. Somehow the more grueling the find the sweeter the experience is . I remember going to visit a particularly pretty beach we climbed for half an hour to reach . When we got down there we realized that the way up would take much longer to ascend again so we surrendered sweating on the beach ,jumped in the cool sea , pulled out our crusty brown bread, slab of dalmatian prosciutto , a sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag ( a national treasure ) , some tomatoes and a lovely bottle of savoury local red called Plavac. Suddenly the climb up didn’t matter at all as we whiled away the hours swimming, snacking and drinking.
My favourite beaches are Srebrena and Stoncica, but I also love Milna or any rocky outcrop away from the crowds. One year we visited the Blue Grotto on the nearby island of Bisevo, a little daytrip from Komiza where I got the overwhelming desire to jump in naked Blue Lagoon style into the depths of the sea cave…
In the years to come I solemnly swear to go foraging more – for wild fennel, herbs, figs, blackberries and pomegranates …and hopefully build my own wood fired grill . Grilled sardines for breakfast like my neighbours who pull them out of nets at 5 am then wake us up with offerings of their fresh catch golden fried at 8 am… And ofcourse lie around in the sunshine and do nothing at all !