Travel: Step back in time on the island getaway of Vis, Croatia
- Credit: Archant
I daresay most discerning travellers are au fait with the delights of Croatia’s Dalmatian coast by now.
Hvar, at least, seems to be where everyone from my office is going on holiday (obviously I’m at pains to tell them I first went years ago).
But in neighbouring Vis you have a beautiful island which, due to a well-documented accident of history, really is like stepping back in time.
The reason? Well, during the turbulent recent history of Croatia (then part of Yugoslavia) Tito, the people’s dictator, used Vis as a military base.
As a result, the place was closed off from foreigners, and even domestic visitors, from the end of World War II until the early ‘90s.
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A fantastic legacy of this is the myriad military installations and tunnels scattered throughout the island, including a Thunderbirds style naval base buried deep in the rock, where boats can literally sail in and out of the island.
While the hordes of tourists are slowly creeping back, Pomalo still looks likely to retain its laid-back nature.
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Pomalo – a Croatian word which roughly approximates as a combination of easy, slowly, no problem, maybe tomorrow, relax, and so on – really sums up the feel of Vis.
The people are of few words, but incredibly helpful; witness my search for some painkillers as an example. The only shop for miles around didn’t have any, so a man in the queue invited me to his house to borrow some. I ended up staying for a cool beer and a chin wag in the late afternoon sun.
Right from the off, the easy-going pace is evident. Disembarking from the boat, there’s no one touting to sell their apartments or taxis.
In fact, the place was devoid of anyone apart from an old gentleman enjoying a beer on a bench.
Even the two main urban conurbations – Vis Town and the picturesque fishing town of Komiza, have an intoxicating, gentle pace of life that’s most infectious.
In fact, struck by this lazy way of life, we barely left our villa for the first couple of days.
Tempera, in the south east of the island, is beautifully furnished and came with every conceivable amenity: air con, cable TV, a huge barbecue, sun deck, private beach, etc.
It really felt like a home from home – particularly when the amiable housekeeper started plying us with the rich, delicious local red, cured meats and coffees.
In fact, Croatian wine is worth another mention – a Government decree limits the export so we hardly see it in London, which is very much our loss.
Luckily one of Vis’s best konobas (small restaurants in family homes that litter the island) was a stone’s throw from our digs.
The lamb is the speciality, but you need to order that hours in advance, so I took one of the villa’s push bikes to this magical wooden shack in the hills to place our order before returning with the wife later on.
The slow-cooked, tender, smokey, wonderful rack was accompanied by lashings of deep local red wine and topped off with a lift home from the grandfather of the house. The whole evening was slow, friendly and delicious - words which I instantly associate with Vis.
When we finally felt up to dragging ourselves from the villa’s luxurious sun traps, we found car hire basically essential, as the attractions are spread around the 90 square kilometre island and public transport is virtually nil.
Luckily the friendly staff at Navigator car hire delivered the vehicle to our house and provided the lowdown on what to do and where. Driving around is an experience in itself – on the wrong side, always a challenge, the roads consist of hairpin bends and narrow one-way passages up mountains with sheer, terrifying drops on the other side.
But once we got the hang of it we were sweeping through old vineyards, gazing down amazing vistas and generally having a whale of a time.
Srebrna (silver) beach is beautiful: shiny grey pebbles twinkle in the sun as the water laps at our toes in the virtually deserted bay. And the drive across the Island to Komiza is stunning, especially at sunset, as is a lazy stroll through this charming old fisherman’s town of cobbled streets and old churches.
For the more adventurous, a trip to the vivid blue caves by speedboat – or the various military installations, including labyrinthine tunnels through the island, missile silos and hidden bunkers – is on the cards.
Budihovac Island, with fresh Lobster cooked by Captain Andro, is a new celebrity haunt apparently and a short boat trip away. But other than that it’s wine-tasting, strolls through vineyards, traversing the island at your own pace. Eating fresh lobster at harbour side cafes or enjoying congenial lunches at the plentiful konobos for a slice of family life.
It’s no place for an adventure holiday, but if you really want to get away from it all and spend the week feeling as though you’re the only people on earth, interacting with the quiet but incredible friendly locals and drinking some of the richest, most flavour packed wine on the planet, then head to Vis.
Hard to believe it’s just a two hour flight away.