“Don’t worry about your luggage. It is the safest place in Europe,” exclaimed the man behind the counter.
We had reached Hotel San Giorgio, in Vis island, Croatia after asking a few people for instructions and rolling our suitcases over the cobbled street to its entrance. The man behind the counter introduced himself as Dino and quickly took us through the salient features of the charming hotel that was to be our base on Vis island.
The owner of this small, family-run hotel in Vis Croatia barely speaks any English but was helpful in selecting a ravioli dish for my daughter. Imagine our surprise when he woke up to see us off when we were leaving the island and handed us a heavy bag – sandwiches, water, fruit and yogurt for the journey. It reminded me of train journeys taken in India as a kid when the family would bundle up goodies in a box to be savored on the train.
Transfer from Hvar
Both Hvar and Vis island were part of our Croatia family vacation itinerary. We had taken a small boat for a quick transfer from Hvar to Vis and that turned out to be an exhilarating experience. Post all the Hvar sightseeing, it was great to be out on the sea. The open sea was a bit choppy and the 3 suitcases our captain had stored in the front rocked quite a bit during the journey. The skipper was Macedonian and shrugged when I pointed out that none of us had any lifejackets on in the open sea. But I couldn’t fault his knowledge of the routes around the islands, or his sure hand on the wheel.
“So are you from India?”. He asked and I nodded vigorously (the vigor perhaps was more because of trying to keep my feet planted solidly on the boat and not sway)
“I recently saw an Indian movie”, he added.
I was surprised.
“Lion”, he admitted.
Ah, not Bollywood then. But an international movie set in India with Dev Patel in the lead. I had caught it on the flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb. We both agreed it was an emotional roller-coaster, and well directed.
Vis island in Croatia: experience the authentic feel
Home to about 3000 people, Vis is amongst the furthest inhabited islands and not one on the direct ferry route from either Split or Dubrovnik. That said, it has an interesting history. Vis’s geographical location – a series of islands on one side and open seas on another – made it a meeting point for navigation routes since ancient times. Greeks, Romans, Croats, Venetian republic, Austrian rule, French rule, Italian rule – the island has seen it all.
From 1950 until 1989, it served as the Yugoslav National Army’s base, out of bounds to foreign visitors. It still has the air of an unspoilt paradise.
Cycling is big in Vis. From renting-cycles-for-few-hours to explore Vis town or Komiza to off-road inclines and steep declines across the island for the serious cyclists, Vis offers it all.
For our second day in Vis, we decided to rent cycles – there are multiple agencies to book from, you would find many near the main promenade in both Vis and Komiza. A lazy day spent cycling, people watching, listening to the water lapping and taking it real slow. Some yachting event was happening on the island; I didn’t get the details of this event but noticed that the vis town harbor was chock-a-block with yachts.
Do read – Active Croatia: Sea Kayaking, Cycling and Diving adventures
Things to do in Vis: Take the Military Tour
Because of its unique history, Vis island that many interesting sites that can be visited as part of a Military tour.
For the Military Tour, we went with the recommendation of Dino at our hotel and were happy with his choice. Nikola from the agency came to pick us up in a sturdy jeep. Nikola, a political science student, with one grandfather from the island, was knowledgeable both about the island and Croatia in general. It was interesting to hear his opinions on how the period under Tito and united Yugoslavia had shaped Croatia and what the people were facing now vs. the communist rule.
The first site that we went was not a military one, but a house that was used by Marshall Tito when he was in Vis. I was quite surprised that the government has left the house in ruins and not put any signs to mark the home of the erstwhile commander or done any repairs so that more tourists would visit. Nikola’s opinion was that the ownership issue of the house couldn’t be settled and that it was too expensive to repair the place.
The best view on Vis island
Close to the mountain Hum is the site for Tito’s cave (surprisingly, one of the few military sites that are well marked on the island). We didn’t go to the caves because Nikola believed it would be too arduous for my 6-year-old to climb the 200 plus steps to reach the caves. His skepticism and wariness of “communist propaganda” shone through when he informed us that he did not believe that Tito lived in those caves as a young fighter running away from the Italian fascists.
We spent some time walking the promenade and the streets of the pretty town of Komiza. My daughter had a chocolate ice-cream from a stand on the main promenade, it was the best dark chocolate she had tasted in Croatia!
Have you visited a nuclear bunker and a submarine dock?
The next stop was an eerie experience! A visit to a bunker dug 920 feet deep into a mountain, to protect Tito and the country’s ruling class from nuclear attacks.
“There are no poisonous animals inside. Just a few albino insects, you should ignore them”. With this Nikola plunged into the bunker and we followed suit.
It is an astounding complex – designed to allow more than 300 people to live and work for six months without even coming up for air. It had its own water supply, generators, and air conditioning system.
Our last stop in this 4-hour tour was the abandoned Submarine Pen, near Vis town. The submarine dock is perhaps one of the most noticeable of the remnants left behind after the demilitarization of the island, cut deep into a mountainside.
We had come to Vis for the slow and authentic island life that was expected; this military tour had turned out to be an informative and immersive experience.
Food in Vis, Croatia
Fresh seafood is available all over the island, as can be expected. We had a delightful meal at the recommended restaurant Pojoda – grilled fish and shrimps and swiss chard as a side.
Hotel San Giorgio has its own restaurant, where my daughter enjoyed black ravioli with shrimps. Check this post for more local Croatian food dishes to try, both from the continental part of the country and from the coast /islands.
And we went to the very scenic Lola for dinner (reservation recommended). Their offering is more fusion and a combination of several flavors. I had salmon and hake, cooked 2 ways. And my husband was satisfied with his choice of pork belly.
It is said that Zadar has the best sunsets in Croatia. We didn’t visit Zadar during this trip, but Vis gave us quite a spectacular show on our last evening. If you are looking for more Croatian islands to visit from Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar or Rijeka, check out this post.
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Are you headed to Plitvice Lakes National Park? If so, do read about the travel tips to beat the crowds there.
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I’d never heard of Vis island, but I haven’t yet made it to Croatia, and Split/Dubrovnik are always at the front of my mind. I always love to visit offbeat places so the nuclear bunker would be top of my list – you got some great pictures and it is good to see another side of what is otherwise a very beautiful place.
Thanks, Sam. I hope you do make it to Croatia soon. It is a gorgeous country.
wow what a wonderful experience! I have seen other posts on Croatia but this one I had not seen. Sometimes you have the best experience in places like these that are far off, and sparsely located. That is the very charm of it!
Not too many tourists go to Vis. But you are right – at times, experiences in off-beat places can be amazing.
Have heard so much about Split, Zaghreb and Dubrovsnik, but Vis sounds equally fantastic! And I must say you had an incredible and hospitable host! A takeaway meal is always cherished! Really looking forward to plan Croatia soon =)
Yes, such an unexpected and kind gesture on their part.
I’m heading to Croatia for the very first time this summer and I cannot wait. I’ve not ever heard of Vis, but now I know that this is one of the places I want to visit while we’re there! Mount Hum with the view of the village sounds absolutely wonderful.
Have a great time Page. And feel free to email if you need any help or recommendations for Croatia. We went to Zagreb, Plitvice, Split, Hvar, Vis, Ston and Dubrovnik.
Vis looks like a pretty big island from that viewpoint that you had. The sunset is beautiful, too. We’ve been to Croatia a handful of times, but not to many of the islands. We’d like to go back to explore some of the islands.
Jennifer, the Croatian islands are too many to explore. Each with its unique characteristics. Which one have you been to?
Hmmm, I’ve heard of Hvar but never heard of Vis island. Not surprising though. There are so many small islands in Croatia. I just returned form a long trip through the Balkans but I would love to go back and explore Croatia at length. Beautiful photos!
With over a 1000 islands, you are spoilt for choice! I would love to go back to explore more of the Balkans.
That was really an spectacular view! Love the color of the sky! It’s like welcoming you! Oh, never heard of Vis before, just now while reading your post! Croatia is one of our target places to visit next year in Europe because they have nice islands, yes! And I’d also like to taste the sweetest chocolate ice cream like your daughter had! Indeed you had a great time sightseeing here. It’s always so nice to discover and explore places!
Cathy, not too many tourists go to Vis because it is further than the other popular islands – Hvar, Brac, Korcula, Mljet. The good part is whatever islands you choose for your visit, you are bound to have a fab time.
Unfortunately I’ve never been to Croatia but I’d love to go. A good friend of mine goes sailing there every spring and I’ll tell him about Vis for a future visit. I never heard him about it so doubt he has been …
Sailing in the Adriatic sea, that’s the life, your friend is lucky!
I love finding local places like the one you stayed. Even when they can’t speak English I find them so hospitable. It was so nice of him to find the ravioli for you daughter and send you off with a packed lunch!
San Giorgio is a hotel, but a family-run one. That packed lunch was so unexpected and charming!
OMG, it is SOOOOO pretty! I visited Croatia a few times and was never disappointed. The bunker looked super interesting too, I’ve never visited one before!
It was my first visit to a nuclear bunker as well. Imagine all the money and effort to build something that Tito never saw in his lifetime.
Lovely post. Glad you ended with the pics of the sunset at Vis, the bunkers made me feel quite queasy – however did Tito & Co. plan to live down there ! Very interesting tidbit of history in between all the travel info, enjoyed it. Zen
Only in the case of a nuclear attack, I am told. He never got to see the finished bunker!
Seems I need to visit the place 👍
Hvar is more you! But do visit Croatia someday with Rita – you would love it.