“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, after asking 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 in Vis island.
The owner of this small, family-run hotel 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 yoghurt 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 savoured in the train.
Do read – Two week itinerary for Croatia
San Giorgio has several delightful and serene spots to have breakfast. This delightful hotel is filled with interesting art and is surrounded with a lush garden.
Transfer from Hvar
We had taken a small boat for a quick transfer from Hvar to Vis and that turned out to be an exhilarating experience. 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 vigour perhaps was more because of trying to keep my feet planted solid 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.
Leaving Hvar town
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. My husband went on a thrilling cycling trip with Marko one morning.
Military Tour, an experience unique to Vis
For this, 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 dilapidated house, once occupied by Marshall Tito
En route to the picturesque Komiza village, we stopped at a mountainside used extensively for rock climbing. The site within was used as a broadcasting station in the erstwhile Yugoslavia rule.
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!
The best view of Komiza village and its surroundings is from Mount Hum – the highest mountain in Vis.
Close to the mountain Hum, is the site for Tito’s cave (surprisingly, one of the few military sites that is 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.
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.
The 920 feet long bunker, built to protect Tito from nuclear attack.
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.
For our second and last day in Vis, we decided to have a big breakfast and 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 harbour was chock-a-block with yatchts. On the other side towards the route to Fort Georgia, many private yachts were docked, with music blaring and people sunning and enjoying themselves on the decks.
Food in Vis
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.
My first experience of selecting a fish from a platter, to be grilled.
Hotel San Giorgio has its own restaurant, where my daughter enjoyed black ravioli with shrimps.
And we went to the very scenic Lola for dinner (reservation recommended). Their offering is more fusion and a combination of several flavours. I had salmon and hake, cooked 2 ways. And my husband was satisfied with his choice of pork belly.
At the charming Lola
Are you headed to Plitvice Lakes National Park? If so, do read about the travel tips to beat the crowds there.
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.
Which Croatian island is your favourite?
Subscribe to Zest In A Tote Digest, my monthly newsletter, for travel tips and inspiration.