Closed to the world until 1991, Vis is for many Dalmatia’s most charming island. Military history, a fascinating cricket story and much more. Discover Vis!

The perfect island – welcome to Vis!

What is the perfect relationship between an island and the mainland? Far enough to deter the masses, and yet near enough to get to easily. It is is difficult conundrum to juggle.

The Dalmatian island of Vis has been juggling many things over the centuries. Closed to the world until 1991, it has emerged as one of the most enticing and authentic islands in Europe.

Reassuringly hard to get to for those looking for lazier options, and yet well worth the effort for those in the know. If you are prepared to go that extra mile to reach Paradise, you have found the right page!

How to get there

The only way to get to Vis is by boat. Although the island has an airstrip which was crucial to the Allied war effort during World War II, old-fashioned boat travel is the way to go in the 21st century.

There are two daily ferries (travel time 2 hours 20) and one catamaran (90 mins, and including Hvar Town and Milna on Brac). For more information on times, visit the Jadrolinija website.

If you are looking for a private transfer, by speedboat or helicopter, contact us at [email protected]

Once you arrive on the island, there is a regular bus service between the only two towns on the island – Komiza and Vis Town.

Closed until 1991 – the military history

For many years I lived on the next island to Vis, on Hvar. I had only a cursory understanding of the history of other islands in the region. When you live on Paradise, you have little reason to explore elsewhere.

I first went to Vis in 2005, and I was truly blown away. Here was a small island of just two settlements of note, and yet the history was incredible.

I learned of the vital role that the island’s grass airstrip had played during World War II, as a forward base for the Allies, as well as an emergency stop for Allied aircraft in trouble. Learn more in the video below.

Alllied graveyards are visited each year by servicemen and British officials, paying tribute to the sacrifices 75 years ago on a distant island.

The British military interest in Vis pre-dates World War II by quite some time, however. For it was also an important British stronghold during the Napoleonic Wars. During this time, the British built impressive fortresses, which exist to this day.

And this Napoleonic era also provided the basis for one of the strangest claims to fame of the island – it is the birthplace of cricket in Europe outside the UK. Yes, really.

The island’s latest military chapter had little to do with the British, however. Tito thought it would make an excellent strategic base. He built a hidden submarine base, military tunnels and hiding places for rocket launchers. Things that Tito never really used in anger during his tenure, but which make for excellent tours today.

The island was a closed military island until 1991. When you add its remoteness into the equation, this undoubtedly helped to preserve the island’s authenticity from mass tourism.

The birthplace of cricket in Europe

Of all the unusual things which have surprised me about Croatia, none was more so than learning that Vis was the birthplace of cricket in Europe outside the UK.

Incredible!

Not only that, but the tradition of cricket in Dalmatia has been revived and is flourishing today. Vis holds regular cricket matches, including an international sixes tournament.

Sir William Hoste had probably not intended all this back in 1809 when he started playing cricket on Vis to counter the boredom. What happened next was truly incredible. Learn more about the oldest cricket club in Europe.

The oldest regatta in the world

The island’s relationship with the sea has led to some rather unusual claims in history, such as it being home to the oldest regatta in Europe if not the world, dating all the way back to 1593, as explained by Croatia.org:

The earliest known description of a sporting event in Croatia is from the 16th century. It reffered to the 1593 regatta of seventy four (yes, 74) wooden fishing boats called falkuša, from the harbour of the town of Komiža on the island of Vis to the islet of Palagruža.  

Komiza – of brothels and lobster

There are few more idyllic places in Dalmatia than the second town on the island, Komiza.

it is a true stone paradise, and it has the relaxed feel of a location which is at the far end of an already remote island. As with most communities in Dalmatian, the population today is not what it once was.

Komiza was a huge fishing community, with no less than 7 fish factories in the glory days. It also apparently had the first brothel on a Dalmatian island a century ago. And not just one, but two – hardly imaginable when one wanders around Komiza today. Take a tour of this slice of Dalmatian heaven in the excellent video below.

Another wonderful thing I learned about Komiza during my last visit really made me smile. In an era of tourism taking over the lives of many communities and being wasily the biggest employer, Komiza was bucking the trend. The fishing industry may not be as strong as it once was, but more people in the town make their living from fishing than from tourism. I liked that fact very much.

The official Komiza tourist board website was not in operation when I wrote this article, but there are other resources to learn more about this wonderful town.

Vis Town, the capital of a sleepy island

It truly is one of the most remarkable islands in Europe, with so much to offer. Known as Vis Town today, the main settlement on the island is also one of the oldest in Croatia (some say the oldest). Issa dates back to the 4th century BC.

Due to its favourable location, Vis has always attracted outside interest. From the Greeks and the Romans, to the Venetians, French, Austrians, British and Italians, power has changed hands so many times in the island’s long history.

The result is a fascinating history, which is yours to explore, and Vis Town is a delight to explore. It is a town of stone, churches, fortresses and spectacular views of the Adriatic. Learn more from the local tourist board.

Dry Stone Walling in Dragodid

But inland Vis holds its charms too, and none perhaps more so than the small village of Dragodid, which is now part of a great restoration project with European recognition.

Dragodid is a village consisting of only a few houses in the northwest part of the island of Vis, about a fifty minutes’ walk from town Komiža. There is no electricity or running water in Dragodid.

The village traces its founding back to the farmers’ family Suić at the beginning of the 19 century. The village grew with the family until the second half of the 20 century when it everyone emigrated. Nevertheless, it’s still occasionally inhabited: some parts of vineyard are still being cultivated by Suić family and other heirs living in Komiža, and rosemary is still seasonally harvested in the hills nearby. From time to time, hikers from Komiža climb up to Dragodid for a lunch, bowling and to watch rare Eleonora’s Falcon (Falco eleonorae).

Despite some slight but interesting specifics in architecture and organisation, Dragodid’s stone houses and minimal life commodity make it similar to hundreds of villages all along Croatian coast and islands. Most of these villages, as well as Dragodid, were suddenly deserted during the fifties of the 20 century, but today they coming to live again because of tourism.

Since 2002., construction activities came alive in Dragodid, thanks to the cooperation of Andrija Suić (78), one of the sporadic inhabitants of the village with a group of young architects, historians etc., who, from time to time, hold construction workshops in Dragodid. Learn more here.

Top 5 tours

For such a small island, there is a surprising variety of things to do. Arguably the most fascinating is to take the military tour. Visit the tunnels built into the hills by Tito, as well as one of only 3 submarine bases on the Croatian coast.

The island’s sailing heritage, which includes the world’s oldest regatta, boasts its very own boat – the beautiful wooden falkusa. Learn more about the proud heritage of this extraordinary boat, and then book a sailing tour on a reconstructed falkusa. Sailing as you have never experienced it.

If you are a foodie, you have come to the right island. The local Dalmatian food and wine is excellent, as are the gastro tours available for you to taste the very best.

There are also plenty of adrenaline activities, which you can explore on organised tours. Choose from sailing, kayaking, cycling, hiking and climbing.

But if you have come this far, it is worth going a little further. The Blue Cave is one of Dalmatia’s top attractions. Until relatively recently, there were tours only from Vis and Hvar. But the secret is out, and now many tourist come on day trips from Split and even further. Book a tour on Vis to get the best local knowledge.

Beaches on Vis

beaches on vis

The idyllic beach of Stiniva was voted the best in Europe back in 2016. Once known by locals as a hidden gem away from the tourists, you can imagine what happened next…

Fortunately, there are plenty of other amazing beaches on the island. Here are our top 5.

Accommodation on Vis

If you are looking for large hotel resorts, you are coming to the wrong island. Accommodation on Vis is very limited. While neighbouring Hvar has over 30,000 beds, there are just 3,000 tourist beds on Vis.

This is partly due to the island’s past as a closed island. There are a limited number of boutique hotels, but the bulk of the offer is in private accommodation. You should book early where possible, because there is limited supply. Additional interest in the island due to the filming of Mamma Mia is not going to reduce accommodation bookings.

Food and wine – indigenous pies and grapes

Croatia has some 130 indigenous grape varieties, many of which are to be found on its islands. Some islands produce grapes only on that island, and Vis is no exception. The indigenous grape variety of Vis is a white called Vugava. Learn more about it here.

As well as its own grape variety, Vis has its very own signature dish, which is called Viska pogaca, or Vis pie. Given the island’s fishing heritage, it is perhaps not surprising that there is a sardine or two involved. Learn more about Vis pie.

From closed island to Hollywood blockbuster – Mamma Mia 2

Around 25 years after the island was totally off-limits to foreigners, Hollywood came calling. I am not sure what the guardians of the submarine based would have made of it, but a string of Hollywood A-listers descended on the island in September 2017 to film Mamma Mia 2: Here We Go Again.

Filming took place in Vis Town and Komiza, as well as the beaches of Stiniva and Barjoska. You can check out the official movie trailer above and here is how Vis found itself in the international media as a result of the filming.

An even more remote island – Blue Cave on Bisevo

Even though Vis is pretty remote compared to more popular islands such as Hvar, Brac and Korcula, there is an attraction on the far side of the island which is one of the top things to do in Dalmatia.

Located just 5km from Komiza, the Blue Cave on Bisevo is a true natural wonder. Find out why in the video above, and then go on the excursion with your eyes open. Here is what you need to know about visiting the Blue Cave in 2019.

Looking to learn more about the gorgeous island of Vis? As part of the TCN series, here are 25 things to know.

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