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21-24 May 2022. I’m stressed about getting to the ferry on time. Thank God I get through to book a taxi; sometimes they just don’t answer at all, and you can’t just flag down a taxi on the street in Split; you have to go to a rank or call one. We’re three flights up and Don can’t carry anything. It takes three trips to get all the luggage downstairs. On the street we wait for the taxi. It’s late. I’m still stressed. Finally the taxi arrives and the taxi driver takes us all the way to the boat. Onto the dock and right up to the boat! Perfect. We’re early, but I convince a ferry worker to let us on anyway. We stow our luggage and find some shaded outdoor seats. Sitting on the ferry from Split to Vis I finally relax. Phew. Even after all these years, travel days are always “Jeckyl and Hyde” days for me.

From Don’s notes: Ali was able to charm one of the crew to let us board right away so that we could get exactly the seats we wanted. They turned out to be not that great because while they were on an open deck that has a roof over it for shade, we were close to the concession, which sold beer, so there was a lot of beer drinking, cigarette smoking, and loud conversation all around us. Anyway the two and a half hour trip passed soon enough and we arrived in the beautiful harbour of the town of Vis. We couldn’t find any cabs so we walked the 300 metres to our Airbnb accommodation. It was a steep uphill climb, but the accommodation was just as advertised, with a large balcony with a full view of the harbour and the town.

For one tiny island Vis sure has seen a lot of history.

Vis is a bit of an outlier. It sits further out into the sea than the other islands of the Dalmatian coast making it an easy mark for any of the conquering hordes cruising up and down the Adriatic.

It was initially a Neolithic settlement, then in the 4th century BCE the Greeks founded a colony there. By the 1st century the Liberians arrived, then inevitably the Romans, and equally inevitably the Venetians. Vis, like most of the Dalmatian coast of Croatia, was part of the Republic of Venice until the 1700’s. Next came the Napoleonic Republic of Italy, then the Austrians took over, then the Italians again.

After the First World War it was ceded to the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and during the Second World War it was used as Tito’s General Headquarters before it was occupied by the Italians, and then liberated by Tito’s Partisans.

Is your head spinning yet?

After the war it was used as one of Yugoslavia’s military bases until it was abandoned in 1989. This effectively cut off any foreign visitors for 30 years. As a result of this isolation the island was preserved from development, and much of the population moved elsewhere in search of work.

These days tourists and locals alike have rediscovered Vis, though it is still much quieter than Hvar; there are no cruise ships or fancy resorts. In 2017 the movie Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again was filmed on location here. Even so, it is still pretty unspoiled. We choose it on the recommendation of L’s son who had been there and loved it, and for us it is a couple of welcome lazy days at the end of a three-week mad dash around Croatia.

From Don’s notes: Soon after our arrival we found a grocery store nearby, and then much lazing around ensued followed by a big dinner of salad, ham, cheese, bread, and a little local red wine. Delicious.

I spend a lot of time in the swing seat on the balcony staring at the achingly blue sea.

Overhead there is the almost continuous chirping squealing whistling of swallows; we’d heard the same in Split. In Split we’d see flocks of them doing circular fly-bys, time and time again. It’s spring; they’re very busy, and here in Vis as we laze on the balcony they are our constant companions.

From Don’s notes: The weather here on Vis is finally hot Mediterranean. I still can’t get over the beauty of Vis’ natural harbour: I could look at it all day. Ali and I went flaneuring, had ice creams and hot drinks before shopping for more food for dinner. None of us is up to doing very much today: just lazing around and gazing around. A lovely, long, lazy day. Supper will be the same as last night, then I plan to walk along the Riva to look at a very large private luxury motor yacht moored in the harbour, possibly followed by my third ice cream of the day.

The yacht is the largest and most luxurious of all the luxury yachts I’ve ever seen. I don’t photograph it. When we return the next day it’s gone. Darn.

One morning I walk alone around the church peninsula

and on the other side find a group of boys hurling themselves into the water over and over, their wild joy palpable,

and come eventually to the local beach where things are a little more serene.

Together Don and I wander all through the town, from one end to the other, past tour boats of all kinds, and sail boats, and millionaires’ luxury yachts.

Everywhere we look in this quiet seaside town, tucked around the safe harbour of an island that’s been inhabited for millennia, are the unmistakable signs of the Venetian Republic in the enduring stone architecture, houses stacked one atop the other as they climb up the hill behind the waterfront.

In contrast to the medieval architecture there are some very modern people.

At one front door we see a panda in a stand of bamboo, a whimsical welcome, and across a field of grasses and wildflowers a group of school kids playing supervised games: everyday life.

We set out to climb the hill to Fort George. To get there we walk to the other end of the harbour past the fishing village and the local docks. If the downtown Riva waterfront that greets you from the ferry is the front garden of Vis, then this end of town is Vis’ backyard: more everyday life.

It’s a much needed vigorous climb to the old British fort at the top. Oh right, the British were here too at one point, when fighting in the Napoleonic wars. Anyway they built a fort at the top of the hill, the product of 200 years of naval squabbling in the Adriatic. It was built after the Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Vis in 1811, and then populated with the British 35th Regiment of Foot, and: an international force of free-Italians; sharp-shooting Corsicans; and Swiss Guards once loyal to the French King. A motley crew indeed.

The fort itself is a big stone building and not that interesting from the outside – nothing much but long grey walls. It has been converted into a high-end event venue but it’s closed, so we’re a little disappointed we can’t see the inside. What we do see is a magnificent, and very large, cactus bush bursting with riotous red flowers, extroverts every one of them, and humming with a million happy bees;

some lovely views of the wide blue Aegean sea;

and on the way down some interesting graffiti on an abandoned building;

and some local wildlife.

Dons notes: Suzanne made us all a big pan of scrambled eggs and a pan of cooked tomatoes: delicious with some fresh bread. I said, and everyone agreed, that we’d had enough ham, cheese and salad dinners, and that we should go out to a restaurant for dinner tonight.

And so we go to Konoba Kantun, a short walk along the Riva from home.

We’ve not been impressed with the food in Croatia. Maybe we’ve been choosing the wrong places, maybe choosing the wrong dishes, but almost every meal has been just not very wonderful; edible but decidedly meh. Even a very fancy white-table-cloth place with 5-star reviews in the old town in Split didn’t deliver. Don and I were both intrigued by what was described as parmesan “ice cream” on risotto; it really was not very good. We had pizza once that was pretty good. And then there were the two exceptions: the outstanding breakfast in Hvar, and this dinner at Konoba Kantun in Vis.

Fresh vegetables grilled over an open fire,

roast potatoes, and large steaks of fresh swordfish cooked to perfection, along with a very nice local white wine. Finally Croatia delivered a meal to write home about.

I will never win any prizes for food photography. I always forget until I’m part way through. Oops.

There’s so much more to do on Vis: you could rent electric bikes and cycle all over the island, explore the main town of Komiža, discover beaches, vineyards, and fishing villages, but we were all feeling pretty much travelled out, and Don and I still had three weeks in Greece coming up, so we were more than happy to have a couple of down days. Vis was exactly what we needed.

Next post: a photo essay – people on the ferry, boys hurling themselves into the water, and some other shots from the streets of Croatia. And then a post about the most um . . . unique airbnb we’ve ever stayed in.

All words and images by Alison Louise Armstrong unless otherwise noted
© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – a pilgrimage of the heart, 2010-2022.