Travel Guide To Vis Island, Croatia
Unspoiled beauty would be the perfect description for the island of Vis, Croatia. Though it is a lot farther from the mainland compared to other Croatian islands, visitors find that it is worth the travel for the amazing experiences they take home with them.
Vis Island, Croatia has left many tourists breathless. They only recently opened for tourism in 1989 and to this day, its beauty remains intact.
The island features natural vegetation that includes fragrant pine trees, carob trees, and other exotic plant species. The particularly rare silver palm tree can also be found in Vis.
A big part of it is dedicated to vineyards so the town is quite famous for its white wine known to the locals as Vugava. Their red wine, Plavac is also quite popular.
It is a less busy tourist destination so if you are not very fond of hustling with crowds, this may be the ideal destination for you and your loved ones.
The island is also famous for its Hollywood musicals where visitors can watch locals perform. Those who have been to Vis Island profess that it is well worth the long ferry ride.
If you have seen the popular Hollywood musical “Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again”, you may notice that many of the scenes were shot on this location. But there is so much more about Vis that makes it truly interesting.
The Story of Vis
The island was first inhabited in the neolithic period. It was home to the Illyrians who brought new technology to the island in the first millennium. Like most Croatian islands, Vis became a Greek colony in 390 BC, during which time, the ruler of the Greeks, Dionysus ruled Adriatic possessions.
The city state became quite powerful and soon, they have established colonies on the island of Korcula as well as Trogir and Stobrec. Vis became an ally of Rome when the Illyrian wars erupted but they eventually became subject to the Roman Empire by 47 BC.
By the 10th century, the Slavic tribes arrived in Vis but the island was later sold to the Venetians along with several other towns in the old Dalmatia. The Venetians called the island Lissa. As they escaped the Dalmatian pirates, their population moved from the coast to the inlands.
They eventually ended their reign in 1797 and Vis fell under the control of Austria.
Other nations that ruled the island included France and the UK as well as Italy and of course, it became part of the first Yugoslavia.
The island had such a strategic location which attracted the great powers to fight for control over it. It became an important military base for the partisans of Josip Tito. He built several fortifications in the island surrounding his headquarters which is down the Hum mountain in a little cave.
This is where military and diplomatic undertakings occurred and you can still see many of these historical structures when you visit the island.
Vis was well known for its thriving fishing industry from the 19th to the 20th century. It was one of the busiest islands conducting trade for the industry.
Today, they are quite focused on agriculture and their tourism has been doing exceptionally well. The island as well as other nearby islets are all part of the Split-Dalmatian county.
Vis Island – Things to do & Attractions
Considered as a Pearl among the many Adriatic islands in Croatia, Vis remains untouched so expect truly breathtaking natural beauty that would make you want to stay for longer than you planned. There are plenty of things to do and wonderful things to see in and around the area. Ferries make other islets of interest accessible to visitors.
Like many Croatian vacation spots, you will find a lot of sites in Vis that have historical importance. Marvel at these sights and get a deeper understanding of the island’s rich history and thriving culture.
The Old Town of Kut
In the main town of Vis, you will find the bigger ships docked in its ports. Just walking around the town would make your experience in Vis a magical one. Sit and gingerly sip on coffee or tea on the many cafes as you observe beautiful sunsets or walk to the markets and treat yourself to some locally grown fruits. You will also find plenty of unique shops on its streets.
If you walk to the left, you will enter the old town of Kut where you will see plenty of summer houses that go far back to the time of the nobilities of Hvar. It is distinctly apparent how the town is quite different from the main because it is a lot quieter and it’s a place where you can really immerse yourself in the culture of the locals.
The buildings are much older and the streets feature a unique Croatian charm. Beautiful scenes await those who are about to walk on these streets.
As mentioned in the story of this little island, the World War II leader, Tito built his headquarters in a cave down the mountains in Vis. Tito and his partisans conducted many of their arrangements in the cave for several months in 1943. They held important meetings, planned their attacks, and devised strategies in this headquarter.
You will see that the site is not very polished which makes it more authentic and really takes you back to the old times. It is open to visitors and you can go there as part of a day tour or on your own. When you approach the mountain of Hum from under the cave, you will find steps coming from a sharp turn on the road.
The town is a prime historic attraction surrounded by fortifications evident of the Habsburg presence in the mid 1800s. Within this battery is the Archeological Museum which is home to important archeological finds from 4000 BC during the time that Dionysus the Elder established his colony in the town.
If you visit the museum, make sure to take a look at the bronze head of Artemis who is the Greek goddess of the hunt. She was an important deity to the townsfolk for a long time. You would also be delighted to see other treasures including objects that have been used in winery and fishing which have been thriving in the island for over 2000 years.
Fort George – Vis Island
You will find the magnificent ruins of an old fort in the town called the Fort George. It was named after King George of the English who built it in the Napoleonic times. The site has been abandoned for generations but has recently been reconstructed and opened to visitors.
Inside the fort is a nice open air bar called the Sunset Bar & Club where you can either party or just relax and sip on a lovely cocktail at sunset.
The bar features live music as well as local acts. If you would like to catch a show, visit the fort on a Friday night.
You may also want to dine on the restaurant in the art gallery in the fort.
If you would like to see some modern local art, you can also catch one of the art exhibitions in the fort. There is a permanent display of historical installations which depict the town during the 1800s and the Second World War.
It is an absolute must to mention wine tasting in Vis separately because it is one of the most iconic experiences in the island. Since Vis thrives on agriculture and winery, you must sample some of its white and red wine.
The island is known for its full flavored Plavac Mali which is their red wine and the dry white wine called Vugava. These wines have been cultivated in Vis’ sandy soil for thousands of years. Today, you will hear of the island’s famous winemaker Antonio Lipanovic and his wines are available in almost all the famous restaurants in the area.
You can sample these wines in the local dining places but it is extra special to visit his tasting rooms.
The tasting rooms consist of military tunnels which have been built by Tito after 1945. Wines come in both unoaked and barrel fermented varieties. Make sure to make an appointment for the day of your visit.
Nature Attractions of Island Vis
One of the main reasons visitors choose to go to Vis is its spectacular natural beauty. It is unspoiled and you can really appreciate nature in its most raw form.
Blue Grotto (Blue Cave)
The Bisevo which is a breathtakingly blue grotto is one of the best attractions in Vis. You will find it in the south-west of Komiza and is accessible by ferry. It is barely inhabited but visitors flock to the grotto during the summer.
It is best to visit the grotto at noon, which is known as the “manana” or nap time because of a natural phenomenon that occurs in its waters. As the sun reaches its peak, the grotto becomes flooded in blue light which is a truly magical view both for the young and old. Some people even dive into the waters during this time.
When you schedule a trip with a tourist boat, it will most likely be around this time. Day tours are available which include the Bisevo or you can plan a trip there separately.
Saling on Vis island
One of the fun things you can do around Vis is to sail around its waters like the locals do. It is one of the most unusual activities where you would set to sail for an entire week on a traditional gajeta fishing boat. This is the kind of boat that has been used by Vis fishermen for generations.
You will be taught how to operate the boat and learn how to use the ropes and other necessary tools on your first day. Learn how to sail using the unique triangular lateen which has been used by the Ancient Greeks and Romans.
You would sail along the Blue Cave, Green Cave and sail around other isolated bays and coves. Another thing you might learn is how to fish like the locals and even cook up your catch when you stop on the beaches.
Diving is a naturally popular activity in Vis because of its crystal clear blue waters. It is an outstanding experience because you can swim along the beautiful rocky coastline and there are plenty of diving sites.
More experienced divers may want to experience the Flying Fortress which is a big aeroplane that went down the waters of Cape Polivalo in 1944. It is submerged deep in the waters about 70 meters from the surface but you can see from above its remarkably intact exterior.
There are several other sea wrecks where you can schedule a dive in the island as well.
Up above Tito’s cave, you can climb Mount Hum and see Vis Island from its highest point. You can join a hiking tour that leads up to the mountain or you can set on your own or with your group if you are experienced hikers.
The mountain is 587 meters above sea level and it offers panoramic views of the town below and its surrounding magnificent landscape. Explore the military installation up in the mountain then walk leisurely down to the Church of the Holy Spirit to take some rest. It is the perfect place to end your hiking excursion.
Kayaking to the Green Cave
Just as there is a Blue Grotto, you may also be delighted to know that there is a spot in town called the Green Cave and you can kayak to get to it.
The Green Cave is not very far from the southern tip of Vis Island and it’s a favorite destination of kayaking enthusiasts. It is a relatively easy trip so even beginners can kayak to the area.
Like the Blue Grotto, something peculiar happens to the cave at the passage of the sun. This natural phenomenon involves the rock formation on the area where the cave will be under an emerald colored light that floods through its top opening.
This green light from the Green Cave then spreads onto the water which makes it a spectacular light.
Climbing on Red Rocks
As you can see, the island of Vis is filled with many colors. If there is a blue grotto and a green cave, there are also red rocks. This natural wonder is right behind Komiza and when you traverse this path, it will lead you to dozens of climbing trails, most of them surrounded by beautifully red colored rocks.
The trails are suitable for climbers of all levels. There are plenty that would be easy for beginners and also for experienced climbers. The most rewarding experience in climbing the red rocks is the unforgettable views from the top.
As you sail through the waters of Vis Island, take the opportunity to explore its nearby smaller islands as well. One of them is the island of Sveti Andrija which is a remote island where the Zanki family lived.
It is also called Svetac and this was where the Zankis thrived through fishing and viticulture. The last resident has died but other family members who now live in Komiza still visit the island during the summer.
You will see simple but impressive stone houses as well as the ancient fortifications of the Illyrian Queen Teuta. Some visitors might even chance upon the rare Eleanora Falcon.
Beaches in Vis Island
One of the best things you can do in Vis is to swim, dive, or just sunbathe in its marvelous, beautiful beaches. The waters surrounding the island were never overfished so the underwater life is rich and teeming! Scuba divers love these sites and they are just perfect whether you are with your family, a lover, or on your own.
This is the beach near the fishing village of Rukavac. It has lovely large white pebbles which make for a nice relaxing walk perfect during sunset.
Milna and Zaglav beach
As opposed to the Srebrna Beach, these two beaches are quite sandy and is perfect for sunbathing and swimming. The Milna Beach is the most accessible since it is connected to the main road. It features the iconic striking blue Croatian waters and a view of several other smaller islands that form an idyllic backdrop.
The neighboring beach Zaglav is quieter and is great for those who like meditating or just reading on the sands.
Another pretty beach is the Grandovac past Kut. It features a bar where you can party late at night and rocky beaches on the sides.
Things to Do In Vis
Aside from the relaxing nature trips to the mountains and its sandy and pebbly beaches, and sightseeing in its historical sights, there are so many things to do in Vis Island.
Strange as it is, visitors can enjoy watching a game of Cricket in Vis. There is a modern day revival of the cricket club first established by the British sailors during the Napoleonic period. It has quite an interesting story.
During his 6 year post in the island, naval commander Sir William Hoste organized cricket games as a form of entertainment while they also try to battle French forces in Issa. Though no longer at war, this tradition was revived by a wine merchant. You can catch some of these fixtures during the summer.
If you think Vis being an untouched island is boring, think again. There is quite a lovely nightlife in the island even with just one bar. The Bejbi Bar is right on the seafront and tourists have been coming there to drink, relax and just have a great time.
Biking and Riding
If you like riding, you can rent either a bike or a scooter to explore the island. It’s a great way to see the historical sights and also explore the beaches.
Getting to Vis Island
The nearest airport to Vis is in Split on the mainland. From there, you can ride a ferry to the island which can last up to two and a half hours. These ferries usually leave at around 9 am so if you arrive in Split at night, you may have to look for a lodging and wait till the morning.
If you would like to go around in Vis by car, you would have to rent one from Split and bring it to the island via ferry as well. Ferries run year round as well as the catamaran.
You can take a day trip to Vis if your main destination in Croatia is Split. Get to the island in the morning and leave during the afternoon, though that is just enough time for you to look around. If you really want to make the most of your trip, it is best to stay a few nights.
Take note that even though Korcula Island is quite nearby, there are no direct ferries to and from either islands. So, if you are planning to visit both, make sure you make the appropriate travel arrangements. What you can do is to arrange for boat transfers.
Best Time to Visit Vis
It is apparent that the best time to visit Vis Island is during the summer. That is if you really want to make the most of your time and see the best of its unspoiled nature.
Attractions like the Blue Grotto and Green Cave are most beautiful during bright sunny days and you may not be able to appreciate them when it’s rainy or wintry.
Summer is also a great time for you to really enjoy swimming and sunbathing in the beaches. The waters are absolutely stunning and there is plenty of marine life to marvel at.
Spring could also be a good time to go around Vis because it will be pleasantly cool and you can still enjoy these marvelous sights though it may not be too perfect for sunbathing.