Due to its strategically favorable location, Vis has always been interesting for the military and was therefore also called the Gibraltar of the Adriatic. Until the collapse of the multi-ethnic state of Yugoslavia, the island was a restricted military area and not accessible to foreigners. It was not until 1995 that the island was opened to the outside world again. A good opportunity to learn more about Vis and its eventful history is a trip with an original old Landrover over the island – including a stop at the former submarine base Parja tunnel, Komiza with its traditional Falkusa wooden boats, a tasting of excellent wines in the Aerodrom near Podspilje and a visit to the scene konoba & Bar Lola – tip of the SeaHelp editors.
Who with the own or a charter yacht is planning a trip through the island world of Dalmatia, should definitely take a detour on the Island of Vis [ˈʋiːs] (Italian and German Lissa; Latin Issa; Greek Issa), which politically and geographically belongs to the Split-Dalmatia region in the central eastern Adriatic.
Vis is just under 90 square kilometers in size and is more hilly than mountainous, with the highest elevation, Mount Hum, reaching just 587 meters. Vis is located about 60 km from the Croatian mainland. Together with its smaller tributary island Biševo, it is the furthest inhabited island from the coast of the Dalmatian mainland.
Vis has a well-developed road network and is suitable for a round trip
An estuary about 18 kilometers wide separates it from Hvar, the next island to the east. In the middle of the island there is a natural flatland, which used to be used for a military airfield, today the land is used for wine growing. Despite its small size, the island has a developed road network in largely good condition.
The small company Vis Special Landrover Tours has taken advantage of this. With original, old but top maintained “Landies” they lead visitors over the island, show sights and explain vividly the eventful history of the island.
Real off-road feeling with Vis Special Landrover Tours
We arrived, coming from Maslinica, with our sailing cat in Vis and have already arranged before by phone with Filip Melki, who is already waiting for us with his green Landrover at the port. The island, which is a maximum of 17 kilometers long and eight kilometers wide, is known for its beautiful beaches and bays, as well as for its olive and wine cultivation, says Filip.
For the next few hours, he will drive us crisscross across the island – while we would also experience “real off-road feeling,” promises Filip, who likes to work as a guide for his cousin, who owns the small company “Vis Special Landrover Tours.”
The formerly forbidden island of Vis offers many sights
From the 4th century B.C. until the breakup of the former socialist republic of Yugoslavia in 1992, various ruling houses of Europe controlled the island of Vis, Filip says. The island’s strategic location has been appreciated by Greeks, Romans, Venetians, French, English, Austrians, Italians and Germans, he says.
At the time of Yugoslavia, the island of Vis was considered a “forbidden island”, because foreigners were strictly forbidden to enter. After the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the emergence of the Republic of Croatia, the island is accessible to foreign visitors.
Jumping into the cold water in front of the former submarine base
We visit the former submarine base Parja tunnel, which was carved twenty meters high into the stone of a rock over a length of 110 meters – just one of a total of three submarine bases that existed in Yugoslavia at that time. There were two others in Šibenik and on the island of Brač.
There used to be room for two 80-meter-class submarines here, says Filip, which was in Tito’s time, which many of his countrymen would mourn, because “a lot of things were better” then than now, says the young man, who earns his living by doing various jobs.
A charter sailing yacht is anchored in front of the entrance to the cave. This is actually forbidden, says Filip, but no one controls it. In general, it’s a matter of law and order on the Croatian islands, says the young man, who actually comes from Split and found the love of his life in Vis, where he married.
Some young people are unimpressed by the historical significance of the former naval base – and make fun of jumping from the 18-meter-high concrete gate on the side into the crystal-blue shimmering water as a test of courage.
We roam through caves formerly used for military purposes, which had been painstakingly driven into the stone of the mountains at that time, and rattle with the unair-conditioned Landy first on the direct way west, to Komiza, the second larger village on the island, whereby the aging car acknowledges every gear shift with a crash and jerk.
Eating ice cream in Komiza, wine tasting in Podspilje
After just under an hour, we arrive in the former fishing village. A short stroll along the harbor edge and an iced coffee in one of the numerous restaurants on the waterfront later we sit up again – it is already time for the return trip. We decide to return here next year to sail one of the traditional, only here in Komiza built, beautiful Falkusa wooden boats, because unfortunately we lack the time today.
The old Landy struggles up a mountain road first leading south, then on the further way east back to Vis we pass extensive wine-growing areas around the village of Podspilje as well as military restricted areas that still exist on the island.
We make a brief stop at the Aerodrom, a former roadside aircraft strip building, which insiders now consider an excellent wine tasting location. On request, traditional Dalmatian cuisine is also served here, we read handwritten on a chalkboard.
Actually, however, the Aerodrom belongs to the further west in Podhumlje Konoba Pesa, in which – in the oldest house of the place – home-grown and -prepared specialties are offered and in addition the own excellent wines Vugava and Mali plavac are served – also this visit we take ourselves for our next trip to Vis firmly, because today we have already reserved a table with Ibiza in its trendy Konoba & Bar Lola in the Matije Gupca 12 in the old town of Vis.
Visiting Ibiza at the trendy konoba & Bar Lola in the old town of Vis
Ibiza, dressed like a hamburger hipster with a slanted cap and a full black beard, serves tuna tartar, mussels, octopus as well as freshly caught fish dressed with sweet potatoes, zuccini and black sesame seeds, ravioli with baba ghanoush – a puree of Arabic cuisine consisting of eggplant and sesame paste – and last but not least a delicious carrot cake prepared with cheese and orange; accompanied by fresh, tasty wines from the region.
For the next day, the weather forecast predicts stronger wind from the north and rain. Already in the afternoon we could see from the changing clouds that a weather change is imminent. Will there be a full-blown bora tomorrow? Or will we only get to feel the foothills of it?