This week I had the pleasure of playing cricket in Croatia with a band of fellow enthusiasts representing the lesser known ‘Lords Travellers Cricket Club’. We followed in the two-hundred-year-old footsteps of Captain William Hoste, who, as one of Lord Nelson’s protégées, first played cricket on the island of Vis in 1809.
A most enjoyable experience was made all the merrier thanks to some top notch local hospitality, traditional cuisine and culture, backed up with the opportunity to explore what is surely one of the Mediterranean’s most spectacular and stunning islands. Vis is saturated in its history, which dates back to the time of the Illyrians, and ancient practices survive, including that of cooking with ash and ember-covered cast iron peka domes.
Setting off by boat from Split, you feel you are going into uncharted waters, about to be the first to discover Vis. On arrival, you are immediately surprised by the raw beauty of such an island, with its indigo coastal waters, bright beaches, dramatic views and endearingly rugged landscape.
Quite how such a fabulous holiday destination has remained so under-visited – especially considering its proximity to so many over-crowded nearby tourist destinations – is a mystery. For such a small island (90 sq km), it punches high above its weight as a classic secluded sunshine destination.
Furthermore, as the ancient Greeks, Venetians, British and Italians appreciated, the island offers one of the Adriatic Sea’s most protected natural harbours. This has led to the traditional town of Vis playing host to different navies over the centuries. So special is it, as a naturally secluded military location, that the island was off-limits to the outside world from the 1950s until 1989, when it served as the main base for the Yugoslavian navy.
The result is that today’s population of 3,500 inhabitants benefit from a lack of commercial development seen in so many Mediterranean coastal destinations. Remarkably, in such a crowded world, today’s population is the lowest since Captain Hoste first bowled a cricket ball in anger. It peaked to over 10,000 just before the First World War when farming and fishing dominated.
That said, there is a feeling of change in in the air. Not least as, in addition to our cricket tournament involving four teams, the island’s population swelled by more than 700 thanks to the considerable filming crew shooting Mamma Mia 2. This could have a further impact on tourism with knock-on Hollywood publicity.
Certainly, with or without our cricketing endeavours or Hollywood’s film footage, it won’t be long before the secret of Vis Island is out. As anyone who has been fortunate enough to experience the enchanting coastal towns of Vis and Komiza will tell you, the delights of Vis Island must be seen to be truly appreciated.