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The Croatian island where the new Mamma Mia! movie was filmed will make your heart sing…by Gary Reading, Jul 2018
The one word you should learn while on Vis is ‘pomalo’. ‘Pomalo,’ says our smiling guide, when he meets us. ‘Pomalo,’ nods an old lady in the street.
It’s a greeting and a way of life on Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. It means relax, take it easy, no rush, maybe tomorrow. And it’s absolutely fitting. Nothing happens quickly on Vis.
But now it may be shaken from its slumber by the sound of Abba songs. Because Vis is the location for the new film, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, which opens on July 20.
Vis stars as the fictional Greek island where Meryl Streep, Colin Firth and Pierce Brosnan sing and dance to the next round of Abba’s favourite hits.
But the reality of life here couldn’t be more different to the movie mayhem.
Vis is the farthest inhabited island from the Croatian mainland, so getting there is fiddly. The flight to Split is only two-and-a-half hours from the UK and then it’s a 30-minute dash to the port in a cab.
From there, it’s two hours of sunbathing from the top deck of a huge ferry — hardly a hardship. The ferry — run by Jadrolinija — docks in the tiny capital Vis town, which sits in the middle of a horseshoe-shaped bay.
The shore is fringed with quaint stone buildings and there’s not a high-rise hotel in sight. The bay is separated into two small towns — Vis and Kut — about 20 minutes’ walk apart.
We are staying in Kut at the small, family-run Hotel San Giorgio. Our room is on the first floor, with a patio overlooking a courtyard where you can dine surrounded by palm, lemon and orange trees.
After a couple of days practising ‘pomalo’, we’re ready to explore.
Because of its strategic importance, Vis has been fought over by most major powers.
As you wander through Vis town you’ll pass an ancient Greek cemetery and a Roman amphitheatre buried beneath a 16th-century monastery.
Walk 20 minutes further up into the hills and you’ll find Fort George, which was built by the British in 1811 and is now home to a restaurant, bar and club.
Most exciting of all are the secret bunkers, caves and tunnels built into the cliffs by the Yugoslav People’s Army in the years following World War II when the island was officially closed to foreigners.
It’s also well worth going out on a boat for the day. Vis’s biggest attraction is the very busy Blue Cave on the tiny island Bisevo a few miles off the coast of Komiza, which is a fisherman village on the western side of the island.
The entrance to the cave is so small everyone in the boat has to duck on the way in. Once inside, a natural phenomenon causes brilliant blue light to reflect out of the water and around the cave.
Less impressive but quieter is the Green Cave on the islet Ravnik. And unlike the Blue Cave you can swim here because there are fewer boats about.
The food on Vis majors on fresh fish of any variety. But the Italian influence means the pizzerias are also good.
For a traditional Croatian experience ask for ‘peka’ — a process where your food is cooked slowly under a large metal bell. Bear in mind that many restaurants require at least a day’s notice.
Prices are reasonable. For a main meal in a good restaurant you’re looking at about £15 to £20 per person. Vis is still new to tourism. But when the boats pour in to anchor for a night during July and August, it can get overcrowded quickly.
When the latest Mamma Mia! the film airs next month, it’s likely to be even busier. So pick your moment. Get it right and you’ll be richly rewarded.