A compact hump rearing dramatically out of the sea, VIS is situated farther offshore than any of Croatia’s other inhabited Adriatic islands. Closed to foreigners for military reasons until 1989, it has never been overrun by tourists, and with only two or three package-oriented hotels on the whole island, this is definitely one place in Croatia where the independent traveller rules the roost. Croatian lotus-seekers have fallen in love with the place over the last two decades, drawn by its breathtaking bays, fantastic food and wine and two great-looking small towns – Vis Town and Komiža. The latter is the obvious base for trips to the islet of Biševo, site of one of Croatia’s most famous natural wonders, the Blue Cave.
The Greeks settled on Vis in the fourth century BC, treating the island as a stepping stone between the eastern and western shores of the Adriatic, and founding Issa on the site of present-day Vis Town. Hvar took over as the major mid-Adriatic port in the late Middle Ages, and Vis became a rural retreat for Hvar nobles. When the fall of Venice in 1797 opened up the Adriatic to the competing navies of Europe’s great powers, Vis fell to the British, who fortified the harbour and fought off Napoleon’s navy in 1811. The Austrians took over in 1815, famously brushing aside Italian maritime ambitions in another big sea battle here in 1866. During World War II, Vis briefly served as the nerve centre of Tito’s Partisan movement. After the war, the island was heavily garrisoned, a situation which, along with the decline of traditional industries like fishing and fish canning, encouraged successive waves of emigration. The island had ten thousand inhabitants before World War II; it now has fewer than three thousand. According to local estimates, there are ten times more Komiža families living in San Pedro, California, than in the town itself.