Thursday 13 December 2018

You can fizz in Vis

MY BRAIN felt as if it were beginning to fry at the end of a long and exceptionally busy year at work. I needed to get out and play. None of my family was free to come with me, and my friends, while full of advice on where to go, were not available either.

So I decided to trawl the internet, and, after a good deal of surfing, I found something that seemed like fun, if impeccably politically correct. Xania and Craig Wear were inviting me to join them on an eco-friendly holiday, supporting agri tourism on an idyllic Croatian island. Activities mentioned included sea kayaking, mountain biking, yoga and hiking. Their website assured me that I would enjoy a vacation that was "relaxingly active". I hadn't a clue what that might mean -- but I must admit I was intrigued (though I hoped it wouldn't be too strenuous -- fit, I wasn't).

Getting to Croatia was no problem. I flew directly to the town of Split on the Dalmatian coast with Concorde Travel. From the airport, I took a courtesy bus direct to the old town. I bought my ferry ticket, and strolled round for a couple of hours.

Split is crammed full of Byzantine and Roman architecture, and the evidence of centuries of mercantile wealth is everywhere, especially in its many opulent and palatial buildings. The bustling markets were full of colour and the sun was actually shining -- I'd almost forgotten how good it felt. My destination was the island of Vis -- which lies between Italy and Croatia. It's been listed in The Rough Guide as one of the 30 places in Europe that must be seen before you die.

Craig was waiting for us when we landed. Two other guests, Ross and Simon, had arrived on the same ferry. They were lovely guys but -- my God! -- they looked fit. They had visited Dubrovnik last year and had kayaked 30 miles. My heart sank.

The drive out of the city of Vis towards Rukavac, where we would be staying, was remarkable. We climbed hairpin bends until we were perched high above the town. The harbour below was full of yachts -- which seemed suspended on an expanse of shimmering blue.

The Wears' home (where they entertain a maximum of eight guests at a time) is wonderfully relaxed, modern, spacious and bright. I was told that dinner would be served on the terrace in half an hour. The meal was delicious and completely organic. Xania was clearly a wonderful cook.

I worried about the fitness levels of my fellow guests, as they were clearly better than mine, but, as I discovered, they had misgivings about their own levels. Over the meal, we all calmed down, took in the wonderful view of the sea and setting sun, and enjoyed some good local wines.

From here, the holiday unfurled as it was meant to. We started our first day with yoga on huge flat sandstones in a natural amphitheatre that overlooked the turquoise Adriatic. This was followed by a swim; the sea was at the perfect temperature -- you never got cold, but left it feeling wonderfully refreshed.

After brekky was sea kayaking. Sea kayaks have a shallow hull. In fact, they are really more like a surf board than a canoe. It also means that they are safer and easier for a novice to use. We began by kayaking around the coastline, before pulling into quiet, sandy beaches. We also played the local game of pitzygeen, a cross between handball and tennis, in the shallows. The object of the game is to keep the ball in the air, which involves Beckham-like dives. Initially, I was hesitant -- but soon the fun of the game got to me.

On the way back, we went around the back of a small island to a deep cave -- where, through a hole in its roof, a shaft of sunlight turned the seawater a luminescent green. We slipped out of the kayaks to snorkel, and to count the varieties of fish swimming through the underwater beams of light.

Back at the Wears', after a great lunch, we had the first of many welcome siestas. I have not slept as well in ages. In the late afternoon, on a short walk, we were surrounded by wild rosemary, mint and fennel; it was like a crash course in aromatherapy. We found a small cove and had another swim and snorkel.

Our first meal outside the Wears' contributed to the agri-tourism part of our eco-friendly holiday. Kantum's, on the waterfront of Vis, was most impressive. The price of the food and wine, compared with Dublin, was very reasonable.

Due to its strategic position, Vis is steeped in history. It was the first Greek colony in the Adriatic. More recently, it was occupied by the Allies in the Second World War -- and became a place of refuge for General Tito, president of the former Yugoslavia. The signs of military occupations are everywhere. Old air strips are now planted with vines and olive trees. There are caves where submarines once docked, and all manner of ancient forts.

We soon slipped into a rhythm of challenging and rewarding activities. After one bicycle trek, Simon suggested we join him for an afternoon beer. From then on, no siesta was complete without one. Another regular feature of our day was a game of bouletta -- which is a bit like boules. For all our best efforts -- and despite having the talented Craig on our side -- we lost to Ross and the others.

As the week flew by, we became decidedly more healthy as our hiking, cycling, kayaking and swimming improved. We visited magical places like the Blue Grotto of Bisevo and checked out the splendid view from Mount Hum. We ate out in more great local restaurants. But most importantly, we perfected, with the help of the odd beer, the art of the siesta.

I cannot recommend this holiday too highly. I must be mad to tell you about it, but I owe it to Xania and Craig. Not only do they live in a wonderful place, but they're happy to share an experience that genuinely lives up to its claim of being "relaxingly active".

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