The sleepy Croatian island of Vis is the sort of place a Bond villain might have his lair, says Adrian Bridge
I may have been driving a 50cc scooter rather than a gadget-enhanced Aston Martin but it was the theme tune to the 007 films that raced to mind as I rounded the corner of the spectacularly scenic road that winds its way through the northern extremity of the Croatian island of Vis.
The reason? There across a glistening stretch of crystal-clear water was a sleek but slightly stark concrete opening built into the rocks that for years served as the entry and exit point for the submarines of the Yugoslav navy.
It was impossible not to feel that somewhere deep within that crevice the villainous Stavro Blofeld still had a lair and that at any moment I would hear the immortal words: “I’ve been expecting you, Mr Bond.”
The scooter offered an appreciative roar as I gave it full throttle (at one point reaching a heady 24mph). This was fun; this was living; this was holidaying in Croatia in late May with the delicious freshness of the early summer and the promise of yet warmer days ahead.
The road, bordered by trees and bushes coloured in the brilliant green of the season, carried on around a huge inlet of water within which, in another slightly Bondian twist, a wet-suited diver was preparing to explore.
Then, rather abruptly, the Tarmac came to an end and we found ourselves continuing on a dirt track from which there were more dramatic views – this time out to the deep blue hues of the Adriatic Sea.
We turned around and headed back towards the town of Vis, the principal settlement on the island, stopping only to venture down another rough track, at the end of which we rewarded ourselves with an exhilarating swim off the rocks.
We had hired the scooter (or Easy Rider as we preferred to call it) for six hours – plenty of time to explore an island that boasts only two main roads of approximately nine and 15 miles’ length, which link Vis and the island’s other main town, Komiza.
From our base in the latter we took the longer, more scenic route, initially heading south along hairpin bends that afforded ever more wonderful vistas out towards the island of Bisevo and back to the extraordinarily picturesque red roofs of the harbour of Komiza itself.
We then turned inland to head east and slightly north towards the promising sounding vineyard-strewn country of Plisko Polje.
There were stops along the way, the first involving a steepish ascent up most of what is serendipitously known as Hum Mountain to “Titova spilja” (Tito’s cave), the place to which for a while during the war, the leader of the Yugoslav partisan forces retreated to mastermind operations. The cave was sparse (it was presumably better furnished in Tito’s time), but for a military HQ, the beauty of the sheltered hillside setting could not be faulted.
Further natural beauty awaited just a few miles ahead in the form of Stiniva beach, a perfectly formed white pebble cove framed by towering cliffs through which a small opening leads out to the sea. It being early season, for a while we had the place all to ourselves. But then through that tantalising crack through the cliffs we spied a yacht from which a dinghy was launched bearing fellow bathers.
Back on the road – almost completely devoid of traffic – we tuned into the sight and intoxicating scents of the palm, pine, oleander and lavender bushes that lined it.
And around Plisko Polje we duly saw numerous signs bearing bunches of grapes and what we imagined were invitations to come and sample some of the local produce. We waited until we were on our way back before stopping at one – an idyllic little spot about half a mile off the road at which we were greeted by a benign-looking couple who spoke not a word of English but who understood only too well our need to pay homage to the great god of Bacchus.
We sat on their veranda, warmed by the early evening rays of the sun, the views of the vineyards beyond and the glasses of white and red (admittedly a tad rough and ready) for which we paid the princely sum of just over £1. And thus fortified, we were ready for the hairpin bends back to Komiza.
The day on the scooter was undoubtedly the highlight of a week-long holiday in northern and central Dalmatia, which began with a glorious sunset in the city of Zadar, took in the medieval treasures of Trogir and ended with a sunrise stroll through the magnificent palace in Split in which the Roman Emperor Diocletian chose to retire and which today is home to scores of shops, bars and an underground market.
As a result of its importance as a naval base in the former Yugoslavia, Vis was strictly out-of-bounds to tourists and the island retains a sleepy and, dare I say it, slightly undiscovered air. Perfect for all would-be easy riders.
By Adrian Bridge, telegraph.co.uk