I’m writing today to tell you of not just one host but an island full of wonderful people we had the pleasure of meeting a couple of weeks ago. My 32nd birthday concluded in one of the most sublime holidays I’ve ever had. We decided on visiting Vis, a sweet little Croatian island off the coast of Split after tossing a metaphoric coin with Korcula. While on our “secluded romantic getaway”, as quoted by several write-ups, we encountered the most hospitable people, the warmest, gentlest, genuine and kind people I’ve ever met on a holiday- and I left my heart behind!
Scooting atop a hill one hot morning, we walked past a sign, off into the bushes trying to find a path down into the secret beach we were promised. The sign said “Stiniva Beach. Descend at your own risk”.
How we got to the bottom and to the beach will take a little while to explain, but let’s just say the trail was non-existent, the path rocky and running into some pretty intact, large spiderwebs a handful of times caused us to really be on top of it. We were rewarded with the hidden treasure! Two gigantic cliffs gating away an oasis-like piece of sea just for us, it was a pretty sweet deal. Looking around and seeing plenty of children at the bottom of this little trek made me wonder if I was just a sissy, but I didn’t dwell on it too much. I had to prepare my mind mentally for the seemingly arduous climb back up with the sun beating down on us.
Walking- no, crawling back hastily out of the bushes and shrubs after our little excursion, we were starved for lunch. We got on our little scooter and drove away in search of food and water. That’s when we spotted a large barrel painted with the word Roki’s, one of the "village restaurants" that our host recommended to us.
A little retreat under the shade of much greenery, flanked by vineyards on one side and a home-grown vegetable garden on the other, Roki’s is a charming restaurant we had the pleasure of trying and fell instantly in love. The kitchen was nearly closed for the afternoon but starved and hungry, we inhaled their basic vegetarian offering: an insanely delicious zucchini soup with bread. While we were still devouring it all, a cricket bat-like shape from the wine bar caught my attention. “Is that a cricket bat?” “Oh yes, it is! We have a cricket club here!”, said Cipryan, our waiter. I invited myself into the trophy room and discovered a little parade of trophies and autographed paraphernalia. Cricket enthusiasts in the middle of a little Croatian island!
Since we didn't quite have a chance to try a proper meal, we wanted to go back for dinner. Upon enquiring, we learnt that they made only one dish every dinner, the traditional croatian Peka, cooked over 3 to 4 hours. We had to tell them of our desire and a custom Peka would be cooked, just for us!
The next day, after a very full day of boating around the island, we got ready for our pick-up by Roki’s. A special van arrived to pick us up along with a couple of other guests. Zipping uphill while continuing to keep an eye on the grand view of the port from atop, we arrived at Roki’s. I wanted to see the cricket field. I jumped off the car and literally ran into the much to the vehement disapproval of the restaurant's sheepdog Sarah. The barrel painted with the score blew my mind!
We took the liberty to wander off a little bit further to the vegetable garden on the other side. All was quiet and peaceful as the sun prepared for a coy exit.
Roki's seemed a world away, quietly nestled in a playfully unruly green, adorning every little thing in its way. After finally settling in and having a swig of the welcome drink- grappa infused with sage and anise, we were invited to have a look at the Peka preparation. We were taken to an open furnace room with large cast-iron dishes neatly lining the area's perimeter with lids closed as if they were meditating over our dinner. One of the chefs, Dino, came in with a long iron rod and lifted the lid with it, momentarily confronting our senses with a giant whiff of the cozy, hearty, delicious concoction. Of course, my fogged glasses added to the effect. What is Peka, you ask? Bringing together a brilliant merry mélange of vegetables (and meat, traditionally): potatoes, carrots, onions, zucchinis crowned with sprigs of fresh rosemary in large cast-iron dishes, Peka is prepared closed, under a large bell-like lid, hot coals working at it for several hours, baking the delicious contents slowly, and to perfection. Mmm. Peka.
Like everyone we met on the island, the people at Roki’s were charmingly modest and genuinely friendly. As I asked for a photo, they quickly gathered around calling each other so no one from the staff would get left out. They are a jolly bunch- and the enigma of them all was Dario who said, “A photo? Oh, you don’t want that. I’m a terrible, terrible man and I’m wanting in the USA”. Did I tell you how much I laughed with everyone I met in Vis?
As we strolled along the port on our last evening in Vis, eyeing the sparse few kitschy stands for Dutch pancakes, crepes, tater tots and what not, K had one sudden desire- a potato tornado. The boyish request seemed fittingly answered by a teenage boy manning the stand. He got to work preparing the tornado, and as we chit chatted with him through the process, the casual talk suddenly transformed into a chronological impartation of the history of how Croatia came to be, how his father fought for the army, watched the country be born and now wanted to buy a piece of the land to convert into a club. What was amusing and wonderfully sweet to me as we walked away from the potato boy, as we call him now, was just how simple, humble and connected these conversations were. Receiving a full history lesson with this humble millennial selling potatoes along the port- we're going to remember this one. The genuine care for the tourist in complete harmony with the love for the sanctity of their island was heart-warming, and a holiday experience I've never had before.
Until next time, Vis.