Our guide to the island with a starring role in the new Abba jukebox movie. How can you resist it, asks James Stewart
Cast your mind back a decade and you may recall Mamma Mia! the movie. How we gasped at Meryl Streep being goofy as the heroine, Donna. How we winced at Pierce Brosnan’s singing. Well, here we go again: the cinematic Abba jukebox is returning to British screens next month.
Critics may well slate the plot of this prequel/sequel mash-up. Frankly, who cares? The original cast ham it up again alongside additions such as Lily James, who plays Young Donna in the prequel bit. There are Abba bangers such as Waterloo and When I Kissed the Teacher. Cher sings Fernando.
The real star, though, is Vis, the Croatian island that represents the fictional Greek island of Kalokairi (instead of the actual Greek one where they filmed last time, Skopelos). Last September, the cast danced, sang, swam and snogged on Vis for a month. Now it’s your turn.
Should you take a chance on it this summer? Absolutely. The Yugoslav navy kept Vis to itself until 1989, so the island, 30 miles from mainland Croatia, remains a low-key, boho sort of place. There are no large hotels. Most of the interior is vineyards or pine-scrubbed hills. Restaurants source their ingredients from some of Europe’s cleanest seas. There’s not much to do, but in a good way. Just make sure you book. If it gets the surge in visitors that Skopelos did 10 years ago, 2018 is going to be busy.
In the film, Cher arrives by helicopter. You’ll need £1,500 per couple to do likewise, from Split airport (visvillas.com), so you may decide the ferry from Split is a better option. No great hardship, because Jadrolinija’s three car ferries a day are like mini cruises for the price of a snack (2½ hours; from £6.40, one-way; jadrolinija.hr). Book if you’re going in a rental car. If you can bear to be indoors, the daily catamaran is an hour faster.
Either way, you’ll dock at the wharf where Bill (played by Stellan Skarsgard) and Harry (Colin Firth) are reunited: same promenade of palm trees, and possibly the same old boys in the harbour cafes. (Locals cashed in as extras.) This is Vis Town, a lovely arc of sunbaked stone that’s barely a town, yet is the island’s capital.
Turn left from the wharf and you’re in the historic core. The movie stages a market in its pretty square, Trg Karolina. Do continue round the bay to noodle through the Kut district. It’s Vis Town at its bohemian best, all narrow lanes and nicely dilapidated Renaissance palaces, a legacy of 16th-century merchant settlers. Go right from the wharf and you’ll pass the ruins of the mosaiced Roman baths. Vis’s antique Greek sculpture is tucked away in the archaeological museum (£2.35).
Then climb the hill to Fort George (fortgeorgecroatia.com), built by the British in the early 19th century — it’s named after George III — and now a fantastic bar/restaurant/event space. The owners are throwing parties beneath the stars every Tuesday — bound to be at least one Abba anthem.
Most coastal scenes were shot near Komiza, the island’s loveliest harbour, on the other side of the town. The focus was the wild coastline to the northwest, around shingly Barjoska Bay. The crew staged a show-stopping musical number on the tiny wharf. Colin Firth dad-danced.
You’re here for sparkling seas that no Instagram filter can improve on, and the scent of pine and rosemary. A taxi boat from Komiza costs £6; or, if you’re feeling intrepid, drive the dirt track, pluming dust like Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) in her old blue Land Rover.
Location scouts loved Stiniva beach’s natural amphitheatre of cliffs. Filming out of season, they didn’t have to contend with the mid-morning boat tours arriving from neighbouring islands such as Hvar. Nor will you if you go early, then move on to quieter Ruda or Srebrna bays, both near Rukavac. Better still, charter a motorboat through the Navigator agency and drop anchor in your own little bit of paradise (£190 a day; navigator.hr).
I’d also recommend visiting sandy Stoncica beach, east of Vis Town. Then go again. And again. Pierce Brosnan went at least five times for its restaurant, Konoba Stoncica. It’s rustic and casual, just a few picnic tables by the sea and the morning catch sizzling over embers (mains from £11; konoba-stoncica.com). Other cast-approved options include Pojoda, in Kut, where Zoran Brajcic cooks up island favourites such as squid stew with lentils and barley (mains from £10).
Where to stay? Vis Villas is the chicest rental agency, and Seyfried stayed in its gorgeous seven-bedroom Palazzo Kut (from £693 a night). Firth was in the smart five-bedroom Villa Serena (from £377 a night; visvillas.com). Young Donna’s artfully shabby shack behind Barjoska was a film set, but the two-bedroom Serenity Bay Villa comes close: a dreamy renovated fisherman’s house on a quiet bay (from £1,045 a week; croatianvillaholidays.com).
A last thought: Young Donna comes to Kalokairi “to make some memories”. What she really seeks is what Croatians come for: pomalo, Croatian for living slowly, free from time constraints.
Enjoy it, but a word of advice: ask before you dance on any tables.
Source: Sunday Times0