Croatian Island Hopping – Mljet
With over 1000 islands off the coast of Croatia, I thought I’d give you a little series of posts on a few of my favorites. Since they all have such different personalities, this may help you choose where to spend your time, should you put Croatia on your bucket list. Let’s start with Mljet (pronounced Meeyet – in Croatia, J’s are pronounced like Y’s), which means “honey” and is the greenest island on the Adriatic – over 72% is forest. The crystal clear water surrounding the island, as well as in the 2 salty lakes within the island (aptly named Big Lake and Small Lake) glow in fluorescent peridot, emerald, blue topaz, ultramarine, cerulean, turquoise, and aquamarine.
The story goes that Odysseus had a shipwrick near Mljet and was captured by the sea goddess Calypso, who held him hostage for 7 years. It’s also rumored that St. Paul had a shipwreck here on his way to Rome, and there’s a legend that fairies live here as well, although I didn’t see any.
Before you go, if you don’t have a car, make sure you check on bus schedules. I’d booked a room in the little town of Sobra, where the car ferry docks, as I’d read on Mjet a bus connects this town to the national park on the other end of the island, my main reason for coming here. However what it didn’t tell me was that the bus wasn’t running due to road construction. It’s 28km, a 36 minute drive by car, so too far to walk. Options? Rent a scooter (not recommended by my host, as she said the pine needles on the road make it very slippery and dangerous)…
…rent a bicycle (also not recommended for long distances, as the roads are steep, narrow and winding, with jaw-dropping cliffs to the sea), or rent a car. You can also take a taxi, but it’s more expensive than a car rental. So I bit the bullet and rented a car and was thankful that they had an automatic, as I haven’t driven a stick shift in years. (When you want an automatic in Europe, you’re lucky to get one, and you don’t have much say in the make or color!)
Having a car is the best way to see this island, as the national park perches on one end, and beautiful beaches grace the other end, with pristine ocean views and cool pine forests in between.
First, the national park – When you arrive in the park take the small ferry boat to a tiny island on the Big Lake (yes, it’s an island within an island!) where you can wander through a beautiful Benedictine Monastery. There’s also a small restaurant here that serves salads, sandwiches and local cheeses.
Then take the 3km hike around Small Lake, for more astonishing views of that clear and colorful water, which, if you’d like, you can take a dip in. I’d planned to do this, until I stuck in my toe only to discover that in May, it’s still freezing!! The dirt path winds around the lake, great green pine trees reaching their arms out over the water, small pine cones dangling, and an intoxicating blend of pine and jasmine permeates the air. Bright colored flowers dot the ground, and black and orange butterflies flutter by.
Many people also rent bikes to get around the national park, but keep in mind the roads are mountainous, so you’re in for a strenuous ride. There are also canoes for rent.
The 2 towns near the national park are lovely little Polace, where you’ll find the remains of a Roman Palace, and lots of types of boats (this is an island, after all)…
…and Pomena, the most touristy town, with the only official hotel (most of the accommodations, as in much of Croatia, are “apartmans,” rooms in people’s guest houses).
At the Hotel Odisej in Pomena, even if you’re not a guest, you can sit on the deck by the sea and sip a cold drink. This is also where the catamaran leaves for other islands, such as my next stop, Korcula. (These are really big cats!)
On the other end of the island, (44km, about an hour’s drive), lies Saplunara, with soft sand beaches, where you can swim or sunbathe. For the most part, they’re lovely, but be prepared for some litter, which unfortunately mars the otherwise idyllic scene.
As far as accommodations go, I rented an inexpensive, small, clean, basic room, with a fabulous little balcony overlooking the sea. I could have been happy there for weeks! My host even brought me thin sweet pancakes filled with jam as a treat.
A few minutes’ walk down the street from my room were Sobra’s only 2 restaurants, and I enjoyed outside dining at a pizzeria overlooking the ocean, accompanied by 5 hungry cats who kept trying to climb onto my lap. My mistake for ordering the seafood pizza!
If you’re looking for excitement though, look elsewhere. Mljet is a quiet, relaxing place to enjoy nature, and the beauty that is the islands of Croatia.