You’ve already traipsed the wall of Fort Lovrijenac in Dubrovnik and danced the night away in party-hard Hvar. But what you really need is to get far away from the tourist-heavy hotspots and have adventures in nature.
Head to one of the hidden gems of Croatia, the southernmost island of Mljet. The Mljet National Park was established in 1960, preserving the island’s forested beauty, picturesque lakes, and isolated beaches. It’s an easy ferry ride from either Hvar or Dubrovnik, but you will feel like you’re worlds away.
There are few better ways to stretch your weary sea legs than to go for a bike ride, and Mljet is a prime spot for cyclists, with 43 kilometers of road spanning the island from end to end. One of the prettiest places to cycle is within the National Park itself, riding on the hilly, nine-kilometer road that wraps around Veliko Lake, the largest of Mljet island’s two lakes. There are plenty of places to rent a bike and it’s also a good spot for less experienced cyclists as the road is dedicated to bikes and pedestrians only with no car traffic. If two wheels aren’t your thing, there are also plentiful walking paths and hiking trails — or you can rent a kayak to paddle around the forest-lined lake. Either way, pack your swimsuit and take time to stop off for a dip on the lakeshore.
Mljet is notable for having a stunning island within an island. Veliko Lake is home to St. Mary’s island, where The Church and Benedictine Monastery reside, one of the oldest church complexes in the Adriatic Sea. A tiny ferry boat takes visitors from the shores of Veliko Lake out to St. Mary’s island. Upon landing, it’s easy to see why Benedictine monks chose this peaceful spot for their monastery. The island also has a restaurant where you can enjoy lunch or just cool down with a Croatian beer.
If you’d prefer a picnic for lunch, then it’s easy to find a prime spot on the lakeshore, where you can enjoy a dip in the refreshingly cool waters. If it’s beach time you crave instead, then hitch a ride to Saplunara Beach, on the eastern tip of Mljet. The quaint village has a few restaurants and three beaches. Set in a private cove, Blace Beach is arguably the most beautiful of the three and worth a visit to dip in its crystalline waters.
As the temperature cools in the afternoon, take a hike to the enchanting Odysseus Cave on the island’s south coast. A namesake of Homer’s The Odyssey, legend has it that this is the spot where the story’s hero Odysseus was shipwrecked and met the sea nymph Calypso. You’ll need a taxi or scooter to take you to the trailhead, where you can begin an hour-long traipse to the cave. You’ll know you’re close when you stumble upon the secluded — and now abandoned — Hotel Penelopa, which you walk past to get to the cave, or rather to the water’s edge, where you can fling yourself in and swim into the turquoise waters of the cave itself.
After a day of adventure and basking in the natural beauty of Mljet, head back to the port of Pomena Village on the island’s western edge, where the ferry will pick you up. The protected anchorage of Pomena is a popular place with smaller gulets and sailboats; it has a handful of good restaurants and bars lining the water.
Before leaving Mljet, end the day with a seafood feast at one of Pomena’s waterfront restaurants. For dinner, take a seat at the terrace of the waterfront Konoba Herc restaurant, which specializes in seafood and Croatian fare, and caters to vegetarian and gluten-free diets as well. Try the octopus salad or the grilled calamari with black rice.
There’s a good chance that Mljet will cast its spell and you won’t want to rush back to the touristy hordes that populate Croatia’s biggest ports. If time allows and you have a few days off, then take some more time to embark on adventures on this off-the-beaten-path island — or simply enjoy doing nothing at all in utter peace and quiet.
The column originally ran in the June 2020 issue of Dockwalk.