There’s something magical about Mljet, island of caves, cliffs and beaches. It has Roman remains and a monastery can be reached only by boat. But above all a lush nature.
Mljet, Meleda in Italian: Tradition has it that its ancient name was Ogygia, and that here, in this Garden of Eden rocked by the Adriatic, has the nymph Calypso held Odysseus for seven years.
Sea, pine forests, dunes and cliffs, caves and caverns, even the salt lakes. Sandy beaches, silence and fishermen. And then a Benedictine monastery surrounded by water, ancient fortifications and Roman remains, not to mention the Romanic churches: at the time of Homer wonders that have not yet emerged from the blue and the green of the lushest among the Croatian islands. As there were no inns overlooking the sea and their tempting menus.
Green, National park and diving
The port of Sobra is the best starting point for exploring this long strip of land of more than 30 kilometers and an average width of only three, but able to climb up to 514 meters above sea level with the mountain Veliki Grad. From the port you can forward towards the eastern tip of island. Along the way there are postcard views, until you get to the sandy beaches of Saplunara (but beware of the curves, especially if you take the steep road down to the bay of Prozurska Luka).
However, the lure of the western side is even stronger, because there await Babino Polje and, beyond that, the nature of the uncontaminated Nacionalni Park Mljet, the National Park Mljet. At the foot of Veliki Grad, Babino Polje is the main center of the island, a village that grew up with vineyards and olive plantations. Near in the park is the Bay of Sutmiholjska, with the quiet sandy beach, and especially the cave where the shipwrecked Odysseus would meet Calypso. From the street can be reached in a quarter of an hour walk along a signaled path.
Although often fishermen use the cave to put there their boats, the spectacle of the two entrances (from the sea and from the ground) is one that is not easily forgotten. And those who love diving can take advantage of rock steps to get to see more closely.
The Mljet National Park, protects 54 square kilometers of land, 90 percent of which is covered by forests (but there are also other habitats, such as sand dunes on the coast). To visit the ideal would be to land at Pomena, but if you get to Sobra is accessible by bus.
In the park you can rent bicycles and canoes (both 90 kunas, 12 Euros, per day), but also small electric cars (260 kuna, euro 34.60 for 5 hours).
The entrance to the park is not free of charge, with rates subject to reductions and vary according to the seasons, and if you book inside you only pay the first time. The ticket costs 90 kunas (12 Euros) and also includes the ferry to the island of St. Mary on Veliko Jezero (Great Lake). Guided tours by bike or on foot: from 150 kunas (20 Euros) in addition to the entrance fee. Tickets can be purchased at the information of the park at the end of the main dock of Pomena and on the way to Polace-Pristaniste.
In the Mediterranean forest
Back on the road to the west, just looking around is enough to understand why the western end of Mljet was declared a protected area already in 1960. A bit more difficult is to understand where officially begins the park, but it doesn’t matter: the pines and the Mediterranean thrive even without knowing if they are within or beyond the border. It does not pose any problems even to mongooses, introduced to naturally eliminate snakes: the snakes are still there, but now certainly do not constitute a problem.
The most precious jewels of the park are the two salt lakes of Malo Jezero and Veliko Jezero, which can be reached in about ten minutes from the village of Pomena, the main tourist center of the island.
The lakes are connected and are actually two karst depressions that were formerly filled by the sea during storms, and in mediaeval age have been linked to the coast by a channel. A dig was made by Benedictine monks from the Italian side of the Adriatic. The same monks whom we owe the wonder of the monastery of St. Mary, built in the twelfth century in Romanesque style on a small island in the middle of Veliko Jezero. Fortified in the southern part, the convent was later restored (the upper floor was added in the sixteenth century) as well as the church was enlarged with two lateral chapels in Baroque style. Today the complex houses a cafe-restaurant in the garden and is only a few minutes of rowing boat, or with a shuttle service that starts from the confluence of the two lakes each hour.
Here it is difficult to resist the temptation to not take a bath, because in these natural pools the temperature is a bit higher than that of the open sea, and it seems that their particular salinity is good for the skin and even rheumatism. And if you feel the desire for a walk in the park, in less than three quarters of an hour down the road you can get to Polace, a fishing village with a bay, where you can find the remains of two churches and a Roman settlement dominated by a large building.
Mljet is reached by ferry from Prapratno (on the peninsula of Peljesac) with Jadrolinija ships: 5 connections per day, a 45-minute crossing to Sobra. Price: 27 kuna (3.60 EUR) per person and 126 kuna (EUR 16.80) per car. It is advisable to get to Mljet with a full tank. If you are traveling without a car, the island can also be reached directly from Dubrovnik with G & V Line catamarans two links per day, both calling in Sobra (70 minute journey; Price: 40 kuna, euro 5.30) and also stops at Polače (95 minutes Price: 54 kuna, 720 euro).
Where to stay – Mljet hotels
Soline6. Soline Govedjari.
Inside the park, close to the channel that reaches the salt lakes, is a structure of 4 apartments, which combines environmental sustainability: for now, no electricity. Apartment for two persons from 600 kunas (80 Euros).
★ ★ ★ Hotel Odisej. Pomena Govedjari.
It is the only major hotel on the island. Divided into several buildings, overlooking the bay of Pomena: has 155 rooms and two apartments; also offers many sporting activities and excursions. Double room with breakfast from 460 kunas (61 Euros) for 4 nights the price drops to 378 kunas (50 Euros).
★ ★ ★ Villa Mirosa. Saplunara 26, Maranovici.
Small, family-run villa: 8 rooms surrounded by a pine forest near the sea. At the restaurant, traditional cuisine based on fish caught by the owners, with wine, oil and rakija (Croatian brandy) of own production (average bill: 130 kuna, euro 17,50). Double room with breakfast from 390 HRK (52 EUR) for stays of 3 nights or more from 300 kunas (40 Euros).
★ ★ ★ Stermasi Saplunara 2. Maranovici.
In a terrain of 3,000 square meters, seven well-equipped apartments distributed in two houses: relax among the pines and the beach. Next door is a lovely restaurant that offers mainly seafood dishes (average bill: 250 kuna, euro 33). Apartment for two persons from 370 kunas (50 Euros), breakfast 60 kuna (€ 8).
★ ★ ★ Anelic Sobra. Sabino Polje.
Overlooking the sea and offers two rooms, four apartments and a chance to go fishing with the owner. Double room with breakfast from 225 kunas (30 Euros), apartment for two persons from 300 kunas (40 Euros).
More beaches here