Not far from the island of Korčula is the island of Mljet, the greenest island in the Adriatic, a third of which is contained within the perimeter of the Mljet National Park. It was declared a national park due to its outstanding natural beauty and rich flora and fauna. In addition to these are numerous beaches, fish and lobster fishing grounds and numerous cultural and historical monuments, which make it an extremely attractive tourist destination. The Mljet National Park is the oldest marine park in the whole of the Mediterranean, and possesses two salt-water lakes: the Great and the Little Lake, with a Benedictine monastery on the island of Santa Maria. In the tranquillity of this densely wooded island, you will find a Roman palace, only lagging behind Diocletian’s Palace in Split and the Arena in Pula in terms of size. Adventure on to discover Jama (the cave), which is also frequently known as the ‘Odysseus cave’.

From this place with a short hike you can reach two pearls – the Large and Small Lakes, where you can hire a kayak and tour these karst phenomena, as well as the islet of Sveta Marija (Saint Mary) with a Benedictine monastery in the centre of the lake. However, if you are fascinated with Odysseus, multi-day tours can be organised which will circle the whole of Mljet and even sail to the surrounding archipelago.

Considering that for centuries it gravitated towards Dubrovnik, the island of Mljet still has transport connections with this tourist mecca today, however, apart from the boat connection it shares almost nothing else with it. Namely, the most forested Adriatic island was also the first declared national park, rich in island life, Mediterranean relaxed and peaceful, somewhat on its own, and so if you are in the mood for an adventure through untouched nature, surrounded in myths, then Mljet is your El Dorado in a Croatian way.

Besides the rich vegetation, notably one of the best preserved forests of Aleppo pine and oak trees in the Mediterranean, this island has a richly indented coastline with numerous coves and islets, caves and sandy beaches, where you can pull in and park your kayak and claim a piece of the shade far away from the hustle and bustle of any form of mass tourism that dominates in Dubrovnik. It is no surprise that over the last few years Mljet has become a closely guarded secret for kayakers from around the world.

Along with the abundance of unbelievable sandy beaches and untouched nature, discover the many remains which tell a story about the clash of the cultures on this green island, where history is entwined with legends and myths. One of the most famous is about the adventurer Odysseus, who on his journey with the nymph Calypso stayed on Mljet, giving the name to the world-famous Odysseus Cave – a geological pearl which with its blueness will leave you breathless, and it is an unmissable spot on every kayaker’s tour. What makes Mljet exceptional is also the possibility of more serious tours, for example, a relaxed SUP paddle in the cove of Polače.

Nacional Park Mljet

Situated on the island of the same name, Mljet National Park is the most important protected area of the Dalmatian south. The park covers the western part of the island, which many regard as the most alluring in the Adriatic, full of lush and varied Mediterranean vegetation. The park includes two deep bays which, due to their extremely narrow links with the sea, are regarded as and indeed named lakes: the Great Lake and the Small Lake. Mljet is also very rich in cultural heritage, the most prominent example being the complex of the 12th century Benedictine monastery. The monastery is located on a small island in the middle of the Great Lake and is set in a lush park. Over the course of centuries, numerous chronicles, dissertations and other literary works have been written here. Located within the monastery is the church of St Mary.

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A hilly green island

As is the case with many Adriatic islands, Mljet features steep, inaccessible parts of the coast in which many interesting historical stories and legends were born. One of the legends associated with the island of Mljet tells the story of Greek hero Odyssey who was returning to his home on a Greek island and was shipwrecked after a huge storm. Of course, this event, captured in the famous Homer’s epic poem, might not be based on true historical events but it does not matter all that much – even without it, Mljet is a special island, entirely suitable to be the home of an epic hero. Outstanding nature, crystal clear sea, lakes, islands and a rich cultural heritage make Mljet a unique pearl of the Adriatic coast.

Mljet is the southernmost large Croatian island. It is situated in direct proximity of the town of Dubrovnik, the island of Korčula, Elafiti islands and is only separated from the peninsula of Pelješac by the Mljet Channel. The highest mountaintop is the 514-meter-high Veliki grad and there are a dozen other peaks higher than 300 meters. There are many larger karst valleys and fields across the island and some hundred smaller ones. The island offers ideal possibilities for mountaineering and a mountain trail stretches across the entire island.

Although Mljet is karstic, like all our islands, its rich and diverse Mediterranean vegetation earned it the title of “the greenest Croatian island”. The Mediterranean climate with dry summers and mild winters, and approximately 2500 sunshine hours a year, offers ideal conditions for vegetation.

The most attractive part of the island is definitely the north-western part, which was protected as a national park in 1960. The reasons for turning it into a national park were its exceptional historical heritage with many traces of the Illyrian tribe, Roman Empire and Dubrovnik Republic eras. Another reason were its unique lakes, abundant vegetation and a unique panoramic appearance of indented coasts, cliffs, rocks and numerous islands, as well as a rich evergreen vegetation of the surrounding hills, erecting steeply above the sea surface and hiding numerous karst fields and ancient settlements. Two unique sea bays were once freshwater lakes, until the beginning of the Christian era when they were connected with a narrow strait. Although these bays are deep and filled with sea, they appear to be more like lakes and local population knows these therefore as lakes. In the midst of the Great Lake there is a picturesque little island, St Mary, with a church and a monastery that were set up at that location in the 12th century by the Benedictines from Monte Gargano in Italy. The lakes are particularly well seen from the hills towering above, the most beautiful view being from the peaks Montokuca and Gradine. Well-blazed walking and mountain trails lead to these.

There are interesting sites outside the borders of the national park – in the mid southern part of the Mljet coast there is the Cave of Odyssey– a karst cave whose ceiling collapsed and it looks more like a pit or a large well. Its bottom is filled with seawater as the cave is connected to the sea by a natural tunnel. The access to this cave begins at Babino Polje. The upper part of Babino Polje is the starting point of the mountain trail leading to the highest island peak, Veliki grad, which can be reached in an hour and a half of walk.

As a home to many exciting legends and being an island of a thrilling nature, Mljet fully deserves to be called the pearl of the Adriatic coast. It is difficult to distinguish the exact border between the reality and the myth and discovering all that this island has in store is an exciting voyage on which this border does not really matter all that much.