As most Croats will tell you Croatia is not the Balkans, it is central Europe. I visited the most southern and eastern island in Croatia Mljet, simply because it is very close to my base in Kotor in Montenegro. Being naturally curious I decided to venture out across the border and see what is out there. I have travelled a lot along the Croatian coastline in the past but I had never been to Mljet, Croatia simply has too many lovely islands and regions that you could visit, so I guess the road, or to be more precise, the ferry, never took me to Mljet.
Mljet is one of the 47 inhabited islands on the Croatian coast, out of 718 in total. It’s highest peak is just over 500m high but despite that it has many lovely trails as the island is covered in forest and has many nice viewpoints.
This time I made sure I visited Mljet which has been first mentioned in 6th century BC by Greco Roman geographers. The island has a national park which contains two salt lakes, Large (with the Isle of St. Mary) and Small Lake.
Mljet is one of the seven marine protected areas on the Croatian coast of the Adriatic, because of its unique flora and fauna.
But one of the most spectacular sites in Mljet lies outside of the National Park, so it takes a bit of effort (car) to get there. It is one of the most beautiful spots for swimming I have seen, and you need to hike for about 20 minutes to reach it, but once there you won’t want to leave. It is called Odyssey’s Cave because according to legend, Odysseus’ ten year journey took him to Mljet where he ravished the nymph Calypso and dreamt of Ithaca. According to some tales, their love story began after his boat ran aground on a rock and he hid in a nearby cave which is how it received its name. Odysseus’ Cave lies beneath the Veli Grad Peak, the heighest point of the island.
The cave’s entrance zone resembles a large well with steep sides; the approach to the cave is through a passage measuring 5 m in circumference and then along the seabed leading to the centre of the cave for another 50 m. The tunnel leading to the main hall is 7 m deep, its walls are smooth and it descends to 18 m before gradually dropping to 30 m. It is connected to the open sea so you can swim through it in the azure blue waters of the Adriatic.
Simply divine and fit for a mortal who takes the effort to get there.
After leaving Mljet I stopped in a little village with a big wall, a wall that is known as the “European Great Wall of China”.
The wall connects two villages, Ston and Mali (Little) Ston, a place also well known for its production of oysters. It is worth stopping there for a seafood feast in one of the local restaurants from which you can admire the view.
As to the relevance of this post to the blog Hiking the Balkans my excuse is as follows. I did meet a man from Trieste once who told me that his hometown was the gateway to the Balkan Peninsula. And Trieste is north west of Croatia thus implying that Croatia lies in the western corner of the Balkans geographically. But that will be our little secret.