The morning sun, which hurt the backs of our eyeballs thanks to what had transpired the night before, gleamed off the Adriatic like a million fireflies, as the speedboat from Korčula deposited us at the quaint hamlet of Pomena, population 50, on the island of Mljet.
There’s only one hotel in Pomena, so that’s where we stayed. It’s a grandiose enough affair, in an are-we-still-in-the-seventies kind of way. To its credit, it has a spacious lobby, tiled floors in the reception area and, best of all, an elevator — a luxury we’d gone without for a few weeks at this point. After effortlessly elevating our bags up to our room, we entered to find that it stank. Not figuratively. Literally, it stank. It was a familiar smell, and it took me a few moments to place it. It was, undeniably, the smell of wet dog. I wasn’t sure how to phrase this concern, exactly, but I felt the need to be truthful with the receptionist. I could see her barely keeping it together when I, with my apologetic face on, said the words wet dog in my South African accent. She couldn’t give me the keys to a new room fast enough, and as soon as my back was turned, I could hear her guffawing with her colleagues. I had a chuckle too, but I didn’t think it was that funny. Maybe ‘wet dog’ sounds like something in Croatian that I should be aware of? Croatian readers: please leave a comment or contact us if this is the case; I’d love to know.
The beauty of Mljet is that it’s quiet and lush — and, even better, it’s going to stay that way: much of it has been proclaimed as a national park. If you’re in Croatia, or soon to be in Croatia, add visiting this national park to your list. It’s what we did for the better part of three days, and it was difficult to get bored of it.
At the heart of the national park are two salt lakes, conveniently named Small Lake and Big Lake. They’re joined at the hip; a small bridge (from which bike and kayak rentals are offered) spans their meeting point. The two lakes are really part of the same aquatic feature, and distinguishable from one another only by their size, the spelling of their names, and the fact that there’s an island near the northwest end of the Big Lake. More about that later.
Standard activity for the day: ignore the “do not remove food from the restaurant” signs at the breakfast buffet, pack yourself some snacks for the day, then enter the park from Pomena. Walk the forested pathways along the shores of the lakes to find a small, secluded cove (there are hundreds of such coves — swimming spots — along the banks of the lakes). Swim. Repeat.
Without doubt the world’s least skeevey, most eminently-swimmable lake
It appears evident from these pictures that not another human being can be seen, however, the word ‘secluded’ is used rather generously here. Most likely, the swimming spot one finds will be almost eerily uninhabited, so quiet you can hear the faintest breeze whispering off the water, and so calm and clear you can see fish swimming several metres down. Too good to be true? Swim out from your cove, and look back toward the land. You’re bound to discover, to your unfortunate surprise, that you are in fact camped no more than a few feet’s worth of thicket away from another idyllic cove — this one populated by a scrimmage of obese nudists. OED Editor’s note: you heard it on realmsofwhere first — ‘scrimmage’ is the correct collective noun for a group of obese nudists. You’re welcome, English.
We went three-for-three on this phenomenon in our three daily visits to the lakes. Come to think of it, on the last day, we happened upon a couple (not a scrimmage, just a mating pair) of obese nudists who were, curiously but hilariously, doing lunges in the shallows. Actually that’s a cool band name: Obese Nudists Doing Lunges. Budding musicians who steal this name, send me a copy of your debut album and we’ll call it even.
You can’t see them, but they’re there all right, somewhere among those trees, whole scrimmages of them!
St Mary’s Island
Included in the national park entrance fee of 100 kunas — good for unlimited entries on as many days as you’re staying on Mljet — is a boat ride from the bridge to St. Mary’s Island, home to a medieval Benedictine monastery that has survived — a few ongoing renovations notwithstanding — since the twelfth century. Well worth a visit, not only is the monastery of historic interest and ecclesiastic importance in its own right, but its location must have made all the other medieval Benedictine monks in the world green with envy when they got postcards from the St Mary’s guys.
In the Cool of the Evening
The best part of the day in Mljet begins when the harsh midday sun begins to soften and everything cools off slightly. As luck would have it, the unassuming (you won’t even find it on Tripadvisor) ‘Pizzeria Levanat’ at the water’s edge in Pomena just happens to serve up the world’s finest Caesar’s (sic) salad — the perfect end to a day of sun, swimming, relaxation, and fat lunging nudists.