Mljet Croatia: Worth the Trip?

Woman floating in Malo Jezero (Small Lake) in Mljet National Park Croatia.
Woman floating in Malo Jezero (Small Lake) in Mljet National Park Croatia. Naima Hall photos.

Mljet is a remote Island in Croatia and Great for Nothing

By Naima Hall

 Girls Walking through Canal between Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero in Mljet.
Girls Walking through Canal between Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero

“Apparently it’s beautiful, but there’s nothing to do there, it’s probably not worth the trip.”

That was the response we got when we asked a few fellow travelers about Mljet, Croatia.

Rather than use the information as helpful advice to ensure we would steer clear of the island, we interpreted it as our cue to beeline to this precise location.

To do nothing. To investigate the nothingness. Or alleged nothingness. We were off to this rarely visited island to see how much nothing we could possibly indulge in.

Southernmost Island

Mljet is the southernmost and easternmost of the larger Adriatic islands with a population of a little over one thousand people and only accessible by ferry.

The ancient Greeks referred to the island as Melita, which translates to “honey” leading to the adoption of its current slavic name Mljet.

While robust in natural wonders, Mljet is definitely off-the-beaten-path and it appears not to be much more than a footnote in most travel guides, which I began to presume is on account of the nothing.

Croatia’s Party Islands Hvar and Pag

split canal
Girls Walking through Canal between Veliko Jezero and Malo Jezero

There were other island options of course, but heading over to Hvar or Pag, the reputable party islands of Croatia, for late nights with the Redbull and vodka filled disco kids and being in close proximity to the ‘in crowd’ and a potentially celebrity studded scene was never going to be on the agenda.

My friend and travel partner for this journey, Karen and I were both born in and continue to reside in New York City.

Big development, big parties, late nights, large groups of attractive people overflowing with FOMO was old hat and sounded completely uninteresting.

This nothing though, seemed very exotic. The idea of occupying a space that was essentially the lowest common denominator of itself seemed like the endangered geographical species of international travel. I was swooning the nothing and what it might be about.

Beach Bum Time

Croatia Wine Edited

At this point in our travels, Karen and I were overdue for the beach-bum phase of an extended self-constructed Balkan tour.

We had used more aggressive energy at the start of the trip traveling through Bosnia, Montenegro, Sarajevo and Split to get the intellectual and cultural information of the region.

We needed to make ourselves believe that we were travelers rather than tourists– a subjective, immature, foolhardy self-assigned designation that seemed important for us to make.

Then we educated ourselves about regional wine which means we basically just kept drinking regional wine, which of course, was delicious.

So then we had more. And now–with Muskat Momjanski white wine pulsing through our veins where the blood used to be, we were prepared to turn the page and wind down in Mljet.

The elusive island became built up in my mind as a type of Mecca and I felt as if I were about to embark upon a holy journey to do something  that no New Yorker has ever done before: Nothing.

One can never exactly be sure what nothing is going to be as nothing of course is a spectrum and subject to interpretation.

And also there is almost always a degree of something within the nothing, even if it is within one’s head. Nothing is relative. And mutable.

The Concept of Nothing in Mljet

If I’d had a higher IQ, it would be Parmenides or Heideggar used as references for discussion when addressing the philosophical quandry of nothing, but when I initially considered the concept of nothing, the only image that came to my mind was Atreyu and The Nothing from The Neverending Story.

In this fantastic cinematic creation, The Nothing had a lot of symbolism and was essentially a hideous, lightning-ridden, dark, demon cloud that was going to wreck everything.

Croatia Mljet Tree Edited FinalHere in Mljet, we were confronting what might be considered the arch nemesis and polar opposite of The Nothing from that tale: This nothing was eighty five degrees and sunny with sunlight dancing off various fresh and salt water bodies with seemingly no end in sight.

Fortified clean air was being pumped from trees in abundance and it seemed like if you were on your best behavior and focused your attention, you might be able to see a fairy or two.

If The Nothing in The Neverending Story was tantamount to the wicked witch of the west, we had clearly stumbled upon Glinda, the good witch.

So, what was it like occupying space in a place where there is nothing to do?

Walking and Cycling Mljet

Doing nothing in Mljet consisted largely of walking and cycling on some of the most extraordinary and quiet scenic pathways in Mljet National Park (they call it a park, but it’s actually a pristine land of wonder).

We engaged in extended conversations with local Croatians who felt like family by the day’s end. We spent hours staring stupidly at beautiful landscapes because Wow, I can’t believe this is a real place on earth, as we examined the way the sunlight streamed through the trees looking like a prelude to a different dimension. Wow. We kept saying wow. Not the way normal people say it. We said it with awe and conviction. Like the way people did when they first saw a man land on the moon.

Small Boat at Pomena Harbor on Mljet Croatia
Small Boat at Pomena Harbor

I sat at the edge of the dock watching an octopus play on a rock for over an hour one day while drinking Velebitsko and talking to a ship captain about his trip across the Atlantic. Later that afternoon one of the locals invited us to his home for a sandwich lunch which we could only get to by riding in his motor boat through an enchanted lake. It was at this point that I reflected on how thoroughly I was enjoying the nothing. It was transcendent. I was a convert. I’d decided that I’d like to do nothing forever.

People Watching by the Harbor

We enjoyed people-watching by the harborside and spending significant stretches of time remarking on how we can’t believe everyone in the world isn’t flooding to this interpretation of paradise. How come no one is here? How long do you think it will stay like this?

And then there were the free-range children that decorated the whole place while you read your book making you feel like you were in an organized, friendly and loving Lord of the Flies situation that ends well at Sunset when the parents call– not by phone, but old-school shout the names of their children into the void of the island and the kids hop, skip and run home with their stories from their adventures from deep within the forest. The nothing, it turns out, is full of life, hypnotic beauty and a little bit of magic if you’re inclined to see such things.

Mljet: No Boxes to Tick

Mljet is probably not for the buzzing traveler who needs to box tick, be seen, load up on external affirmations or caffeine filled cocktails. If you’re a reader, a writer, a cyclist, a hiker, a boat lover, a tree hugger, a photographer, an interpersonal connector, a person who enjoys processing information slowly, someone who thinks they might find joy contemplating an octopus for an unusually long period of time or staring into an impossible landscape, this place might be the one.

Knowing that Mljet exists still gives me pause and I’ve often wondered if it was actually a miracle or a mirage. The travelers we met were right though. There’s nothing to do there. But if you are composed of the type of elements that leave you open to experience, step into the nothing and let it envelop you.

Naima HallNaima Hall is a freelance environmental portraiture, street and landscape photographer and travel writer with interests in the intersection of people and animals within their natural environment. Her recent photo credits include publication in GoNomad, Wanderlust Travel Magazine, Corbeaux Magazine and digital travel media for Cuba and the Azores. Currently based in Brooklyn, New York, Naima undertakes seasonal assignments in various locations around the world.

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