A Hidden Beach and a Hidden Englishman on Mljet

Maybe I have been in Dalmatia too long, but for me there are few things more romantic or exciting than arriving late at night by ferry to a new destination.

Maybe I have been in Dalmatia too long, but for me there are few things more romantic or exciting than arriving late at night by ferry to a new destination. There is the joy of arrival after a long day, but also the expectation of discovery in the early morning, when the secrets of the destination are revealed by daylight.

And so it was with my first visit to the island of Mljet, one which I had been planning to visit for years, but had not thus far succeeded.

We drove for perhaps thirty minutes to our accommodation, where an excellent dinner was awaiting us with a view out to a pretty bay, one to explore in the morning. With several writing deadlines to meet, Internet access was proving an issue on Mljet and on the Peljesac Peninsula, so we were all delighted to find a signal at the restaurant under our rooms. I set my alarm for6am, determined to make a productive start to the day before we left for filming.

The morning view was as good as I could have hoped for, my room overlooking a delightful sandy beach which gave way to another spectacular deserted bay, a trademark special in these parts of Croatia. Ashley Colburn was up early too, with the same plan as me – deadlines, deadlines.

There was no Internet that morning for some reason. It just would not work. After voicing our collective frustration, we observed that there was a signal somewhere in the area and so set off to investigate, walking a kilometre round the bay to find the cutest little beach bar with an even sexier sandy beach in front of it. Although it was 07:30 and the bar was closed, the two ladies who ran the place were having a coffee and took pity on the two pathetic foreigners clutching their laptops. A fabulous start to the day.

The day, however, belonged to Hermes, one of the – or perhaps THE – stars of the entire trip. After 12 years in Dalmatia, I have learned not to be surprised by anything, so when a Croatian-speaking Brit from Brighton with two adorable daughters rocked up with Odysseus and the nymph Calypso for the first legend, I tried to take it in my stride, but once we started to film the second scene, Hermes had me floored.

First though, we had to visit the cave Odysseus. According to the legend:

After the shipwreck, Odyssey was washed on the sea shore of the island of Ogygia where nymph Calypso lived. Dazzled by her beauty and spellbound, he spent seven years on the island. After seven years, the gods decided it was time Calypso let him go. Urged by Athena, Zeus sent Hermes to tell this to the nymph. Odyssey then left on a raft, with supplies of food, water and wine.

The island where Odyssey was washed by the sea reminds one of many things of Mljet: the island has a cave, it is located in the Southern Adriatic, it has four springs and the rock named Ogiran, which all resembles the island of Ogygia where Odyssey was shipwrecked. Locals nurture a legend according to which the owner of the island used to be a woman who lived like a queen, which also recalls Calypso.

It was a beautiful – and windy – spot, not great for those who suffer from fear of heights, and as Ashely’s impressive floppy black hat flew off, I was glad to be climbing the steps back to the van for the filming of the legend.

Which is when I met Hermes, who would not have looked out of place in a Carry On comedy movie.

David is a carpenter who has lived on Mljet more or less full time for 11 years, is married to a local lady with two lovely young daughters who attend school on the island. It is an idyllic natural lifestyle, which is supported by accommodation rentals, carpentry, olives and wine, not a lifestyle which guarantees riches of the financial sort, but for an affinity with nature and life in pure Paradise, it is hard to beat. The apartments he rents are 100% eco-accommodation, and I am looking furiously around for an Internet link on the card he gave me – to be added later.

I wasn’t quite sure why he and his girls were accompanying us, figuring perhaps that there is not that much excitement on Mljet and therefore we were some kind of attraction, but all became apparent when we hit the beach, as our resident Brighton carpenter transformed himself to the (almost) chiselled features of Hermes, as he prepared himself for the important role of rescuing Odysseus from the nymph Calypso after seven years on Mljet (although I had the distinct impression that Odysseus – who DID have chiselled features and drew admiring breaths from certain female members of our group who will remain nameless – was not too unhappy at being stranded in Calypso’s arms).

If the Carry On films ever decide to reform, I would nominate David Hermes for a star role. The boy is a natural, particularly with his homemade costume.

Of course Odysseus was not the only person of note to be shipwrecked off Mljet, although there is no evidence of nymphs in the next legend of St. Paul’s stay on the island:

According to various sources which mention the travels of St. Paul, during his sail across the Adriatic he was shipwrecked and stranded on a deserted, wooded and unknown island full of snakes – Melita.

The ship was marooned on a small sea rock, which the natives of Mljet call the Rock of St. Paul. Fishermen still believe that they must pass through the strait of St. Paul before going fishing in order to have a good catch.

In the area of Crkvine, there are excavations of unknown stone wall for which people believe it is the foundation of the Church of St. Paul.

With a fulltime population of just 800, it was perhaps not surprising that the good-looking actor Odysseus doubled up as St. Paul for the next legend. The ladies in the entourage were certainly not complaining as they headed out to sea to film the place where it all happened.

But the day belonged to Hermes.

I must confess that I struggled with my bearings on Mljet as, without a map and little prior knowledge of the place, I was at the mercy of our itinerary, which did not include the main attraction of the island, Mljet National Park. We did drive through it on the way to an excellent waterfront fish lunch, but there was no time to explore further.

Even without the national park, Mljet is a stunner, with spectacular elevated views of the Adriatic and beyond. It is a true natural paradise, largely undiscovered, and much bigger than I had imagined. It is a place where, in less than 24 hours I found a hidden beach and a hidden Englishman. I suspect they are not the only things to discover in this off-the-beaten track destination.

Visit Mljet!