The westernmost of the islands accessible by local ferry from Dubrovnik is MLJET, a thin strip of land some 32km long and never more than 3km wide, running roughly parallel to the Pelješac peninsula. The most visited part of the island is the green and unspoilt west, where untouched Mediterranean forest and two saltwater lakes provide the focus of the Mljet National Park, an area of arcadian beauty within which lie the villages of Polače and Pomena. Despite the presence of a hotel in the village of Pomena, the region remains blissfully unspoiled, full of bicycle-pedalling trippers during the daytime, and romantically quiet and stressless at night.
According to legend, Odysseus holed up here for seven years with the nymph Calypso, and Mljet also has fair claim to being the island of Melita, where St Paul ran aground on his way to Italy and was bitten by a viper before he set sail again. (Mljet’s snake problem was once so bad that a colony of mongooses had to be imported from India to get rid of them, and the fat-tailed creatures are still very much in evidence in the national park.) The Romans used the island as a place of exile, and it was briefly owned by the kings of Bosnia, who sold it to Dubrovnik in 1333. The republic sent an emissary on May 1 every year to rule the island for a year, and many of Dubrovnik’s admirals built summer houses here.