Sailing with a Small Dog to Mjlet Island – Part 1 – Dalmatia – Croatia
As a travel blogger, when a place is magical and takes your breath away, you get a little frightened about writing a post about it. You have this pit in your stomach that says, “You will not do it justice. You will not find the words. You’ll fail this place.” And then you wipe your paws in the dirt and go ahead anyway; because we are passionate about international travel with a small dog, and we want to show you that sailing with a small dog is fun! Our stop at Mljet National Park remains to this day one of the absolute best memories we have of our time sailing the Dalmatian coast. A great big part of that has to do with our amazing Skipper Toni, and I wrote a bit of an ode to him last week. But in all fairness, the memories also have a lot to do with the island proper.
Called Melita by the Romans and Meleda by the Venetians, Mljet covers an area of about 98 sq. km (37 sq. miles for my American readers). In Roman times, the island was a holiday resort for the wealthy who built villas there. Some ruins are still around. In fact, the small town of Polace, where we docked at a tiny marina, boasts rather fantastic ruins: a villa, a thermëa, and an old basilica.
I recommend you go to the back of the Palace ruins and follow a little dirt trail with a bit of “off-roading” to really enjoy the ruins. Do be cautious though: beehives in the area are not up in the trees but underground! So watch where you put your feet/paws!
I, for one, was charmed by the carpet of cyclamen we encountered. I had only ever seen the flower in pots back home.
The Roman villa dates back to the 1st century with bits added on well into the 6th century. It was likely built where it was in Polace because the natural bay is—and all the sailors we talked to absolutely agreed—the largest and most sheltered harbour on the entire Dalmatian coast. That is no small claim to fame, Dear Reader.
And we should know. We got stuck on Mjlet for an extra day precisely because of a sudden and insanely strong wind. Our Skipper was thrilled to have a spot at the marina. We saw many boats trying to find safe haven that evening, many just dropping anchors in the bay because space in the tiny marina quickly filled up.
Polace is, by any standard, the perfect place to seek refuge. And that is its history. You could easily hide an entire fleet in the 5.5 by 4 km-wide bay. Hence the villa, whom some say might have been built with the idea of eventually having a full time navy fleet and academy on the island. That, however, never materialized and no one really knows why.
But Polace has more to offer than a great little marina, stellar bay with clear turquoise waters for a swim, and ruins to roam. For its small size (about 100 inhabitants), Polace also boasts a surprisingly large number of restaurants as well as a grocery store and some cafes. Do take some time to stroll along the road that hugs the coast.
But for us, the moment in Polace we will never forget was when we met a baby owl.
The old man we met explained that he found this little owl fallen from the nest and abandoned by the parents. The old man decided to take care of the owl since it was already able to eat meat on its own. And so … this funny duo came to be. The older man lets the baby owl stay outside during the day while the man goes off fishing. And in the evening, when he returns, the baby owl flies into the home with his human friend and they enjoy their meal. The old man said that his little friend must be hunting a little now: if the man comes home late, the owl comes in for shelter but does not eat. The man was happy about this, saying it meant that he would be able to release the owl back into the wild.
If you only have an afternoon to spend on the island, you can rent bicycles near the marina and, for a small fee, you can enter the Nature Reserve and bike all day long amid the amazing beauty. There are a lot of rules to follow but, luckily, the park IS pet friendly!
If you feel like it, you can bike all the way to the other end of the island and then collapse and enjoy the magnificent beach of Saplunara. If you don’t want to get too physical (it is a hilly island), you can also rent a car or scooter.
In 1960, the western part of the island was declared a national park in order to save the unique forest of Aleppo Pine and Holm Oak. This, in turn, has helped safeguard a population of wild boar, deer, hare, lizards, tons of small mammals, and birds. It’s important to note that the island is only very recently turning itself into an eco haven. The island has a pretty dismal history of catastrophic man-made decisions. One horrible decision was allowing the sea to connect to the inner islands, completely obliterating the fresh water life in the lakes. But more on that when I tell you all about the Monastery!
The second bad decision humans made on the eco front was the introduction of the small Asian mongoose. Introduced in the early twentieth century in order to reduce the venomous snake population, the mongooses completed their mission and then proceeded to decimate nearly all the birdlife on the island. To this day, Mjlet is notably short of small song birds. Mongooses are a hazard for local poultry and are also known to cause damage in vineyards and orchards. In fact, the mongooses are so sassy that a local even warned the Bipeds to keep an eye on me just in case a mongoose decided it could take me on. Apparently, they have been known to kill young cats. *shiver*
But we never saw one. And I secretly think the Bipeds are a little disappointed. I think they kind of wanted to see one in the wild. I, for one, am totally okay with not spotting a mongoose. It does looks like the island is learning from its past, however. There was even talk of all vehicles on the island going electric. So I have high hopes for Mjlet. The first step of making most of the island a reserve was certainly a very good decision, because it’s not just on land that the changes can already be witnesses. The National Reserve area also protects coastal territory and thus protects dozens of species of fish including grouper and, the rarest of them all, the now-protected monk seal fish.
Mjlet is such a beautiful place. With extraordinary views and magical spots around every corner, it is well worth taking the time to see Mjlet at a leisurely pace. And I haven’t even gotten to some of the best parts yet! Stay tuned, Dear Reader for THAT adventure next week! In the meantime here are more photos of Polace!
In review: Covered by forests and lush vegetation, Mjlet will intoxicate you with the most wonderful smells: a mix of sea, pine, and herbs. Legend says that Odysseus stopped here and remained for seven years. And I totally understand why he would! Walk or bike around the island to discover beautiful hidden places. The water is unbelievably blue and clear, and the dense forest provides a perfect place to relax and explore. Sailing with your small dog to this island is absolutely worth it!