Mljet is not inspiring. The hillside track climbs past what look like the remnants of wells, meandering up to a lookout over an unusually green valley that humans don’t seem to have bothered venturing into. The just-right September sun slow cooks as the chorus of cicadas work up their Helicopter On The Verge Of Breaking Down symphony. It provides no great call to action; just a desire to slow down, wear a simple smile and gently amble.
Mljet is not cool. Or hip. Or hot. The portly Italian mammas teetering towards the water’s edge in their unflattering bikinis will not make it into any promotional brochures. Nor will their greying colleagues trundling round the edge of the lake in the sort of neither-here-nor-there half-hearted outdoorsy clothes you might buy in Marks and Spencer. But the mammas enjoy their splash, occasionally tickled by tiny fish, and the walkers enjoy the scenic views of the lake on one side and haphazard limestone boulders on the other.
Mljet is not new. There are Roman traces – a wall or two from an old villa-cum-palace remain near the National Park ticket hut at Polače. There’s a Benedictine monastery from the 12th century on an islet in the middle of the lake. You can row over to it if you like. Or you can just take a picture of the boats lining up prettily on the jetty then go for a swim.
Mljet is not undiscovered. The ferries have been dropping day-trippers off at Polače harbour from Dubrovnik for years. They don’t come in their hordes, and they don’t all charge around the same route led by a guide holding an umbrella. They just line up at the information centre to ask for a map, with each one patiently being pointed to the National Park ticket hut 50 metres away. Once they have a map in hand, they scurry away in different directions to see what they can see. Some walk, some hire bikes, some opt for the kayaks and paddle around the little off-shore islets. The exploration is squirrel-like; furtive snuffling around, and never bold.
Mljet is not arty. Style doesn’t seem to matter. If there’s an enterprising lady with a roadside stall, she’ll be selling pouches of lavender rather than handmade jewellery or ceramics. The day someone spray paints a mural on the side of an occasionally crumbling stone wall, they’ll be driven off the island.
Mljet is not foodie. The establishments lining the waterfront at Polače don’t veer too far from the template. Grilled meat, grilled fish, pizza, pasta and maybe some fresh juice. But they all have wooden terraces with cane roofs overhanging the water. After a day’s mooch around the island, they suddenly seem very appealing. An hour’s sit down, a late lunch and a cold beer or two before the 4pm ferry departs? Sorry Heston, your molecular faffing about can wait for another day.
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Mljet is not a wine hotspot. The odd token, flag-flying vineyard cuts a rude swathe through an otherwise completely forested hillside. They’re scruffy things, vines sprawling free rather than meticulously hemmed into neat rows. During harvest, two men in white hats will stoically plod round, picking the grapes by hand. Viticulture technology is something to be suspicious of.
Mljet is not topical. Things happen, of course. But they happen on a seasonal basis. The big news of 2012 will be very similar to the big news of 2002. Anniversaries of minutiae pass by without fanfare and without the wider world either noticing or caring. The arrival of a TV news crew would be met with quizzical looks and furrowed brows.
Mljet is not interesting. It is not worthy of gasping hyperbole. It is not significant. It is not quirky, action-packed, glamorous or chic. It is not the new anywhere else. It is not, by any conventional standards, worth writing about. But sometimes the ideal spot doesn’t have to be worth writing about. Just being lovely is enough.