The perfect Croatian island village: Okuklje, Mljet

Croatia‘s Adriatic islands are desperately beautiful. They span a significant geographic range, from Krk in the north right by Rijeka to the tiny Elaphiti islands in the south, just off Dubrovnik.

While every island has its charms, Mljet, an hour or so by catamaran from Dubrovnik, is extra special. It’s heavily forested, with well over eighty percent of the island covered by beautiful trees. The island is long and skinny, with a length of almost 25 miles and an average width of about two miles. The population is small, at just over one thousand, spread across a number of small villages. The largest of these, the inland village of Babino Polje, has fewer than 400 residents according to the most recent population statistics. There is only one bona fide hotel on Mljet. Tourists tend to stay in private accommodations across the island or at campsites.

The glory of Mljet is the national park that occupies its western end, in particular St Mary Island, which sits on an inland lake within the park and hosts a church and monastery.

But if you are driven by solitude and out-of-the-way pockets of beauty, you won’t want to linger at the national park. Those drawn to relaxed seaside villages will do well to head to the tiny settlement of Okuklje on the northern coast. Over a mile from Mljet’s main artery up and then down a very steep twister of a road, Okuklje gathers around a winding protected bay. It’s beautiful and quiet. There are no beaches, but there are plenty of ways to enter the bay effortlessly. (The only sandy beaches of note on Mljet, by the way, can be found at the island’s eastern tip, near Saplunara, where the waters are exquisitely beautiful but the strands are a mite crowded in July.)

A few dozen stone houses cluster around Okuklje’s winding bay. There are a handful of restaurants and plenty of private houses and individual rooms for rent. There is a regular stream of overnighting sailors. More importantly, there is plenty of shade along the tiny ribbon of street along the bay and the tourists keep to themselves. And the water, slightly warmer than that of the unsheltered Adriatic, is as smooth as silk.

There are lots of reasons to visit Croatia’s Adriatic coast. But if you are after peace and quiet, you could do far worse than to pick a sleepy village on the sleepiest of Croatia’s larger Adriatic islands.