I’m on Mljet island, and island that the World Wildlife Fund for Nature calls amongst one of the last paradises in the Mediterranean.
After a night of barely sleeping listening to the creatures outside my tent and the god knows what animals howling every minute, I woke at 7am and got myself up and out to check out the beach at Camp Marina.
The experience can only be compared to a very disappointing Tinder date.
I was on top of the cliff edge, looking down at the seductive marine blue still waters and a pretty tiny little cove that I was sure to have all to myself. It was a steep climb, a lot of effort and quite tiring at times but surely it was going to be worth the hassle. When I got there my face dropped instantly as looked upon an overstuffed wheelie bin, spilling out litter all over the place, a load of shipwrecked rusty boats and not one square inch of sand or pebbly beach to lie on.
It was time to go.
I packed up my tent and hefty bags as quickly as I could, paid the lady and headed up yet another mountain on my way to Camp Lovor – my original destination. I’d worked out how to tie my smaller backpack to my bicycle so I was looking and feeling less like a packhorse, which made things a whole lot easier. It was roughly 5km this time with only a few monstrous earth lumps in between, plus without the sinking sun singing out alarm bells in my head, I could take my time and walk when I needed to.
A few mountains later I see the sea.
I whizzed down to the coast with childlike fearlessness, almost praying out loud that this campsite would be as I hoped it would. And hallelujah it was.
It’s a relatively basic site, but compared to the last it one it felt like the Burj. A real tent pitch, totally shaded by trees with no ant colonies, giant buzzing emerald green beetles or enormous spiders to share it with. A clean, sparkling white toilet and shower block with mirrors and plug sockets. A drinking water tap for refills. A table and chairs to sit outdoors in the shade. And wifi for when I want some digital distractions. This is what dreams are made of.
I pitched up and went to explore my new home, Kozarica.
It could not be more what I was hoping for, it’s a tiny little dot of a village on the north coast of the island with no more than 28 permanent inhabitants. You can only get here by car or scooter (or for idiots like me, bicycle) and there is no public transport or taxis. It’s perfectly remote and I’m one of less than about fifteen visitors. There’s also no supermarket, the nearest is 12km away, which I actually hadn’t realised, but luckily the lovely man named Goran who owns Camp Lovor with his wife Ana, offered to pick me up some fruit.
There is only one restaurant called Villa Radulj. It’s one of the most incredibly romantic restaurants I’ve ever been to. You’re welcomed in under a pretty pale pink floral arch, guided up to the terrace by the dry-stone walls coated in bougainvillea and other beauty-fully flamboyant Mediterranean flowers with hundreds of bright yellow butterflies fluttering from petal to petal. The tables on the terrace are shaded beneath a canopy of leaves, looking out over the marina and beyond to the Peljesac Peninsula.
The restaurant is run by Marin and his family and they are all so charming. This was a family home that they opened up as Villa Radulj about 25 years ago. His parents live here all year round and help out when they can but he just spends his summers here and winters in Dubrovnik. He’s a farmer by trade. Everything you chew here is organically grown, freshly caught or gently reared.
Marin can’t do enough for his guests and every single one of them is greeted with a beaming smile and friendly welcome. He oozes cheerfulness and warmth – you just know a true, pure soul when you meet one.
Every morning you see the locals up at the crack of dawn enjoying a morning swim and two of Marin’s friends heading out to sea on their little boats armed with fishing lines and cages, returning with the day’s special.
I was planning on making this a mostly frugal trip but after the last twenty-four hours I thought I deserved a treat. So after a much needed rest on the beach all day and my second failed attempt at naturist bathing (a local lady shouted “THERE IS NO PUBLIC NUDITY HERE” – I’ve never felt like such a pervert in all my life)… I headed for dinner.
I was the first to be seated on the terrace and ordered myself a glass of red wine. Marin’s daughter who works as a waitress here during the summer holidays, brought it over with a tiny little glass of homemade rose liqueur, a Dalmation specialty and something I’m definitely going to attempt to make when I’m back home.
She read out the menu to me. I love that there’s no paper printed menus here, it’s pretty much just whatever vegetables and meat they’ve got from the local farmers that day along with the latest catch. My attempts at veganism are always going to fail in situations like this, because I am not totally averse to eating animals. I’m just against over-eating animals that are pumped with hormones to grow ten times the size they should be, fed on genetically modified madness, injected with antibiotics and reared in a forced environment that damages the planet at speed.
I went for the fish and oh my god it was absolutely delicious. It arrived as caught but just a little bit grilled and surrounded by a flavoursome green bean and potato combo. Other guests had arrived and I drowned out the sounds of their chatter to a whisper, listened to the music, sipped my wine and felt so incredibly lucky and grateful for all of it.
And now I’ve got a full eleven days to do exactly what I’d planned to do.
Operation Sort Yer Life Out commenceth forthwith