Slow the pace and get away from Dubrovnik’s glamor for a day trip to the Elafiti, 14 car-free islands and islets between Dubrovnik and the Pelješac Peninsula. These land masses are the basis for one of the most popular excursions from Dubrovnik. Only the three largest of the “deer islands” (from the Greek elfos)—Koločep, Lopud, and Šipan—are populated. They have been inhabited since prehistoric times. During the 10th century, the islands became Dubrovnik territories and were liberally strewn with chapels, churches, and villas designed in a riot of pre-Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance styles. Today, the islands’ few residents are indifferent to tourists, who mostly are left alone to poke around in the pine forests and crumbling ruins that cover much of the terrain.
If you have the time, you should visit the islands one at a time, travelling independently by local Jadrolinja ferry (www.jadrolinija.hr). However, if time is short, various agencies offer a “Three Islands Cruise,” departing from Gruž harbor to take in the three islands above, with a seafood lunch included, for around 400kn per person.
You will find Lopud Tourist Information Center (tel.020/759-086) at Obala I. Kuljevana 12 and Šipan Tourist Information Center (tel.020/758-084) at Luka bb, Luka Šipanska. Note that these centers are open in summer only.
What to See & Do: Islands
KoloČep -- Koloćep is the island in this group closest to Dubrovnik (3.2km/2 miles away); at less than a square mile, it is also the smallest. The island’s fewer than 200 residents live in two tiny villages of stone houses, Donje Čelo on the northwest side and Gornje Čelo on the island’s southwest side. You can cover the distance between the two villages in less than 1 hr. on foot, unless you are lured off the path between them to explore Koločep’s olive groves and church ruins. In 2014, the Kalamota Island Resort (www.kalamotaislandresort.com), one of the few adults-only hotels in Croatia, opened here.
Lopud -- Lopud is the most tourism-oriented of the islands, and has several small B&Bs plus the big, modern Lafodia Hotel (www.lafodiahotel.com). It is just under twice the size of Koločep, and has just one settlement, Lopud Town. Lopud draws more visitors than its sister islands and has the most attractions: the ruins of a Franciscan monastery, several tiny medieval churches in various stages of decay, and the lovely sandy Šunj beach, with an informal restaurant and bar.
Šipan -- Šipan is the largest of the Elafitis, but it is also the least developed. Ferries from Dubrovnik deposit passengers at Šipanska Luka (Šipan Harbor). From here, an unsurfaced road runs across the island, through a pleasant fertile valley (Šipansko Polje) planted with olive groves and vineyards, to Šipan’s second village, Suđurađ. The island has a couple of hotels (one in each village) and several decent seafood eateries.
Mljet’s background is laced with legends, but its present condition is a real-life experience of nature and history. The ancient Greeks were familiar with Mljet, an island they called Melita (“honey”) for the swarms of bees they found there, but except for amphorae in the sea off Mljet, there is no tangible evidence the Greeks ever settled on it. Later settlers—Romans, Byzantines, Avars, Slavs—did leave traces of their time on Mljet; the area around Ploče boasts several sites with ruins dating to the 1st through the 6th centuries, including a 5th-century Roman palace and some fortifications.
On the island, the Mljet Tourist Board (www.mljet.hr; tel.020/746-025) is based at Zabrježe 2, Babino Polje; the Mljet National Park (www.np-mljet.hr;tel. 020/744-041) office is at Pristanište 2, Goveđari.
What to See & Do: Mljet
The western side of Mljet is a national park known as a “green island” because Mljet is heavily wooded (more than 70 percent of the island is covered with forests). Its centerpieces are two saltwater lakes connected by a narrow channel. Water in these lakes is warm: 77°F (25°C) for Malo Jezero and 82° to 86°F (28°–30°C) for Veliko Jezero. The lakes’ high saline concentration is said to have healing properties, especially for skin diseases and rheumatism.
Most people come to here to swim in the lakes, or to hike or cycle around the water and through the island’s dense pinewoods. Note that mountain bikes and sea kayaks are available for rent at Hotel Odisej, Mljet’s only hotel, which lies just under a mile from Pomena and Veliko Jezero.
In the middle of the larger lake, Veliko Jezero, rises the tiny St. Mary’s Islet, capped by a semi-abandoned, fortified, 12th-century Benedictine monastery. The monastery and its Church of St. Mary have gone through several incarnations since they were built, including a stint as a hotel during Tito’s administration. The 1991 war ended that phase, leaving the monastery and church vacant and neglected. They are currently under restoration—the monastery is closed to visitors, but the tiny church is open, though there isn’t much to see. Most visitors end up having a (rather overpriced) snack or drink at Restoran Melita (www.mljet-restoranmelita.com), with its tables on a pretty terrace on the quay in front of the monastery. St. Mary’s Isletis served by hourly national park taxi-boats from Pomena.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.