Is this Croatia's ‘Garden of Eden’?

Jack Montgomery , 11 April, 2017
Jack Montgomery is charmed by a visual banquet – a veritable feast for the eyes – on the Dalmatian island of Mljet.

There's an enchanted spot in the highland forests of Mexico I have long nursed a desire to visit.

Every October resplendent Monarch butterflies arrive at Michoacan in their millions, adding an explosion of orange sunburst to the verdant woodlands.

It sounds like Mother Nature at her creative peak and I've tried to visualise the scene in my head many times. Recently, as I followed a trail through the Aleppo pines in Mljet National Park in Croatia, I was given a taster of what it must be like in reality.

I'm not claiming that the army of butterflies that accompanied me on part of the route was on a scale with what happens in Michoacan. However, I've never seen so many of them in the wild in the same place at the same time. Turning a corner in the forest track the air was filled with swallowtails, yellow clouds, red admirals and probably many other species – my butterfly identification skills are limited.

As I walked, they danced and fluttered around me. Some kept me company for a few yards, floating inches ahead of my face until they were distracted by the scent from a seductive bloom.

Every so often I followed one to investigate the flower that had called it, discovering that the forest wasn't just a magnet for butterflies. Each cluster of pastel petals or ball of purple spikes was home to a motley crew of insects that ranged from benign wasps to spotty beetles (not a technical term) and, my favourite, rose chafers whose tank-like metallic green bodies outshone even the most spectacular lepidoptera.

Idyllic is an over-used description that's applied to picturesque locations. But on a sunny spring day, when faced with a scene that consisted of a rainbow coloured squadron of butterflies performing a flighty aerial ballet to a backdrop of Aleppo pines and junipers descending gently to an iridescent jade lake, it is the mot juste.

As I approached the ruins of an old Roman palace at Polače, another exceptionally scenic spot, I hit the insect/flower jackpot.

A couple of rose chafers were enjoying a sweet pollen meal on that most eye-catching of flowers - the passion flower. Combined, their striking colours created a vision that was almost other-worldly. It was a partnership that looked as though it belonged more on Pandora, the movie Avatar's fictional paradise, than on Earth.

I could have stood and stared for ages had I not been directly opposite a little agricultural plot that was home to a tethered goat. For some reason the goat had taken against me and clearly had a yen to butt me in best cartoon fashion. Perhaps he'd viewed me bending over to peer at the rose chafers as a target too tempting to resist.

Whatever the reason, I decided to not hang around to see how effective the rope restraining him was. I descended the final few metres to Polače's shoreline where yet another world-beating vista pushed thoughts of flowers, metallic beetles and goats with anger management issues temporarily from my mind.

In a country that boasts more than its fair share of stand-out National Parks, Mljet is a sparkling emerald on an exquisitely decorated crown.

Related holidays

Dalmatian Islands & Dubrovnik
You can discover the delights of the Croatian coast on our 8-night island-hopping journey by car and boat visiting the alluring islands of Mljet and Korčula before taking in the sights of the medieval city of Dubrovnik.
More about our touring holiday in Croatia >
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