“Life is like a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.”
Before We Bike – Dubrovnik
We spent our first two days in Croatia checking out the city of Dubrovnik. The striking and tall limestone walls of this fortress-like city’s Old Town were completed in the 16th century. In recent years Dubrovnik has become a very popular coastal destination due to Game of Thrones; specifically Kings Landing, which has used the Old Town as it’s set. This is also an Unesco World Heritage Site, so is therefore teeming with crowds of people. Every shop is bursting with Game of Thrones labeled memorabilia. You can listen to guides lead groups of tourists in languages from all over the world wandering past.
Our travels took us to Croatia from late September into the first week of October. This represents some winding down of the busy summer tourist season this area of the Dalmatian Coast can see. We were told we were lucky to have such minimal crowds when we were in Dubrovnik.
6 Days of Bicycle Touring Croatia
Day # 1 – Ston to Orebic then ferry transfer to Island of Korcula
After two days in Dubrovnik we were chomping at the bit to hit the road on our bicycle adventure. Our guide company, Meridien Ten, had arranged transport from our hotel in Dubrovnik to the town of Ston where we were to meet with our bicycle outfitter for our gear and instruction.
It was actually a bit of an intimidating (and retrospectively comical) start to the ride. We met our guide and sat down for our briefing on the ride under an umbrella, outdoors at a local coffee shop in Ston. It had just started raining and quickly had reached downpour status. Lindsay and I leaned in to listen to the heavily accented and enthusiastic guide list off 6 days of “not to miss” turns, highlights, wineries and precautions. Meanwhile, as we were fast realizing, cigarette smoking is extremely prevalent in Croatia and we were breathing full gulps of second hand smoke from what seemed like all of the nearby tables thinking about heading off on the highway momentarily- and feeling more than a little queasy.
Shortly after hitting the road and working out some early jitters and navigating strategies we suddenly realized; we had left our first ferry transfer tickets in the overnight bags, the bags already shuttled to the Island of Korcula!
Meridien Ten - Bicycle Outfitters - Guided or Self-Guided Trip options in Croatia - I would recommend them and check them out again on another tour, given the opportunity.
As stressed as this initially made us, this (see photo above) is what is looked like to wait for the shuttle driver to swing by the town we were passing through with the tickets. We were comfortably settling into the speed of this sort of travel and exploration.
Everyday of our Croatian tour consisted of views something like the above: endless blue of the Adriatic Sea stretching out beside us, row after row of grape vines twisting along the roadside and largely abandoned old roadways that were traveled by minimal cars or other bikers. It really was idyllic.
We had a great time exploring the Matusko Winery. We were guided through what seemed like miles of underground tunnels and rooms where their wine is stored and the history of their process is preserved. We were so impressed with how little they charged for the delicious and famous bottles of their local fares the Plavac Mali and the easy-sipping white, Prosip. They are famous for their Dingač wine but we actually liked the less celebrated and cheaper options best. Unfortunately our excitement at our first winery on the route led us to max out the pannier bag capacity with 4 wine bottles for what was a bit more climbing on the bikes then we realized was still ahead for the day.
We loved the tour of the winery and the wine was delicious! Check them out if you're ever in the area: Matusko Winery - Matusko Winery - A highlight wine tour for us (admittedly non wine connoisseur-types) - Great wine at reasonable price
We finally made it to our hotel at the end of our first day of biking. It consisted of: Late night arrival at our first hotel. Caught the last ferry. No lights biking through busy streets with phone flashlights held high. Cutting through a campground and construction site. Heavy loads of $2.50 wine bottles dutifully hauled to our next hotel room… but we made it.
Day #2 – Island of Korcula – Korcula to Racisce to Lumbarda
From here we got better and better at our strategy of moving and navigating our way on the bikes. We grew comfortable with frequent stops for delicious pizza, espresso, draft beer and wine. We settled in to the rhythm of traveling by bike.
We spent two nights in each hotel allowing for a day of local travel on the islands of Korcula and Hvar. This made for a pleasant mix of days with a set agenda and schedule versus days to wander and explore.
The Island of Korcula was some of our favorite biking on the trip. Absolutely stunning and quiet coastal roads, connecting picture-perfect and historic oceanfront towns (all with delicious pizza) was a winning combination for us!
Endless miles (or kilometers, as the case may be) of gorgeous grape vines and what seemed liked deserted old roads. We rarely had close vehicle encounters once outside of the towns and cities.
The most amazing dish I had in our travels. Seared ahi and wonderfully prepared all natural fresh veggies (blue from some sort of cauliflower!?) My mouth is watering looking at the picture right now… we were at: Konoba Aterina – a delicious and recommended vegetarian restaurant we found in the old city.
Konoba Aterina - A Mediterannean focused, fresh, local restaurant in Korcula, Croatia - One of our favorites from the trip!
Day #3 – Korcula to Vela Luka – then to Hvar via speedboat
Another trip highlight was having a techno-bumping private speed boat waiting for us in the port as we came riding in on our bikes. We hoped aboard and were zipped across the sea at 30 kilometers for around an hour before pulling up to Hvar Town.
Hvar Town looked like something from a James Bond movie. Exotic people and exotic yahcts with an amazing locale and back drop. Suddenly we were standing amongst some high society looking folks, wearing cycling shorts and a jersey with more bicycles and luggage than two people could move. After a few awkward moments a little man came apologetically rushing up and helped us hump all of our bags, bikes and wine bottles up through the old castle-like town’s narrow streets to what became our favorite hotel of the trip, the Villa NORA in Hvar.
Villa Nora - Hvar, Croatia Mini Boutique Hotel - Another one of our favorites from the trip. Cool open rooms with mix of old style and modern comfort. We could have stayed here for a week!
Day #4 – Island of Hvar – Trail Running Hvar to Milna
Lindsay was ready for a day of resting by the sea, reading, shopping and pampering herself a bit. I, being a bit more masochistic by nature, felt a rough and rocky, humid 10-mile trail run was what I needed. It ended up being pretty cool to explore the coast up to the next town of Milna, Croatia by trail.
Day #5 – Hvar to Stari Grad and Jelsa (then ferry) to Split
We biked through rolling hills of out-of-season Lavendar between Hvar and Stari Grad. One could only imagine the flood of scents and the beauty of purple fields as far as the eye could see if we had caught it all in bloom!
Split had tons going on. Where some the our previous towns had felt somewhat sleepy or quaint (even Hvar had a bit more care-free-friendly vibe) – Split was more urban feeling. A touch more harsh. We found some real gems wandering around the maze-like Diocletian’s Palace pathways, though. We enjoyed looking up at this lit prominent structure of the Palace while two talented musicians belted out some Pink Floyd. Our hotel for the next two days was inside the Palace’s walls, which was originally built Roman emperor Diocletian at the turn of the fourth century AD.
Day #6 – Split – Marjan Forest Park to Strobec – and our last day on the bikes
For our last day on the bikes we headed out to the nearby Marjan Forest Park to explore and take in the views after a nice climb. Our tour then recommended a ride down to another nearby town that was much more urban street biking than anything else we had really done thus far…
Post-bike Adventures – Running (around tourists) at Krka National Park to the town of Skradin
We picked up our little sports car rental Audi and hit the road for Krka National Park. This park is known for the amazing waterway and waterfalls formed in the cliffs along the river.
Krka National Park - Preserved river ecosystem along the Krka River including gorgeous waterfalls and boardwalks to explore.
We left the tourist boardwalk for a run along the river up to the town of Skradin. After leaving the park we hopped back in the Audi. From there, we had a bit of an adrenaline-packed ride through a lightening storm while in our sports car hurtling down the Croatian equivalent to the Autobahn highway at 160 kilometers per hour (about 100 MPH). We were en route to our final destination prior to leaving Croatia – the Istrian Peninsula.
Istrian Peninsula – Rainy Run in Pula
We had heard good things about the Istrian Peninsula and the town of Pula, Croatia so we made our way up north to check it out. Pula has interesting history in that it represents a pivotal and strategic war time location that has consequently changed hands many times over the centuries. Just in the years following WWII it has been under the control of Allied Forces, Italy, Yugoslavia and now Croatia.
The Pula Arena was constructed in 27 BC – 68 AD is the most complete of the remaining Roman amphitheaters in existence. The arena is occasionally used as a venue for various events. If you are lucky you might be able to catch the likes of David Gilmour, Jamiiroquai or even Elton John, who have all grace the stage of the ancient arena.
The Pula Arena - The most famous and historic monument in Pula, the historic arena or amphitheater would be worth checking out to see if a film festival or concert coincides with your travels!
Wine Tasting and The Aquarium Pula – Rain Day
What better to fill a rainy day then the local aquarium? We were drawn in by their advertised sea turtle rescue program (but only one turtle was in house when we stopped by.) While this was certainly not the a major destination or must see; it fit the bill perfectly for an afternoon downpour.
Aquarium Pula - A unique and interesting aquarium situated within a 130-year-old fortress in Pula housing a collection of local marine life.
We also visited the winery of Vina Benazic in Pula for a quiet afternoon tasting of their wine and tapas pairings. Delicious flavors and thoughtful hosting made this spot a recommendation as well.
Vina Benazic - Another recommended winery. We learned about the history of the family vineyard while visiting with the daughter of the winemaker.
Trail Running Kamenjak National Park on the Istrian Peninsula
Another highlight of the Istrian Peninsula we enjoyed and wished we had more time to explore was Kamenjak National Park. We had heard there was great trail running as well as some very funky bar and restaurant establishments tucked into the coastal national park. The Safari Bar came up more than once as a must see oddity of the park. It is an impressive tourist trap of a bar with Burning Man-esque adult-sized homemade play ground equipment. From the crow’s nest to the slides and barrel rolling there is a “safety-third” vibe while checking out the homemade jungle gym equipment with a view. There are miles of meandering trails to run and lot’s of great spots to jump from the rocks to the crystal clear waters below when you’re all finished. Unfortunately, shortly after I dried off in the sun we were set to hit the road to Zagreb, the country’s capital, and our flight home.
Kamenjak Premantura Park or Cape Kamenjak - The southernmost and rugged coastline of the Istrian Peninsula. From hiking, sunbathing, scuba, snorkeling, mountain biking or trail running - more here to check out than we had time!
The Safari Bar - A very unique place. At the end of the road look for the jungle of the safari bar. Featuring amazing views, strong drinks and bizarre bamboo playground for kids and adults.
Zagreb, Croatia – The Capital City
A shower and a dinner out on the town before we caught a mid day flight back to SFO and on to Truckee, California. Home, sweet home.