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By: Zdenko Kahlina
Exploring Croatia on two wheels; country of thousand islands
It’s a well kept secret. With a thousand sparsely populated islands dotted along its 300 mile length, Croatia’s coastline is among the most beautiful in the world. Bring you bike and cruise the Dalmatian and Istrian archipelagos, touring luscious, fertile countryside and picture-postcard villages.
Stay in small villages along the coast and be dazzled by dramatic after-dinner sunsets as you relax on deck. Extend your cycling holiday in Croatia with extra nights in Dubrovnik or Split and explore Baroque, Renaissance and Gothic architecture.
The mainland Dalmatian coast is dotted with historical towns, cities, and villages, but the country is very narrow and so visiting the islands is absolutely part of a visit to the Dalmatian Coast. There is so much to see and do in this part of Croatia, and don’t be afraid to do it on your own. Croatia is very safe! You can do a self-guided biking tour which will help you discover Croatia off the beaten path. Your trip should look something like this: Start in Split, and begin your adventure to cycle the most beautiful and important mainland cities of Split and Dubrovnik while also cycling some of the most picturesque islands just off the coast including Brac, Hvar, and Korcula. Top quality hotels are along the route where ever you decide to spend the night, so no worries about accommodation. All the roads are made for cycling… just try to awoid major highways.
The Dalmatian coast is aptly named, with well over 101 spots to cycle to and coo over. Especially if you like the idea of putting your bike on a ferry, circumnavigating islands such as hedonistic Hvar or the National park of Mljet Island. Islands you won’t want to leave, and more often than not, you don’t have to. Croatia’s cycling highlights are more about pedalling for pleasure than going on an Olympian odyssey, cycling through the vineyards of the Peljesac peninsula or past the medieval architecture of the Konavle Valley. Istria, with its Roman influences, however, is pure odyssey, with cycle routes into a whole other glorious Croatian world.
Cycling in a small group across Dalmatian islands and along its coast will be dream come true. If you arrange to have a guide and support van with you at all times, this would be pedalling paradise for those who want to challenge themselves just a bit, but also want to savour every moment of that Adriatic breeze teasing all the senses without worrying about where they have to get to next.
All you need is about five full days of cycling around Hvar and Korcula Islands and the Peljesac Peninsula, with an option to take in Mljet Island on your day off (and why wouldn’t you…?), mostly along gently undulating island gravel tracks, past vineyards and olive groves, down into shimmering bays. Hvar town, a mini Venice with marbled streets and medieval palaces, and Dubrovnik are cultural highlights.
Croatia’s fourth largest island, you can do circular cycles around this 68km x 10.5km wide island idyll. Known for its celebrity status, oligarchs and yachties, Hvar has great cycling status too, as you pedal through old fishing towns such as Stari Grad or hilltop hamlets. All bursting with old stone houses and paths that lead through olive groves or secret coves. Who needs an oligarchy? Cycling on Hvar, you have it all.
Very popular for self-guided cycling, especially the restored 120km Parenzana railway line, which traversed the much fought over area with neighbouring Italy for many years. Especially as you end up in the wonderful Roman town of Porec. Istria’s cuisine is still very Italian, allowing for feasts en route. Istria’s Brijuni (Archipelago) National Park is also a must on the cycling menu, if gorging on natural beauty is your thing.
One of Croatia’s best kept secrets, this narrow strip leads you south to the border with Montenegro. With the turquoise waters of the Adriatic on one side and Sniježnica mountains on the other, it’s a cycling tour de force. One minute you are cycling along cliffs past ancient architecture, such as Cavtat’s Franciscan monastery, the next you are heading up into rural villages and vineyard bedecked hills.
Although popular with cruiseship daytrippers, because of the stunning Gothic-Renaissance Cathedral and mini Dubrovnik vibe, it is very easy to get off the mass tourism trail – and onto pine forested, vineyard lined or shimmering seaside trails. With hilltop hamlets, olive groves and gorgeous views back along the Peljesac Peninsula, it’s a great place to spend a couple of nights. Visit Mljet Island NP from here, too.
Mljet (island) National Park
This island is a national park, so you feel like you are landing on a precious natural nugget. It’s also, unique with two salt water lakes on it which you can cycle around. They are surrounded by pine, wooded hills with turquoise peeking through the trees, beckoning you to tiny golden beaches. Because it is, in fact, a golden nugget. Great place to swap pedals for paddles and kayak the coves at the end of the day too.
Get drunk on life cycling along this ambrosial arena, home to some of Croatia’s finest vineyards. This elegant finger of land, with water on both sides, is also home to Ston – a town that had muscle power in the past, with the longest city walls in Europe. And mussel power today, with the most celebrated seafood in the country. Often the last cycle for people en route to Dubrovnik, this is some finale.
Most importantly, don’t let age slow you down. Get out there, have fun, and enjoy your bike! And in the meantime, hurry spring!
Hope to see you on the road.
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