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Source: Colours of Istria
Croatian cycling champion Vladimir Miholjević talks about Istria
Northwest Istria has recently been getting a lot of praise in the context of cycling activities, recreational cycling, organized competitions, marathons and similar. What is the secret? What magic ingredients have captivated many of its visitors with two-wheeled lovers? Here is the story, first hand.
How it all began…
How come that someone born in Zagreb became a fervent advocate of cycling in Istria? The decades spent in this wonderful region, simply made for cycling, did their magic. Cycling as a profession brought me to Northwest Istria as early as in 1997. Over the next couple of years, Umag became a regular destination for me and my team in January and February, as a training ground for our basic preparations for the competitive season. Shortly after that, the key tourist operators in Umag, learning from the example of other towns, recognized the potential of this sport for the promotion of their tourist destination and of cycling clubs as wintertime clients. They made a breakthrough by organizing the first professional races in Croatia. Some of my most cherished results were realized at these races. I had the opportunity to witness the exceptionally positive impressions the foreign clubs took back to their homelands, spreading the word, and mentioning them whenever we happened to meet.
The first major competitions
I was really proud in 2004 when Istria hosted Giro d’Italia and the greatest names of professional cycling rode on Istrian trails. To be honest, the competitors, or in the cycling jargon – the group, were a bit doubtful at first. However, their scepticism soon melted away, turning into enthusiasm about scenery and the people who gave us an unusually emotional and positive welcome. Back then, my colleagues from different teams congratulated me more and paid me more compliments about wonderful Istria and excellent organization than when I actually won races! And that means a lot coming from someone who can boast with participation at races like Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.
One of the projects I’m working on is the organization of a similar cycling event, directly relating to Croatia and individually presented throughout the world. An event expecting to have much greater attendance than any sporting event previously organized in our country. More about that soon, for now, I only want to say that Umag and Istria as a region are the key ingredients for the organization of such an event and a sure formula for success. Although during my career I changed many preparation destinations, I always like returning to Umag. It is curios how the landscapes you explored on the bike countless times before keep impressing you again and again.
Excellent offer, not just for cyclists
Mild climate and not too difficult trails are an ideal combination for a winter training destination. Combined with the calming, yet powerful scenery leaving a strong impression on everyone visiting Buje, Motovun, Oprtalj, Savudrija, Višnjan and other towns, we get a combo that really heals after gruelling trainings and a place you immediately want to share with and bring your family or close friends to.
Gastronomy is yet another factor bringing together everyone who ever visited Northwest Istria. I won’t go into the complexities of discussion whether gastronomy is the strongest segment of the region’s offer, but I know one thing for sure:a good lunch or dinner are reason enough to visit one of the many praised restaurants or taverns in any of the mentioned towns. The attention the inhabitants of Northwest Istria pay to their land to get the best from it is incredible. There is so much pleasure for the palate and the senses here that I couldn’t possibly venture to list everything from fear of leaving something important out!
One sport, thousands of experiences
Talking about the excellent offer of this region, we must once again inevitably return to cycling. This sport is simply ideal for getting to know all the charms of Northwest Istria. Crisscrossed with numerous built cycling trails and low-traffic country roads, the region offers a unique opportunity to be active while enjoying the visual stimuli of incredible landscapes and an exceptional gastronomic offer. Visitors are not condemned to spend all their time in hotels, campsites or other accommodation, but have a large spectrum of available activities owing to the diverse offer allowing them to truly get to know the Istrian tradition and culture of living and take with them all sorts of unique memories.
I hope this personal cycling story gave you countless reasons to visit this destination on your favourite two wheels and experience everything I just told you about for yourself.
Because northwest Istria loves the winters too! We bring you the top 5 locations that any nature lover should visit, regardless of the season. Winter, I’m sure you’ll agree, has its charms, and it is precisely those charms that we will be putting a spotlight on in the following locations. Enjoy!
5 Winter Locations in Northwest Istria and Its Surrounding Areas
1. The estuary of river Mirna
We start this winter’s tale at the estuary of river Mirna, which together with the bay of Tar vala forms an area the size of 465 hectares, and is home to a rich world of flora and fauna, with hundreds of species of birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals.
Besides being the key location in the migration of birds, as well as a breeding and wintering grounds for those species of birds that breed on water, the estuary of Mirna is also a beautiful destination and a must for any nature lover out there. The idyllic winter scenery and the glorious peace and quiet lend this area an extra something that fulfills and calms, while at the same time overwhelming one with its beauty.
We would also be remiss to leave out the fact that the swamp area of the estuary is one of the few remaining on the Mediterranean, and with the whole area soon to become a special ornithological reservation, the importance of maintaining the diversity of bird species that reside there is becoming more and more obvious.
2. The forest of Motovun
You think Motovun is in only while the film festival there is on? With all due respect to the movies, Motovun and its surrounding areas have a whole lot more to offer in winter time. The natural charms of the Istrian Peninsula and the rest of the Croatian coast, which have stood proudly for over two millennia, are more than sufficient reasons to make the forest of Motovun your top winter destination.
Although it used to be twice the size that it is today, with its area of almost a thousand hectares, every guest is guaranteed to be smitten by its beauty and untouched nature. This is the largest preserved indigenous alluvial hardwood forest in Croatia, and it has been protected as a special reservation of forest vegetation since 1949.
3. The south side of Umag and the ride along the sea
Another reason why I fell in love with northwest Istria is precisely its love towards cyclists. Here’s a fun fact: this destination has more than 500 kilometers of cycling paths! Whether in winter or in summer times, the joy of riding them is unique.
Riding down the Parenzana path is a priceless experience for sure, yet I am still partial to the ride along the sea. On one side you’ve got the cold water just waiting for the summer months and on the other the frightening, bitter cold – still amazing in its own unique way. The cycling route along the south side of Umag, and the ride along the sea in the course of 30 kilometers will afford you a fantastic adventure and a gastronomic thrill.
4. The Novigrad – Dajla walking trail
While there are excellent and well-kept cycling paths in the area surrounding Novigrad, you can get around the town itself on foot. But if you’re looking for some adventure outside the town, I would definitely recommend the walking path that starts at the Novigrad Peninsula and leads all the way to the little town of Dajla. It follows the coastline faithfully, passing through the village of Mareda, and in a few kilometers gives you a unique chance to experience the wonders of nature on land as well as on sea.
5. Buje, Grožnjan
Why these two towns? Grožnjan, the town with around twenty galleries and art studios, surrounded by picturesque hills, is most definitely a must-see, regardless of the season. The winter will just give it that extra touch to emphasize the beauty of this town of artists.
Buje, on the other hand, is quite a different story. Set approximately 222 meters above sea level, the town grabs your attention with its bell towers, cultural heritage monuments, castles, churches and statues. If you visit Buje in the winter, you will experience a sort of mystic calm that will lead you on a journey through its rich history.
About the Author
Vladimir Miholjević – Born in Zagreb and living in Rijeka, a professional cyclist and national champion who competed at the most important races throughout the world, coach and advisor to top athletes and amateurs alike, a huge sports fan and a lover of nature and everything that goes with it.
This article originally appeared in ‘Colours of Istria’ portal in Croatia.
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