Cycling in Croatia: Exploring Croatia on Two Wheels
Written By Travel Writer Kiara From Gallop Around The Globe
Croatia is one of my favourite European countries, having been there three times. On the first occasion I was based in Dubrovnik for a week, took a boat trip over to the beautiful island of Mljet, and kayaked out to wood-covered Lokrum – where its only inhabitants are a population of wild peacocks; where you can explore the remains of a centuries-old Benedictine Monastery, marvel at the immense cacti sections the botanical gardens, or bathe in the Dead Sea (an idyllic little salt-filled lake linked to the open ocean). I’ve island-hopped from Split to Hvar and Korčula, enjoying the warm sun, the rich blue waters of the Adriatic sea, the medieval architecture, red-tiled roofs, and atmospheric cobbled streets, and the abundance of fresh seafood. I’ve taken a city break in the capital Zagreb and spent a day meandering amidst the turquoise waters and stunning, natural beauty of the Plitvice Lakes.
The one journey that felt more authentic and more rewarding than any of the others was cycling in Croatia
I cycled through the northern part of Croatia, a 7-day tour which started in the ‘floating city’ of Venice. The cycling trip I’d chosen was an organised trip in the sense that all accommodation was included in the price, along with buffet breakfasts every morning, the transportation of your suitcase or backpack from the last destination to the next, 24-hour on hand support and emergency assistance, and comprehensive route notes and maps.
However it was also a self-guided trip: there was no group (although there were others booked on the same trip, cycling the same route) and no tour leader, which meant that we had the ability to stop whenever and wherever we wanted, we weren’t limited to the amount of time we chose to spend at any given location, and we had the freedom to go at our own pace.
The beauty of cycling is that – unlike walking – you’re travelling at a fast enough pace for the scenery to be constantly changing, yet you can stop as and when you want. Moreover, the routes chosen for us to follow generally avoided main roads, which is great if you’re not a confident cyclist, and also meant that by cycling in Croatia we really experienced Croatia ‘off the beaten track.’
We entered Croatia just after passing the Secovlje Salt Mines of Slovenia and having followed the old Parenzana railway as far as the border. Border crossings in themselves always make me feel like I’m part of an intrepid exploration, primarily because doing so indicates that you are actually travelling, rather than just being on holiday.
When you take a holiday you generally fly into and out of that country; crossing a border suggests something more long-term – more adventurous. As soon as we entered Croatia, we had a steep uphill climb ahead of us, which lead us into the country’s territory of vast forests, caves, and hillside villages. Now for those of you who’ve read my story three countries, 2 wheels, no previous cycling experience you’ll know that I struggled immensely with the uphill sections of the trip. I’m not a cyclist, and this trip had been one of discovery, challenges, and new experiences. The discovery that I actually really loved cycling.
The challenge of pushing myself more than I was used to and in ways that I’d never had to before. And the new experience of exploring a country on two wheels, under the power of my own steam. But I’m sure you don’t just want to read about the benefits of travelling through a country on two wheels; you want to see and hear about some of the Croatian gems I stumbled upon by doing so. So here are a few of the highlights of my trip:
Buje is located at the top of a hill and is famous for its vintage olive oil, excellent wines and truffles. The centre of the village is full of winding alleys and traditional tavernas, and there are some stunning view across the surrounding countryside. Buje was tranquil, traditional, ancient, and full of character. Due to the cobbled streets and steep gradients, we left our bikes locked up by a little cafe at which we stopped for coffee, and continued our exploration of this charming little village on foot. We didn’t meet a single other tourist during our time here, which truly added to its appeal.
Upon leaving Buje, we continued on through Croatia’s wine-growing regions. We cycled empty roads flanked with miles upon miles of lush vineyards, and the odd subtle but instantly recognisable sign, saying simply “Vino”, with an arrow directing us to its source.
Our peaceful, relaxing journey through countryside, far from the better-known tourist trails, lead us to the colourful little coastal town of Novigrad. Novigrad is set on a small peninsula on the western coast of Istria, 25km south of the border with Slovenia, and is awash with brightly painted buildings, inviting cafes, and an attractive little harbour.
From Novigrad we headed back inland, past countless poppy fields and olive groves. The underground realm of Jama Baredine was a bit of a detour from our original route, but it’s one I’m glad we took. A 300 metre long path runs through the cave up to 60 metres below the ground, and into 5 beautifully decorated chambers. At the end is an underground lake, where we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of the cave olm, a blind amphibian endemic to the subterranean waters of caves in the Karst region of central and south-Eastern Europe.
Porec is a charming, historic, and beautifully compact harbourside town. It’s almost 2000 years old, and there are still remnants of old Roman structures scattered around the place, along with Roman houses, Gothic-Venetian mansions, and the Euphrasius Basilica, dating from the 5th century. S
eats from the town’s numerous cafes and restaurants spill out on to its attractive paved streets, and stalls selling honey, olive oil, wine, truffles, and lavender line the harbour front. This was a perfect location for a comparably enjoyable end to our 7-day cycling trip, which I’d found relaxing, exciting, challenging, and rewarding – in equal measures.
Cycling Croatia holiday details
- Our cycling trip with pre booked with a tour company a few months in advance of our departure date. I would strongly advise doing if you have specific dates in mind, or if you plan to travel during Easter or the Summer holiday periods.
- The tour company took care of all of the details of where to stay and when you make your booking, you are asked to provide your height, so that the right-sized bike can be sourced and ready for you when you arrive.
- We picked the bikes up from our hotel in Venice and dropped them off at the hotel in Porec, and we found all hotel staff to be very helpful and accommodating with regards to the secure storage of our bikes overnight.
- There are no border controls between Italy and Slovenia (we literally cycled through some undergrowth and found ourselves in a different country, which was rather surreal!) but when you cross between Slovenia and Croatia, there are strict instructions to meet the Girolibero official there at a set time, as you have to see your own bags/suitcases through, so it’s important to leave early that morning to give yourselves plenty of time 0 and to allow for getting lost!
Tips & what to pack for your cycling Croatia holiday
- Whilst I didn’t really do any cycling before the trip, I do think it hindsight that it would have been wise to. Although, apart from a few uphill stretches, I wouldn’t describe the cycling as overly challenging.
- In terms of what you should pack, definitely padded cycling shorts or a padded bicycle seat cover – or both! Whilst my legs/knees survived the majority of the trip, my behind got extremely sore at the end of a day in the saddle, so I dread to think how much worse it would have been without the padded cycling shorts!
- The only other advice I can offer is to try and see all the sights/attractions mentioned in the route notes provided by your tour company. The little detours are often very worthwhile.
If you want to combine cycling AND the sea, you’ll want to check out Jo’s post on Island Hopping Cycle Cruises in Croatia.
Have you been Cycling in Croatia? Are you now inspired to explore Croatia on 2 wheels?