We sailed along the same shores Odysseus traveled, past the same islands seen by Jason and the Argonauts on their search for the golden fleece. We bicycled along roads near the paths where the Romans and a succession of armies, including Napoleon, marched in conquests to expand their empires.
Sunset on Croatia Pedal pushing
The lands sailed past and bicycled on were islands on the Kvarner Coast of Croatia. Croatia? Mention Croatia and most people look blank and confused. When friends invited me to join them for a two-week tour of Croatia, my response was equally befuddled: “Croatia? Where’s Croatia?”
Safe Harbor Baren, beautiful islands of Croatia
Croatia is located in central and southeast Europe. It borders Hungary to the northeast, Serbia to the east, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Adriatic Sea to the southeast, Montenegro to the southwest, and Slovenia to the northwest. History hasn’t always been kind to Croatia. First settled by Neanderthals before Christ, the region has been ruled by a succession of armies - Hungarians, Ottomans, Venetians, Turks, Asians and others. In recent history, Croatia was part of Yugoslavia, but it re-emerged as an independent country in 1991, following the death of Tito, the country’s heavy-handed communist ruler, then suffered through four years of bitter bloodbaths.
Croatia nighttime sights Fruit market
Evidence of the war persists, with some buildings still bruised from bombings. But Croatians prefer to focus on changes that have made their country an increasingly popular destination for worldwide tourists, especially from Germany and Austria.
Ever-smiling Nano No Wholly delicious mackerel
The blend of history and a moving-forward sense of "now" was evident as our group of bicyclists spent a week traveling the Kvarner Coast on the Linda, a 102-foot long wooden motor yacht. We spent nights in port cities like Cres, Mali Losinj, Rab and Krk, but stayed aboard traveling from island to island, often while devouring sumptuous meals prepared by our ever-smiling chef, Nenad “Neno” Cheno. By day, the Linda, with room for 32 crew and guests and an armada of sturdy road bicycles, cruised along Adriatic Sea islands. There are more than a thousand, and only a small number are inhabited. We anchored for often-challenging rides through a variety of landscapes.
The Linda Ready to ride
We spent one week bicycling islands and another touring the living history cities of Split and Dubrovnik (another story). During these two weeks, we learned why Croatia is a place known to travel-savvy Europeans. A sense of Old World Europe was among the highlights of our bicycling-sailing week.
Beautiful, busy beaches
Some rides were fiercely challenging, especially the first day’s allegedly 10-mile out and back that included gaining more than 1,000 vertical feet while battling blustering crosswinds and dodging traffic. Most of the rides were delightful. We often pedaled along narrow ocean-side walkways, sometimes dodging walkers and other bicyclists, or rode along little traveled, undulating roads—some with picturesque vistas of sprawling farmlands and others through dense forests.
Sights along the ride Ancient church writings
One morning our group - eight from Southern Oregon blended with a delicious bouillabaisse mix from Austria, Germany, England, British Columbia and Australia - left Novalja on the island of Pag for a 12-mile ride to Lun, where we met the Linda. At times, riding west along the crest of the narrow stretch of the island, we had ocean views to the north and south while pedaling past grazing sheep and, later, age-old olive trees.
Medieval Rab Statuesque shadow
After a swim in the harbor, it was back on the Linda for lunch and short jaunt to the island and city of Rab. Entering the harbor, the Linda swept along the historic medieval town’s seemingly impenetrable wall, which was built to thwart invading armies and pirates. It shields a bustling village nuzzled in a maze of passageways that connect ancient churches, towers and lookout points and more modern, tourist-seeking shops.
Rab at night Yum … ice cream
Our Rab sightseeing came later. Shortly after arriving, we were back on the bicycles, pedaling the promenade past an eclectic mix of historic and modern homes, hotels and villas, and sun-splashed beaches.
||Another great ride took us through Old Rab, down steep passages to another side of the island where we rode along a less-peopled promenade. Within minutes we passed a bay and pedaled a section of highway to a barricaded side road. After lifting our bicycles over the gate, our reward was several miles of undulating terrain beneath a canopy of oak trees. At a picnic area our lead guide, Josef, with great pomp, produced and sliced a Rabska Torta, the Cake of Rab, a truly historical moment for all of us. This traditional offering was given to Pope Alexander II during a visit to Rab in 1177.
Other days, other glorious rides.
Colorful harbor homes Easy riding
On the island of Losinj, a wandering ride began from Mali Losing along a busy, narrow ocean-side walkway before it climbed steeply to a heavily trafficked road then dipped into to the charming harbor at Veli Losing. Following a break, and anxious because of pounding rains, screaming winds and sections of moisture-slick rock roads, we pedaled back to Mali Losing. Surprise! A shortcut eliminated most of the highway and walkway. Before we realized it, we were back at the boat.
There were other good rides, but the best was saved for last.
Guardian owls Vrknik's tiny alley
We began our finale, a deceptively long 28-miles, from Krk city on the island of Krk. We passed briefly through the old town and along yet another scenic promenade before gradually climbing to a bicycle trail flanking the main highway. A side road led to Kornic. Then it was quickly onto a gravel road through a dense forest to a lightly traveled paved backcountry road. At forest openings were planted fields. And in those fields atop crops and vines were screamingly bright orange banners festooned with frightening looking owls - a Croatian version of scarecrows. On to another highway for a speedy downhill ride into Vrbnik. During a break, guides led us to Vrbnik’s claim to fame: the world’s second narrowest alleyway. Back on our bicycles we trudged uphill to a road that angled west past vineyards and small villages. It led to lunch in Klimno, where I feasted on calamari, some lightly fried, some grilled.
Dinner supreme Dig in
Enjoying the feast Traditional foods
Fueled and rested we wheeled past Schlammbedebucht, the mud bay. We passed one man completely blackened in mud and a naked woman whose features were accentuated by her muddy cloak. The road soon angled up, with its steep grades welcomingly punctuated with rolling terrain. We rode onto another major highway with another gear-shifting uphill, but from the intersection to Omisalj it was all downhill to the waiting Linda. Then a swim in the bay, yet another delectable dinner and a good final night’s sleep with Linda.
Mud beach beauty
The next morning it was time to split for Split. As I said, that’s another story.
If You Go
Airplane service to Croatia includes major airports in Zagreb, Dubrovnik, Split, Zadar, Rijeka and Pula. Train and bus service also connects European cities with Croatia. The high seasons are July and August while the shoulder seasons are May and June, and September. Winters are cold and windy. Arrangements for our group of eight were made by Margo McCullough at Cruisegirl, http://margostravel.com, 541-884-3278. She arranged the boat-bicycle trip with Inselhupfen, www.inselhuepfen.de.
About the Author
Lee Juillerat has been writing and photographing stories for High On Adventure since 1997. His travels have taken across the U.S., several European countries and New Zealand, Japan, Chile, Mexico and Peru. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org