Island Hopping Croatia’s National Parks

The Adriatic Sea off the coast of Croatia may be the most inviting, beautiful water we have ever seen.  The warm, crystal clear water in gorgeous shades of blue and green with a lot of salt is wonderful for swimming.  There is very little algae, weed, or other flora (likely because of the high salt level) growing along the coast and even in the harbors so the water is clear down to tens of meters. It is absolutely stunning.

IMG_1844.JPG

IMG_1807.JPG

 

IMG_1909

IMG_1767

IMG_1773IMG_1850IMG_1965IMG_1993

As the days were getting hotter during our stay in Croatia, we wanted to make sure we spent more time on and in the water as well as continue training for our upcoming cycle trip to the Tour de France.  So on Saturday, June 25th, we took a 1 hour ferry from Split to Trogir to catch a boat on which we would be island hopping, sleeping and biking some of Croatia’s National Parks along with roughly twenty other people and eight crew for 8 days.

The company we used is Island Hopping, a German company, that runs boat and bike trips not only in Croatia but many other locations-including Greece and Vietnam.  Our home for the next 8 days was a brand new boat named Melody, built on the Croatian island of Brač  and owned by the captain of our ship.  The boat was equipped with large, spacious rooms and bathrooms (larger than many European hotel rooms) as well as A/C.  We learned our lesson in Thailand.  A/C is a requirement if you want to sleep at all on a boat in hot weather.

IMG_1768.JPG
Home for 8 Days- Melody

On the agenda was biking, swimming and visiting Croatia’s National Parks- Kornati and Krka National Parks as well as Telascica Nature Park.

Picture1

Kornati National Park is an archipelago of roughly 140 islands that are rugged, rural and uninhabited. It is stunning to see from a boat and said to be even more stunning underwater which is its main attraction. We mostly stayed above on our visit but the barren islands and landscape were beautiful.

 

 

IMG_1813
Kornati National Park
IMG_1817
Kornati National Park
IMG_1834
Kornati National Park
IMG_1820
Salt Water Lake at Kornati National Park

IMG_1835

Krka National Park houses the hydroelectric power plant which was the first such hydro power plant in Europe and second in the world. It was set in operation on August 28, 1895, two days after the power plant on the Niagara Falls went live.  Both hydroelectric plants, Adams Power Plant on the Niagara Falls and Krka power plant, were based on the work of Nikola Tesla using Tesla’s AC system patent. The park is famous for its beautiful waterfalls and it does not disappoint. Visitors can follow a 1-2 km path, most on elevated boardwalks, that circles and traverses the various waterfalls.

IMG_2018
Krka National Park
IMG_2042
Krka National Park
IMG_2033
Krka National Park

 

We casually biked about 30 miles a day with a couple days of reasonable climbs.  The rides were social with plenty of time for coffees, swims and chats with our fellow riders.  Our group was a gregarious one with folks from from the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the US.  The US contingent made up the majority of the group including a large group from Washington, DC.

IMG_1771.JPG

IMG_2070

IMG_1881

Every night, we docked at charming harbor villages- Rogoznica, Slanica, Molat, Zadar, Skardin, Zlarin and Trogir.  Our days consisted of biking from roughly 9 am- 2 pm, followed by lunch, maybe some swimming, biking or checking out a harbor village in the afternoon.  Dinner was usually about 8 pm on the boat.  Lather, rinse and repeat for 7 days. It was a very relaxed week and nice way to see some of the National Parks, do a little cycling, meet some fun, new folks and enjoy the waters of the Croatian Adriatic.

 

IMG_1859

IMG_1907.JPG

IMG_1971.JPG

IMG_2104

If you have not been to Croatia, you need to visit before this charming country with an absolutely stunning coastline gets too commercialized.  Dubrovnik and Split are already quite busy but boating and biking is one of the best ways to get out on the water and land as well as check out the smaller, less crowded and stunning harbor villages.

 

IMG_1762

IMG_2115

“Hvar” Nagilia, “Hvar” Nagilia!

Hvar was the third island ride during our stop in Split, Croatia. It is a two hour ferry ride from the mainland although if you do not have bikes or a car, you can take the catamaran which is faster.

Hvar has a population of roughly 11,000 making it the 4th most populated of the Croatian islands.  It is one of the more popular islands and Hvar Town can get crowded with visitors.

IMG_1600.JPG

Previously controlled by the Venetian Empire, Hvar Town is the largest town on the island with a port surrounded by a square, harbor and some Venetian architectural details.  In June, the harbor was packed with fishing boats, commercial boats and yachts alike.  One could only imagine how crowded the harbor is with boats in August when most of Europe is on vacation.  The island of Hvar is quite beautiful with diverse landscape. We biked through lavender fields, rural farming villages, busy ports like Hvar Town as well as the charming, quieter seaside village of Jesla.  For us, today was more about suffering  (in a good way) than rejoicing. It was mostly about one thing:

IMG_1564

We took the ferry to Stari Grad.  Then, we climbed the 12 kms, mostly at 10%, to the highest point on the island and from there, coasted all the way down to Hvar Town about another 10 kms away. After a coffee and some water, we turned around rode back because we did not have a enough climbing on the way to Hvar Town.

IMG_1566IMG_1622IMG_1623IMG_1572IMG_1619IMG_1565IMG_1588IMG_1629IMG_1581IMG_1578IMG_1608IMG_1576IMG_1632

Hvar Town was beautiful. A little larger than most of the harbors we have visited on the Croatian islands and much more crowded. It is a good base for hitting some of the hot beaches and diving spots. It is quite a diverse crowd ranging from multi-million dollar yacht owners to backpackers looking for cheap hostels.

IMG_1597IMG_1602IMG_1601IMG_1607IMG_1603

Ferries are limited so we had a few hours to kill after we did our climbs.  Instead of hanging out on the beach, we decided to add another cycling loop out to Jesla, and we are glad we did. Jesla and its neighboring villages are fantastic and have some of the best beaches and harbors we saw in Croatia. There is also a fantastic bike path that follows the water for about 10km.

IMG_1643IMG_1645IMG_1647IMG_1649IMG_1656

Hvar gets an estimated 200,000 visitors per year mostly in July and August.  In June, our ferry ride from the mainland to Hvar on a Wednesday was packed with standing room only for those arriving late.  Hvar is beautiful and we enjoyed the stunning views it had to offer as well as the biking.  But if you plan to visit Croatia in July and August, there are so many gorgeous islands it might be best to visit some of the other less known islands such as Brac, Solta, Molat or maybe Vis (unfortunately, we did not get to Vis on this trip but now we have an excuse to go back).

Fig-uring it Out on the Island of Šolta, Croatia

Solta is another sparsely populated Croatian island which is easily accessible from Split via a 45-minute ferry.  It has a long history of Greek, Roman, and Venetian rule and it is speculated that its name was derived from “Fig Island” way back when. With only 1,700 permanent residents, there is not much traffic making it another great spot to cycle.  Solta is hilly like most of the islands in the area, and the climbing starts as soon as you get off the ferry in Rogač.  After a 1-2 km climb from the harbor, you arrive at Gorhote and then it is either a out and back ride southeast to Stomorska or northwest to Maslinica. (Check out some great footage of the island in this video.)

IMG_1558IMG_1559IMG_1541IMG_1540IMG_1537

We cycled to both Stomorska and Maslinica on a sunny but windy day and a headwind made for some challenging biking out to Maslinica.

because it was a bit longer cycle and slightly larger hill, we cycled to Stomorska first. Stomorska is a small, charming fishing village, but it is also famous for its big wooden ships that used to transport Šolta’s figs, olive oil and wine  (all the Croatian food groups) to Italy.  That will give you sense of the landscape and what was for lunch!

IMG_1532IMG_1545IMG_1547

IMG_1548

Maslinica was our second out and back and is basically a long downhill to the harbor filled with fishing boats and charter boats. Maslinica is a classic Croatian island harbor town with a few restaurants and bars and plenty of boats.  We stopped for lunch and had some fantastic, fresh anchovies before turning around for another 6 km+ climb out.

IMG_1553IMG_1554

When you hear stories of people living well past 100 years old on islands in and around the Mediterranean, it is likely farmers on an island such as Šolta living simply and from the land with diets rich with fish, olive oil and wine that create these legends; however, that is if they are not contributing to the average of 1709 cigarettes consumed per day per adult in Croatia. For us, however, it was back to the ferry and back to Split for the island of Hvar the next day.

IMG_1562IMG_1561

 

We’ve Got to Split (Croatia)

When planning our visit to Croatia, we knew we wanted to spend some time in Split.  Located in the Dalmatian region of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, Split is one of the oldest cities and the second largest (~200k people) in a country of roughly 4 million.  Its history, coastline, access to many stunning islands and its architecture including a 1700 year old walled city make it an interesting spot. The city is a hot spot for tourists, a hub for ferry traffic within Croatia and to Italy and a stop for the cruise ships.  Off-the-chart yachts and charter boats line the harbor. It is teaming with people, and the vibe is very festive.

IMG_1347.JPG

And yet, it was not that long ago that Croatia was involved in a war for its independence with the former Yugoslavia.  In 1991 (along with Slovenia), Croatia declared independence from the former Yugoslavia.  During the War of Independence, there were some incidents in Split which resulted in some minor damage; however, Dubrovnik, further south in Croatia, sustained more damage during the war.

IMG_1352

IMG_1684

IMG_1332

IMG_1325

IMG_1696

IMG_1689

IMG_1702

Given Split’s proximity to some islands and its coast, we knew Split would be a great base for some cycling. So we booked a cycling trip with Meridien Ten, an active travel company based in Split, to work out 5 days of routes and a cycle hire. (Many US-based companies use Meridien Ten for their Southern Croatia itineraries.)  We chose to stay in the city for a week at the lovely Hotel Slavija and  did cycle loops back to Split each day.  Located within the walls of the Diocletian’s palace, Hotel Slavija is the oldest hotel in Split and a great spot.  The hotel was actually built above the western Diocletian baths. Today, the hotel is protected under UNESCO.

In addition to three island rides, we had a chance to experience a few rides on the mainland outside of Split, and one led to two interesting spots to check out in the Split area.

1. Marjan Park which is just a few kms from the old town area of Split set on a hill that provides great views of the Adriatic Sea and the city of Split.  If you visit Split, you cannot miss the park as it is a thickly, forested peninsula that is easily visible from the Riva. Originally used as a park by the citizens as early as the 3rd century, today, it is heavily used by locals and tourists alike and offers numerous beaches, jogging trails and bike paths all surrounded by a pine forest and the Adriatic Sea. It is a relatively short 20K out and around but has some climbing and there is enough to see that a couple to few laps will extend your ride and keep things interesting.

IMG_1336

 

IMG_1355

IMG_1315.JPG

IMG_1421

 

IMG_1338

IMG_1509

IMG_1674

2.The Ivan Mestrovic sculpture museum at his former home is another must when visiting Split. Mestrovic was a popular Croatian sculptor who was imprisoned in Zagreb for political reasons until the Vatican assisted with his release. After his release, Mestrovic moved to the US and taught at Syracuse University and Notre Dame.  When he died, he left his work to his home country, and it is now on display at his beautiful home outside of Split.  It is only a couple kms outside of the city and on the way to the ride above.

IMG_1411

IMG_1372

IMG_1369.JPG

IMG_1386

IMG_1404

For those that are interested in biking vacations, there are many different models to chose from depending on where you are traveling.  There is the stationary model like our stay in Split where you can do loop rides from a base.  There is, also, the bike trip model cycling from one location to the another like our bike trip from Bangkok to Ho Chi Minh City.  And then, there is also a boat and bike type model which we also tried when we were in Croatia. You can also choose self-guided options which allow you to control your schedule and mileage every day or a guided option which tends to be more social and is also required in harder areas (such as Cambodia and India).  But in general, Europe is filled with fantastic bike routes with designated routes and good markings so we think the self- guided model is perfect.

All models are fun and interesting with pros and cons depending on the type of experience you are looking for.  More on our Croatia boat and bike experience in a future post as well.

Cycling Brač, A Dalmatian ‘Supetar’

The Croatian coast with all its islands (more than a 1,000 islands  – mostly uninhabited) has to be one of the most scenic spots on the Mediterranean where the bar is very high. The local legend is told as follows:

Once when God decided to divide lands to each nations. So he gave a piece of land to Danish people, a piece of land to German than piece to Italians… and after a while he became tired and fell asleep. Then a Croatian came to him and tried to wake him up.

When God saw him he asked him “What’s happened to you , you look so sad?”.

The Croatian said: ” Well you gave all lands to people in the world but you forgot us, us Croatians”.

Still sleepy, God looked at him and after couple seconds he told him: “Ok I will give you what I have saved for my self! “.

Our ride from Italy to the Istrian peninsula and our week on the island of Molat certainly supported this legend, and yet somehow, Split and the islands off its coast kicked it up a notch.

After arriving in Split and biking around Split, we began our island cycling on Brač , a picturesque island known for its quarries and high-quality stone as well as its high-quality roast goat and lamb (which the Croatians take very seriously – it is delicious).  From Split, a short ferry ride (roughly 50 minutes) took us to the village of Supetar.  It also happens to be the largest island in Dalmatia  with an interesting history.

The island, like most over here, is dotted with beautiful harbors and villages surrounded by the clearest, most beautiful water in glorious shades of green and blue.  And the islands are perfect for cycling.  The cycling routes are usually undulating with good hills descending to the water and then a climb back to the main navigation route.  Our cycling route on Brac took us thru the alluring villages of Milna, Mirca and Bobvisca, just to name of few.

IMG_1437IMG_1448IMG_1459IMG_1516IMG_1467IMG_1510

Brač , while populated (roughly 14,000 inhabitants), did not have too much traffic, and the cycling route could not have been better with good tarmac and plenty to see.

IMG_1512IMG_1451IMG_1476IMG_1457IMG_1460IMG_1464IMG_1491IMG_1503IMG_1513

Tourism is important in Croatia and key to the economy and that is the case on the islands. But there are still many islanders that heavily rely on the land. Agriculture  and fishing are important and farmland is abundant. Just about every fruit and vegetable seems to be grown over here, but olive trees and grapevines certainly dominate. Brač has some of the best olive oil around and is quite popular in the restaurants of Split.

IMG_1454IMG_1465IMG_1498IMG_1504IMG_1452

Brac is also known for its white limestone which has been used for centuries and was used in many prominent buildings including the White House back in the States. Major quarries where the famous Brac building stone is excavated are located near the villages of Pucisca, Selca, Postira, Splitska and Donji Humac.  Quarries, sculptures and stone schools can be found all around the island.  Most of the homes in Brac (and Croatia) are made of this pure white limestone.

IMG_1480IMG_1478IMG_1479

After a few hours of cycling in the sun and a couple big climbs, we enjoyed sitting down at Konoba Kopacina located in the village of Donji Humac for some of their famous roasted lamb which did not disappoint.

IMG_1481IMG_1567IMG_1568

A short hour ferry ride from Split, Brač is definitely a worthy of a day trip if you are looking for a spot to cycle or just a harbor for a swim and lunch. After cycling Brac, we headed back to Split for the night to cycle another island the following day.  Stayed tuned for more of the Croatian islands.

IMG_1520

IMG_1525

Paddling along the Dalmatian Coast

We left the old town of Zadar and its sea organ for the island of Molat.  Molat, Croatia is only a short, one hour catamaran ride from Zadar (three to four hour ferry ride if you take your car which you would not need on Molat).  Molat is a small fishing and farming village with less than 100 inhabitants (the population swells to about 300 during the busy summer months) and so different from most of the tourist spots in Croatia.

IMG_1058IMG_1309IMG_1310IMG_1061IMG_1107

There are no hotels on this Croatian island and only a handful of apartments to rent. The town has three restaurants, a small market (which operates from 9 am-12 pm and 4 pm-7 pm), a post office, a bakery and a few beautiful harbors. The waiter at one of the restaurants (Grill Mare) catches the fish for dinner and can be found out training for marathon swimming in the afternoons. There is no WiFi and only the market takes credit cards. (Pro-tip: the post office gives cash advances with credit or debit cards.)  It is an old-school, old-town, off-the-grid.

IMG_1099IMG_1283IMG_1102IMG_1074IMG_1288IMG_1072

Despite its size and population, it manages to attract a fair amount of boat traffic. Chartered sailboats, bike and boat ships and some pretty nice yachts stop by for a quiet evening or to escape the dreaded southeasterly Jugo wind.

IMG_1299IMG_1139IMG_1083IMG_1089IMG_1146IMG_1114IMG_1308IMG_1087

IMG_1301
Ours and theirs

We left our yacht at home because we were on the island for five days of sea kayaking Molat’s coastline as well as the bays, caves, and shipwrecks of the neighboring islands. Molat was our base and Marko from Malik Adventures was our guide. (Marko will set you up for self-guided kayaking trips as well but given dynamic sea and wind conditions as well as the number of local interesting spots off the radar, it makes a lot of sense to hang out with him for a visit even if you are an experienced kayaker.)  We were also joined by a couple, Ana and Ivan, from Zagreb, Croatia who were visiting for a week of sun and paddling.  We were fortunate to spend the week hanging with Ana, Ivan and Marko.  We had a great time paddling and talking about a wide range of interesting topics.

IMG_1222.JPG

IMG_1149IMG_1160

The kayaking and company were outstanding. We were in the boats for about four to five hours each day exploring secluded coastlines, stopping at a small bar or restaurant for lunch or on a deserted beach for a picnic. One day, we explored a cave which had been built to hide military submarines (and used up until 1991).   Another day, we paddled to a shipwreck (a 150 foot tanker sunk by Italians in the 60’s for insurance money).  And another stop included a visit to a network of military caves with a series of gun turrets used to protect Croatia from the Italians during WWII.

IMG_1180IMG_1173IMG_1187IMG_1168IMG_1192IMG_1202IMG_1164IMG_1165IMG_1071

IMG_1218
Rudder? I don’t need a rudder.

Another day, we had a short paddle to the island of Ist for a short hike to a high spot with outstanding views of the surrounding islands and a quick game of bocanje.

IMG_1227IMG_1249IMG_1233IMG_1234IMG_1255IMG_1269

We ran into a bit of everything in terms of sea conditions and weather. On our first day, we found ourselves in a squall with wind, waves, rain and lightening that had us running for a bay and paddling in circles to keep warm and wait for the storm to pass. Another day, we had full-on sun and a sea like glass. Our last day, we encountered the Jugo wind with a forecast of 35 knots. On that day, we spent most of the time in a protected harbor practicing edging and brace strokes before heading out to the open water for some surfing on the chop.

IMG_1082IMG_1266IMG_1098IMG_1064IMG_1113IMG_1127

Molat proved to be a wonderful spot to spend some time. Our apartment was a short walk from town, and the local sisters that hosted us were fantastic cooks. Breakfast included fresh eggs, Croatian cured meats and Marko’s honey (collected from hives just a 100 meters away).  Dinners included fish caught in the morning, and one evening, we were greeted with a steaming bowl of cuttlefish stew that might have been the best thing we have eaten from the sea!

IMG_1225

IMG_1132

Our final lunch was at a local bed and breakfast where the guys are known for their BBQ. We enjoyed slow roasted  beef and lamb that was cooked (for many hours) in a konoba which just about every house in Croatian seems to have (we originally thought they were outdoor pizza ovens).

IMG_1306

We are hopping on a boat later in the month for some island hopping and biking and were delighted to learn because of a scheduling oversight that we will be back at Molat harbor for one evening. We cannot wait!  Molat is a special place.  Stay tuned.

 

Croatian Road Tripp’n to Zadar

After our cycle from Venice, we picked up a rental car and left Istria for a few days in Zadar. We considered flying or taking a bus the 400 km, but both would have been an all day affair with connections and schedules.  We estimated about a five hour drive to take the scenic coastal route from Porec which seemed like the best way to travel. Cars are relatively cheap (only $10-20 more than two bus tickets). Croatia has a lot of good roads and many new highways. We found the driving very straight forward and just as easy as driving in other European countries.

IMG_0971IMG_0976IMG_0979

We did run into a bit of road construction.  It seems that hotel and road projects are everywhere in Croatia –  or at least in some of the areas where we visited. We were rerouted and detoured a few times on our ride which added a bit of time to the commute.

Croatia is mountainous along this part of the coast. On the old roads, there was a lot of up and down and around. On the new highway, there were a bunch of tunnels – some as long as 5-6 km.  Scenery was incredibly varied ranging from Montana-like plains to beach and fishing towns to some cool moonscapes.

IMG_0984IMG_0987IMG_0989IMG_0991

Speed limits on the highways are high as are the tolls.  Cruising at 150km/hr is the norm, but one has to watch out for the Mercedes and Beemers that rocket past at 200+ km/hr. For the most part, we did not run into too many other cars for most of the time on the highways.

IMG_0981.JPG

We decided not to stop in Rovinj because we were not sure how long the trip was going to take with all the detours and we had a scheduled meeting with our landlord for the week-end.  This may have been a bad decision given the comments and recommendations we consistently have received about the town but it gives us a good excuse to come back to this country.

Arriving in Zadar was pretty straight forward.  10 kms out, it is quiet and relatively underpopulated and you do not run into too much traffic making the transition into the city.  We were staying in old town which does not allow cars for the most part but just outside the walls, there is plenty of parking (a local gave us a good tip to skip the pay parking and just park on the strips along the water where the ferries park).

IMG_1039.JPG

Zadar’s old town is a nice spot with a 2km circumference (great for running laps), water on three sides and an old stone wall around two sides. It is about a 10 min walk from top to bottom and is littered with shops and restaurants.  It attracts a lot of visitors but is not as busy as Split or Dubrovnik. And surprisingly, despite the tourist spots, one can find super markets, laundry services, seamstresses and small but useful gear and clothing shops. We found everything we needed for a few repairs and some modest resupplying  for our kayaking trip.

IMG_1002IMG_1019IMG_1025IMG_1029IMG_1032IMG_1038

Zadar is well known for its sea organ, quite an interesting public sculpture that plays music with air pushed through pipes by the wind and sea. Very fun.

IMG_1014IMG_1015IMG_1016IMG_1017a

Not surprisingly, seafood is the main fare here and quite good. Grilled squid is everywhere and worth ordering. It is not quite as influenced by Italy as Istria but you are never too far from pasta, pizza, and gelato.

IMG_1040

People are super friendly and laid back – it must be hard not to with their views and beaches (we also visited at the beginning of tourist season not the end). Hotels are non-existent in old town and limited in many areas of Croatia. There are a handful of hostels but most travelers stay in apartments that can be found on Airbnb or Booking.com.  We found a local family managing a handful of studio and 1-bedroom apartments were great.  The exterior was classic eastern bloc apartment structure from the 70’s and 80’s but inside was modern Scandinavian design and Ivan, the manager, could not be more helpful.  If you need a place to stay in Zadar, definitely check out Luka Residence Apartments.

IMG_1012IMG_1044

We are writing this post from Split which is much larger and packed with tourists. While it has its own distinct charm and sights – especially its outlying islands, we are so glad we got a chance to spent a few days with the good people of Zadar.

Biking to Dreamy Piran, Slovenia and an Istrian Gem

You cannot be sad while riding.- Anonymous

Stages 5 and 6 of our cycling journey from Venice, Italy to Porec, Croatia took us to dreamy Piran, Slovenia and the Istrian gem of Porec, Croatia.  The beginning of Stage 5 was mostly uphill from Trieste, Italy across the border to Slovenia. None of the hills we encountered on this ride were terribly high or long.  Our heavy hybird bikes slowed us down, but generally, the route is relatively easy.

IMG_0838.JPG

The bike path from Italy into Slovenia continued.  This is thanks to the EUs investment in cycling paths.  The path, today, was yet another stunning bike route which took us out of Trieste along a plateau with views of the Adriatic Sea. A large portion of it was dirt and snaked along an old rail line through an ancient forest.

IMG_0815
Trieste off in the distance as we cycled uphill and into Slovenia.

IMG_0817

IMG_0819

IMG_0821.JPG

Before exiting Italy, yet another stunning fishing village awaited.  Muggia, Italy is a small village southeast of Trieste lying on the border of Slovenia and is the last and only piece of Istria still in Italian territory.

IMG_0830.JPG

IMG_0831.JPG

IMG_0828.JPG

Our first town in Slovenia was the coastal town of Koper along the Adriatic Sea.  The town is officially bilingual with both Slovene and Italian as the official languages.

IMG_0860.JPG

IMG_0880.JPG

IMG_0878.JPG

From Koper, we cycled to Portoroz, Slovenia, literally Port of Roses.  After Portoroz, the village of Piran, Slovenia was our destination. Here we experienced one of the steepest hills on one of the hottest days of the trip. But it was only a couple kilometers and Piran awaited us.

Piran is located in southwestern Slovenia on the Gulf of Piran on the Adriatic Sea and resembles a large-open air museum with medieval architecture.  Narrow streets and compact houses  and a small harbor gives the seaside village a special charm.  Stage 5 wrapped up with about 45 miles of biking.

IMG_0892.JPG

IMG_0905.JPG

IMG_2876IMG_2880

On our last day of cycling, we peddled from Piran, Slovenia to Porec, Croatia kicking off with a cycle through the salt gardens of Secovije.  Once past the salt gardens, we crossed the border of Croatia to the Istrian peninsula.  The Secovije international border crossing is one of the main crossings from Slovenia into Croatia. It is mostly designed for cars and trucks, but we jumped into the line with our bikes and no one seemed to be bothered. The crossing guard in both countries were very friendly.

The Isrian peninsula is the largest on the Adriatic Sea with some modest hills along an old railroad bed.  Cycling with our passports was a requirement for all on our trip even those of our fellow German and French biking buddies.  All passports were checked at the Croatian border as Croatia is slowly phasing into the EU and is not yet part of the Schengen unlike other EU countries.

IMG_0925.JPG

IMG_0913.JPG

IMG_0920.JPG

IMG_0914

The last day mileage was about 55 miles and the destination was Porec, Croatia.  Biking through the Istria region gave us our first glimpses of the famous Croatian coast and started to get us excited about the few days we would be staying there. Along the way, we stopped in the beautiful city of Novigrad for lunch.

IMG_0871IMG_0934aIMG_0945IMG_0947IMG_0881IMG_0960a

Porec is a village on the western coast of the Istrian peninsula and has been a UNESCO site since 1997.  It is almost 2,000 years old and is set around a harbor protected by the sea. The village population is about 12,000 people.  Originally part of Italy, Porec and much of the Istrian peninsula became part of Croatia in 1947.

IMG_0966.JPG

All in all, this bike ride was in the top tier of cycle trips that we have completed.  The cycling routes were mostly (97%) either on country roads with little to no traffic or on bike paths.  The architecture and history along the route was beautiful as well as fascinating.  And the food, weather and sea coast exceeded expectations. Check out our other days cycling here.

IMG_2889

 

Back on the Bikes: Venice, Italy to Porec, Croatia

We are back on the bikes this week. We have not put in any serious miles since our ride in Southern India back in February so we are excited to be back at it and especially in Europe – our favorite place to cycle in the world.  Europe has a fabulous network of bike paths, and European drivers embrace the term “sharing the road”.  There is such a biking culture here both in terms of recreation and daily transport. In virtually every European village and city, you will find bike paths as well as young, middle-aged and older folks alike cycling to work, riding from the supermercati with groceries and flowers in bike baskets or heading out an evening cycle with the family. On weekends and holidays, you do not have to go very far before encountering a local pelaton making laps out on a country road.

IMG_0634

IMG_0734

 

IMG_0638.JPG

Our summer in Europe kicks off with a six day cycle from Venice, Italy through Slovenia to the coastal town of Porec, Croatia.  Cycling mileage from Venice to Porec is only about 290 miles.  It was a relatively modest distance but some of the route was dirt, and we were on heavy hybrid bikes which elongated the time to cover the 70-85+kms each day. Our self-guided cycling trip was booked with a new cycling company we found, Rad & Reisen, and our experience with them was excellent.  There were a few key things that differentiate this biking company from other biking companies we have used which include but are not limited to REI, Backroads, Randonee:

  1. Rad & Reisen uses a local logistics company, FunActive, that places stickers along the route. Some days, we did not need our turn by turn directions because of the sticker placement which was really nice.
  2. Although the trip was self-guided, there were six others (a couple from Germany, another German with a Swiss, and two others from France) that started at the same time with us and stayed at most of the same hotels.  It is nice to meet new folks that share a common interest and catch up before and after the rides.
  3. One of our fellow bikers broke the brake on the bike.  While the other biking companies we have used have a contact number for situations like this, Rad & Reisen has a hard wired, local network for not just a person to assist but experienced bike shops.  Within thirty minutes, a person from a local shop was at the site and fixed the brake.

There were so many things to love about this biking trip.  Three out of the six days we cycled were mostly on flat surfaces until reaching Trieste, Italy (a great town) and then each day thereafter the amount of hills increased.  Only 3% of the biking was on busy roads and this was mainly when we entered larger towns.   27% of the biking was on cycle paths and 70% on very small country roads giving the feel that 97% was on a cycle path.  It is pure bliss cycling along gorgeous country roads with no traffic, stunning scenery and fabulous weather.

IMG_0568.JPG

IMG_0565

 

IMG_0580.JPG

Stage 1 included biking from Venice (mainland) to Jesolo.  We had two options for this stage (and most stages):

  1. Bike the whole way about 75 kilometers
  2. Or, bike and take a ferry to Jesolo

We are in training to attend and bike some of the Tour de France so we opted for biking the whole way.  Once we got out of Venice, we were on some beautiful country roads and cycled through some lovely smaller villages- including Zuccarello, San Liberale, Ca’ Tron, Caposile. Our final destination for the day was the beach town of Jesolo on the Adriatic located in the province of Venice and on the coast the north of Venice.  Jesolo is a beach town with little Venetian architecture but a beautiful beach.  For us, it was a little too touristy and a bit kitschy but the sound of the ocean and the view of the beach was lovely.  We had a great hotel, Hotel Bali, right on the beach and centrally located in Jesolo.

IMG_0585.JPG

Stage 2 was more impressive.  It included visits to the stunning villages of Caorle, Portogruaro and Concordia Sagittaria.  The villages have an interesting history and gorgeous architecture.    On Stage 2, we logged about 85 kilometers.

Caorle is another coastal town in the province of Venice situated between two estuaries- Livenza and Lemene rivers.  It was founded in the 1st century BC by the Romans and was one of the strategic cities of the Republic of Venice.

IMG_0596.JPG

IMG_0600.JPG

In Caorle, like other village centers, stands the typical bell town.  This one dates back to 1048.  It is a typical Romanesque style but has a cylindrical structure which is unique.

IMG_0594

From Caorle, we cycled to Concordia Sagittaria, another beautiful little town in the province of Venice that was founded in 42 BC by the Romans.

IMG_0604.JPG

We stayed in this lovely, family-run hotel and restaurant in Concordia Sagittaria, Hotel Iulia.

IMG_0624.JPG

Portogruaro was located roughly 1 mile from Concordia Sagittaria on a bike path beside a river.  Portogruaro was an important river-port for the Republic of Venice and is a beautiful city with Venetian elements.

IMG_0614

IMG_0615

IMG_0619

Our butts were sore at the end of Stages 1 and 2.  We have been hiking not biking.  We are not used to sitting in the saddle for about 6 hours and were both fighting a bit of a head cold that we have had since leaving the tropical Central America for Scotland a week ago. But it felt great to be back on the bike again.

IMG_0601IMG_0617

Stay tuned for Stages 3-6 where we bike to some gorgeous towns of Grado, Italy, Piran Slovenia and then onto Croatia along the stunning Istrian coast.