Bom Caminho! Portugal’s Camino Way

The Camino Way is an historic pilgrimage route (over 1,000 years old) to the alleged burial site of the apostle St. James. St. James’ remains reputedly lie within the Santiago de Compostela Cathedral.  Some years ago, Chris and I biked the Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago) from Pamplona, Spain to Santiago de Comp0stela, Spain which is still one on our short list of the best biking experiences.  There are trails all over France, Spain and Portugal that lead to the tomb of St. James.  So when we decided to spend some time in Portugal in September, we looked into biking the Portuguese Camino Way starting in Porto, Portugal and ending in Santiago de Compostela.

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The scallop shell is the iconic symbol of the camino, and is used with the yellow arrow to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. Painted on trees, sidewalks or tiles, the yellow scallop shell (and/ or yellow arrow) helps pilgrims find there way to the next village.  There are many stories tied to the significance of the scallop shell. In French, the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques.  We love this system as it typically (not always) makes for easy navigating and you can travel for hundreds of kilometers without a map or GPS.

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Fellow pilgrims are typically super friendly, and part of the etiquette on the trail is to greet fellow pilgrims with “Buen Camino” or in Portugal “Bom Caminho”.  Traditionally, the camino was done for religious reasons.  Today, folks from all over the world walk or bike the camino for a variety of different reasons- spiritual experience, health reasons or social aspects.

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We started our mountain biking journey in the charming city of Porto known for its port wine production.

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But before biking out of Porto, we picked up our camino passports at the Se Cathedral. Hotels, restaurants, bars along the camino have stamps for the passports verifying the distance and noting the days.  The Se Cathedral is in the Romanesque style built between the 12th and the 13th century.  (The Portuguese Camino was used by Queen Isabel of Portugal in the 13th century crossing North Portugal and South Galicia, Spain.)

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Our first destination on the camino after leaving Porto was Barcelos, Portugal.  This was supposed to be a relatively easy ride the first day, but it took us a little while getting out of Porto dogging tourists, cars and buses.  Once out of Porto on the back trails to Barcelos, the trail was quite peaceful dotted with beautifully tiled cathedrals along the way.

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Barcelos is a relatively small village in northern Portugal with a rooster as the town’s symbol and the unofficial symbol of Portugal.  The legend of the rooster is tied to a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela who was wrongly accused of crime in Barcelos and sentenced to death.  The pilgrim repeatedly voiced his innocence and swore to the proof of his innocence by pointing to a cooked rooster and said that the rooster would crow at the hour of his hanging as proof. As he was being hanged, the roasted rooster appeared and stood up on the table in front of the crowd and crowed just as the pilgrim predicted. The judged realized the mistake and rushed to save the pilgrim.

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From Barcelos, we headed out to Ponte de Lima, Portugal- the last village in Portugal before biking over the Minho River which divides northern Spain and Portugal.  Lucky for us, there was an end of summer festival happening in the small village of Ponte de Lima. The village was packed with festive decorations, activities and locals.

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The following day, a rugged path along a small stream among grape vines took us over the Minho River into Tui, Spain for the evening.  However, before reaching Tui, we had a steep and challenging climb in front of us.  The biking distance from Ponte de Lima to Tui was not far, but the terrain was challenging and we ended up biking about 5-6 hours that day. The charming, walled city of Valence (an old Roman village) on the eastern side of the Minho river in Portugal was on the agenda for the day.

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When we crossed the border into Spain (Spain is in a different time zone than Portugal), we lost an hour which we were actually pretty happy about since Spain does not eat until late (very late by US standards around 10-11 pm at night or midnight in major cities) and we were hungry after the big climb and a solid day of biking.  We were also thrilled to be back in Spain for a few nights.  It gave us an opportunity to practice our Spanish, eat wonderful Spanish food and enjoy the vibrant Spanish culture.

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Bridge over the Minho river which is the border between Portugal and Spain

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From Tui, our next destination was Pontevedra.  We spent a Sunday night in Pontevedra and while it is a fairly good size city (about 83K people), it was pretty sleepy.  Restaurants, shops, bars are closed on Sundays in most of Europe.

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Burgo Bridge built in 12th century near the former site of a Roman bridge that gave the city its name, the “old bridge”  (Check out the Camino shells that mark the bridge.)

From Pontevedra, we headed to Lestrove, Spain for one night.

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From Lestrove, we had about a 3 hour bike ride to our final destination, Santiago de Compostela.  Once we arrived in Santiago de Compostela, we headed to the Pilgrims Office to obtain our certificate given to pilgrims that hike or bike 100 km or more.   The journey from Porto to Santiago de Compostela took us 6 days over about 185 miles.

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While the Portuguese Camino Way was a great experience, for those that are considering doing the camino, we would highly recommend the northern Spain route over the Portuguese section.  The villages, the scenery, the food, history and culture we found more interesting on Spanish Camino Way (aka Camino de Santiago).  It also had more pilgrims (at least when we did it) but not too many which is part of the experience. But if you are looking for another Camino segment, this is not a bad one.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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Kornati National Park
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Kornati National Park
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Kornati National Park
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Salt Water Lake at Kornati National Park

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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.

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Krka National Park
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Krka National Park
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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.

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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.

 

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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.

 

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“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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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La Dolce Vita: Biking to L’Isola Del Sole and Trieste

Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life. -Anna Akhmatova 

Our biking destinations for Stages 3 and 4 (of our cycling journey from Venice, Italy to Porec, Croatia) was the beautiful Italian towns of Grado,  L’Isola Del Sole (the sunny island), and the historic city of Trieste.

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Lagoon to Grado.  Grado is off in the distance with an awesome bike path on a causeway to it.

 

 

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The approach to Trieste.  Hundreds of buoys for the yachts that fill the Med in July and August.  

Our biking mileage for Stage 3 was a modest 45 miles from Concordia Sagittarria to Grado and included a fun boat ride with our bikes across a lagoon.  From Concordia Sagitarria , we biked to the stunning fishing village of Marano Lagunare in time for lunch by the sea where a boat was waiting to ferry us and our fellow biking buddies (and all our bikes).  The boat took us from the charming fishing village of Marano Lagunare across a lagoon to the surroundings of Aquileia.

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Our chariot awaits.  Our boat ride with the bikes from Marano Lagunare to Aquileia.

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Pedestrian area of the charming fishing village of Marano Lagunare.

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Another view of the charming fishing village of Marano Lagunare
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Our dock on the other side of the lagoon from Marano Lagunare and then more cycling to Aquileia and Grado.

Once we docked on the other side of the lagoon, our cycling adventure continued to Aquileia.  Aquileia  is an ancient Roman city in what is now Italy at the head of the Adriatic and the edge of the lagoon.  Aquileia is believed to be the largest Roman city yet to be excavated.

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More fun with our new camera and the beautiful town of Aquileia.

From Aquileia, we biked over a stunning lagoon on a bike path to the gorgeous fishing village of Grado.  It is located in the Venetian lagoon in the northeastern region of Italy.  Once a fishing village, today it is a major boating and tourist destination with a lot of charm.   We loved Grado for the stunning blue seas that surround it, the pedestrian walking village, the stunning architecture and of course, fantastic food.  Our hotel for the night was located in the pedestrian only corner of the city and close to the sea.

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Marina and channel right in the center of Grado.  Boating in northern Italy must be a outstanding going from one charming village to another.
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The promenade in Grado.
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Charming street where we ate dinner in Grado.  Awesome dinner at the Spaghetti House in Grado.  For some reason, the owner thought we German and started speaking to us in German.  Must be Chris’ glasses.

 

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Loved Grado.  Definitely a place to revisit.

After spending the night in Grado, Stage 4 took us cycling about another 45 miles to Trieste.  The biking approach to Trieste was stunning along a coastal road with beautiful views.  Think Highway 1 in California but Italian style.  Si bella!

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Some tunnels on the approach to Trieste.
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Stunning views everywhere on our approach to Trieste.

Trieste is a city and port in northeastern Italy close to the Slovenian border (where we will be heading in Stage 5).  Trieste has an interesting history and was actually part of Austria from 1382 until 1918.  The city was annexed to Italy after World War I. It is a border town with an interesting mix of Austrian architecture and blend of Italian, German and Slavic cultures.  Our hotel for the night is the super comfortable, Hotel Victoria, in downtown Trieste.

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James Joyce, an Irish writer, spent a lot of time in Trieste.

 

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Main square in Trieste

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We enjoyed our visit to Trieste. It is a large city and has many beaches, historical sites, and neighborhoods. Its multi-cultural past and its small suburban villages give it a unique feel.  It is strategically located near the Slovenian border where we are off to in Stage 5. Slovenia is a new country for us and looked forward to our visit – and it did not dissapoint.  It actually exceeded expectations. Stay tuned for our cycling experience in Slovenia and Croatia.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.