“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