Spirits were high as we sat in the minibus chatting with Dražen about the cheapest and tastiest food we had to try in Zagreb. We had perfect flying conditions (no turbulence, enough gin and sake) for my first flight since completing a fear of flying course and long story short it was a big success, so I was excited to get stuck into the trip.
Čevapi was the first recommendation – a Bosnian dish, delicious oil soaked chewy open-crumbed flat bread bun with pork. Then we started our Burek quest. Everything in Croatia is delicious.
From Zagreb we were due South to be in Split by Christmas Eve so we considered our routes to get there. We could take a train to Ogulin (the furthest station that we could reach with our bikes fully assembled) and ride over the Velebit mountain range, or we could take a bus past Velebit to Zadar and go from there. We reached out to the bicycle touring Croatia Facebook page and asked the community who pretty much unanimously suggested going past Velebit as the winter conditions could be terrible. The next day we got ourselves to the bus station and got a coach, bikes fully assembled, via cash in hand to the driver. Getting your stuff delivered cross country via coach, unaccompanied, is popular here. You’ll see drivers swapping bags of potatoes, TVs etc at various stopping points along the way.
Camping and cycletouring in Croatia in winter doesn’t happen much, so campsites are generally closed in the off season. We found one insanely expensive one that was open in Zadar where we stayed for one night to get our camping kit sorted. The ground here was entirely covered in small, very sharp, stones so we had to guy the tent out with our bikes. One ‘plus?’ was the 24/7 euro party music in the VIP bathroom that was heated. Kinda like torture, you come for the heat but suffer the beat. Chlo loved it, though.
The next day we took the ferry to from Zadar to Ugljan ‘the Olive Island’. We made the mistake of going to the foot passenger ferry port but they don’t take bicycles so we paced it to the car ferry port Gaženika and made it with minutes to spare. On Ugljan we rode up to Sveti Mihovila (St Michaels) fort and explored the normally off limits ruin. We met a young couple of amateur olive farmers and got permission to camp on their land where they had a decent fire burning the olive wood cut backs. Fresh signs of wild boar kept the night exciting, and very close gun shots fired in our direction got us packed up quickly. Hunting is extremely popular in Croatia for both leisure and commercial activities – be wary of this when wild camping.
We rode to the southern tip of Ugljan to get the ferry to Biograd na Moru from where we would leave the Eurovelo8 and ride inland to Skradin and Krka. It was a day of solid headwind, steady climbs. Super hard for a 50km. In the outskirts of Biograd na Moru we were surprised by the huge piles of fly-tipped waste that lay to the sides of the double track we rode on, sometimes making up the composition of the track itself. Was this the dark side of the pristine coastline? As we got away from the coastal outskirts and further inland there was less fly tipping and the landscape returned to its rocky self. In the Šibenik region we saw the first signs of the 1991 war of independence.
We had 2 days to explore Krka national park, totally out of season and with less than a handful of other tourists there.
Back on the EV8 now towards Grebaštika. A casual day of riding. Greeted at our apartment with rosehip tea. Grebastika to Trogir section of the Eurovelo8 was great. Finally some off-road, deep in olive trees and dirt over headlands, islands in the distance. Our tubeless tyres finally gave in to the ardours of cycletouring and the sidewalls split and leaked air. A decision was made to switch to Schwalbe Marathons when we arrived in Split the next day. The EV8 run into split was pretty poor. A particularly shit section was the flooded, littered grassy double track airport perimeter road. The sort of flood that has a yellowing, stinking, oily sheen over the top.
Chloe had sorted an amazing apartment to spend Christmas in Split. We had to be here at this time to fulfil our onward travel commitments. Christmas and Advent in Croatia is refreshingly wholesome and festive compared to the UK. Here, it felt like it was more about friends, family and time together and without the trashy decoration, rushing to consumption and over indulgence that we experience in the UK. We had a lovely time in Split but we’d not choose to be away from family or friends next year. We ate tons of Burek, sorted our tyres (thanks Extremshop 2) and planned our route to Dubrovnik.
Split to Omiš – best riding yet. A long, steady climb with increasingly awesome views. At the top we came across House of Soparnik where, unsurprisingly, they make Soparnik. A sort of unleavened flatbread pie filled with chard, onion and soaked after baking in olive oil and garlic. It’s delicious and only made in this region. We were extra lucky because they were officially closed but allowed us in for a private viewing of the whole process and tasting on national TV! More excellent Croatian hospitality. Topped off by a killer descent into lovely Omiš, so-called adventure capital of Croatia.
Double hill day to Baška Voda. Awesome Biokovo mountains, 2 draggy climbs, and general weariness left us both knackered. The next 2 days were easy, luckily.
Easy rolling along the Makarska Riviera to Ploče where we spent NYE in a 1950s period-corrected apartment. We needed those easy days. Big roads, easy gradients. Reminded me of scenes of the Tour of California. This section of the EV8 was great.
On New Year’s Day we took the ferry from Ploče to Trpanj on the Pelješac peninsula. The climb from Trpanj to the top was super hard but the descent down the other side was incredible, some of the most amazing riding we’ve done. Didn’t stop to make any photos as it was too good to miss the moment. This region produces amazing wine from the indigenous Plavac Mali grape. Being New Year’s Day, everywhere was shut and we stupidly didn’t have any food, but our host cooked us dinner! 😻
Another day in paradise. It’s so beautiful here it hurts, it’s nuts. We left gorgeous Trstenik and rode the coastal route to Zuljana – 6km of respite before another beefy climb on our way to Ston. We diverted off the EV8 for what was described as ‘awesome gravel descent’ into Ston on Komoot. The mountain we descended was indeed awesome, but the track was not. Recently laid stones made for tricky slow riding. Made it without falling and could see the wall fortifications of Ston from the top. These walls are some of Europe’s best preserved examples and NOT the world’s second longest wall fortification as some say. They were built in the 14th century to protect the lucrative salt pans which are still used today. The area is also known for its excellent seafood and we had an awesome cheap dinner in Barkus.
We jumped on a coach from Ston to get to Dubrovnik, avoiding the block headwinds that day and the next.
Thanks for reading! Coming next…Montenegro.