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Cycling in Croatia (and Bosnia) September 2006

Miquel Pellicer and Eva Wegner

Preliminaries

We had spent quite a long time in the internet looking for inspiration. All we knew was that we wanted to go cycling for one month, somewhere nice... After considering many countries, consulting average temperatures and rainfall almost everywhere, we decided to head towards the South. The original idea was to go by train from Berlin to Dresden, then cycle to Prague, from there catch a train to Ljubljana and then somewhat cycle down the Adriatic coast, sometimes via an island, perhaps go towards Bosnia and at some point catch a train or plane back to Berlin. So far the plan and the path was relatively close to the original. But to say it right from the start: We spent much more time in trains and especially waiting for trains as we could have ever imagined and that one could ever want. If you plan to Croatia or Bosnia with the bike and don't have the time to cycle all the way down or are a fan of train stations and, of course, of constantly taking out and putting back your panniers: TAKE THE PLANE! All the cool fast trains are no-go-zones for bikes and you will end up taking pityfully slow trains trying to cross the border or spend the night waiting for a faster one. And one final word of caution: If you are planning to go cycling in Croatia you have to bear in mind that the traffic is sometimes hard to bear and you don't know what is more scary, the German mobile home-drivers or the locals that are rather in a hurry. Still, it is possible to find roads that are more quiet, the situation also improved a lot as we were moving out of the summer holiday season. Now, the final bad news: The first two weeks in September were a bit too hot to cycle. Still, it was a good trip.
Anyway, here is what we did. We spare the lengthy path to Rijeka and start directly in Croatia:

Overview

  • Rijeka - Bakar
  • Bakar - Lopar (Rab Island) (via Krk Island)
  • Lopar - Karlobag(via Jablanac)
  • Karlobag - Novalja (Pag Island)
  • Novalja - Zadar
  • Zadar - Lake Vranska
  • Lake Vranska - Sibenik
  • Sibenik - Vbranjica
  • Vbranjica - Split
  • Split - Basko Polje (via Catina Gorge)
  • Basko Polje - Trpanj (via Ploce)
  • Trpanj - Viganj (Loviste)
  • Viganj - Ston
  • Ston - Babino Polje (Mjlet Island)
  • Babino Polje - Dubrovnik
  • Dubrovnik - Slano
  • Slano - Mostar (train Metkovice - Mostar)
  • Mostar - Sarajevo (train Konjic - Sarajevo)
overview

Day 1: Rijeka - Bakar

  • Distance: 10 km

  • Topography:upward slope leaving Rijeka

  • Scenery:not much of view

  • Traffic:a lot

  • Night:"Autocamp", next to the road

After spending more than 30 hours in trains or at train stations we finally arrive in Rijeka in the early evening. The plan is to cycle to one of the campings close by at the coast that according to our map should be very beautiful. Unfortunately, none of these seem to exist, and after doing some rounds, we end up in a place close to Bakar that we believe, deserves its name: An "Autocamp", directly next to the noisy street. (At that moment we hadn't yet realized that "Autocamp" is simply Croatian for Camping...) Still, as we walk a little bit down towards the coast, we enjoy the nice view.

Day 2: Bakar - Lopar (Rab Island) passing through Krk Island

  • Distance: 76 km

  • Topography: quite hilly on Krk Island

  • Scenery:nice, especially Vbrnik

  • Traffic:very scary on coastal road, better on Krk

  • Night: "San Marino", horrible mass touristic place

The morning starts with a shock. The main (and only) coastal road is heavily trafficked (trucks, cars, mobile homes), no time to enjoy the view as we are too busy with mere survival. As we stop the first time, we are wondering whether this was the wrong choice, it's not fun at all. Things get much better as we decide to change our plans and cross the bridge to Krk island. Here, people drive at least a bit slower. In Marsici we turn to the left and take an very nice, but steep road to Vbrnik (on the Western coast of Krk). If you pass by, don't miss the seafood restaurant, it's very good! After this very good lunch, we continue on the small road to the Southern end of Krk. After rejoining the main road, there are a couple of steep hills but we are rewarded with a long nice way down to Baska. Baska is a very touristic, unappealing little town. Although we are rather tired and the next boat to the next island, Rab, arrives there after dark, we decide to go, driven by the promise of the Lonely Planet that there is a camping in an "unbeatable spot" waiting for us. The boat trip around 100% stone islands is beautiful, but as we arrive in Rab, we are shocked. The place (San Marino Camping) is a mass touristic expensive crap that is completely crowded and two beach discos are competing with each other. Disappointment.

Day 3: Lopar - Karlobag (via Jablanac)

  • Distance: 56 km

  • Topography:very steep from Jablanac up to coastal road

  • Scenery: Rab nothing in particular, view from coastal road very nice

  • Traffic: little

  • Night: nice private room in Karlobag (through tourist info)

Rab is a relatively unspectacular island until almost the very end where it suddenly turns into a completely stony and sandy place. We take the boat from Misjnak to Jablanac and climb up to the coastal road (nice but pretty tough). The coastal road to Karlobag is surprisingly empty, it is high up the coast and the view is great! In Karlobag we intend to take the boat to Pag island, the connection is clearly indicated on our map. However, it never existed, so we get stuck in Karlobag for the night, but it's not a bad place to stay, it has lots of private flats and the first we look at is next to the sea, has a great view and a terrace. The only puzzle remains why in this place next to the sea they only sell frozen seafood?

Day 4: Karlobag - Novalja (Pag Island)

  • Distance: 30 km

  • Topography: some steep slopes

  • Scenery: nice

  • Traffic: ok

  • Night: Camping "Novalja", mass touristic, but ok

As we want to go to Pag (the cheese, highly advertised by the Lonely Planet...), our only choice is to go back north on the coastal road to Prizna where we catch a ferry to Zigljen. There, a long ascent under the mid-day sun is waiting, (at least, the tourists that overtake us with their cars shout encouragingly at us). We visit St. Novalja and buy some Pag cheese. We spend the night in an ok camping in Novalja (not St.). As the cheese happens to taste like an old Parmesan, it ends up in our pasta for dinner.

Day5: Novalja - Zadar

  • Distance: 80 km

  • Topography: Pag flat, on mainland some tough slopes

  • Scenery:very nice before Pag town, rest nice

  • Traffic: ok

  • Night: Hotel in Zadar

Around 8 km after we start from the camping, we turn left to take a road next to the Eastern coast, the path is a bit bumpy, but the view to the coast of the mainland very rewarding. This path goes all the way to Pag (city). From there we continue towards the South. From Dinjiska onwards, the view gets impressing. The only problem we are having is that it is Sunday and we don't manage to buy water that we badly need given the heat. In Skulici, we turn to the right and head towards Zadar. The road goes up and down through a nice green landscape. As we arrive in Zadar, we are pretty tired and sunbeaten. We sleep in a hotel as we are lacking motivation to look for a camping and really need a shower soon.

Day 6: Zadar - Lake Vranska

  • Distance: 36km

  • Topography: pretty flat

  • Scenery: nothing special

  • Traffic: very trafficked after Zadar, then better

  • Night: Camping Crkvice, nice, quiet, next to the lake

We spend the morning in Zadar, visiting the city, and trying to buy an altimeter (normally, we are used to flat city cycling; now we are eager to know about the altitude difference). We fail with our thorough search of the altimeter, even if we are willing to suffer a huge shopping mall, where the rich kids of Zadar gather (Don't they have to go to school?). We are still looking for a nice spot where we could spend day reading, so far none of the places gave us this feeling, actually it is always nicer to be on the road and enjoy the landscape. From the map, we have chosen Lake Vranska to be that place, so we head towards the South on the Coastal road. The departure is rather terrible, very trafficked, it is a bit getting better as we leave "wider-Zadar" behind us. The trip is nothing in particular, in most parts, the road is surrounded by touristic infrastructure. We are happy as we reach the camping at lake Vranska, which is a huge lake, stretching about 15 km to the left side of the road. The camping Crkvike is indeed a peaceful spot, the first on this trip where there are no sun and party hungry crowds. We are happy. The only disturbance comes from our nationalistic Croatian neighbor and his friends, and in the following night from a super loud bird that is crying in the tree next to our tent.

Day 7: Rest Day Lake Vranska

We make a small excursion towards the inner land, but it's too hot and the villages we see are very depressing. All seem to have suffered in form and mood from the war. In fact, the whole area is still mined and one is not supposed to leave the roads and indicated paths.

Day 8: Lake Vranska - Sibenik

  • Distance: 47 km

  • Topography: relatively flat. Only Sibenik itself very steep

  • Scenery: quite nice, great view before Sibenik

  • Traffic: generally ok; before Sibenik crowded

  • Night: Private flat through tourist information; not great

A very hot day! Just before Sibenik there is a great viewpoint at a bridge, over a river coming from the mountains with lots of sailing boats. Sibenik is a beautiful city. In the evening we go for a walk in the city, finishing at the cementery (it just next to the fortress, but there you have to pay an entry fee) .

Day 9: Sibenik - Vbranjica

  • Distance: 64 (76) km

  • Topography: relatively flat, some small slopes in the inland after Primosten

  • Scenery: very nice, especially the coast before Primosten

  • Traffic: ok

  • Night: Camping Belvedere (Vranjica): mass touristic, but ok

As the heat is getting the more and more unbearable for cycling, we change our strategy and get up at 5.30 a.m. and ride before the sun is hitting too much. The morning ride out of Sibenik is beautiful (see picture below). The scenery is very nice, especially until Primosten (a small town on a little island). We spend the night again at a mass touristic camping in Vranjica, but of the ok type, built on different levels over the coast. In the evening be make an excursion to Trogir for dinner, a very cute old town at the sea.

Day 10: Vbranjica - Split

  • Distance: 38km

  • Topography: flat

  • Scenery: not nice

  • Traffic: very trafficked, horrible the last 15 km before Split

  • Night: private room in Split (through tourist info)

The nightmare of the cyclist. The last 20 km before Split are mainly through semi-industrial zones either in traffic jams or almost killed by frustrated drivers. The entry to Split is via a huge highway - feels very scary. Perhaps there is another way? we spend the rest of the day visiting Split.

Day 11: Split - Basko Polje (via Catina Gorge)

  • Distance:75 km

  • Topography: flat until Omic, then long upward slopes

  • Scenery: very nice

  • Traffic: bad around Split and Omic, then nothing

  • Night:

One of the best riding days. After a scary departure (but much better than arriving!), we continue on the trafficked coastal road until Omis, there we turn inwards into the Catina Gorge. We climb up to the plateau, (where at the entrance of a village we encounter the first add of Ante Gotovina, an alleged Croat war Criminal). Then down again into the valley and up again until Zadarvje. Here, one has a very nice view into the valley (not to the coast), and when it's not summer, there should be an impressing waterfall there. When we return from the mountains to the coast, the view is absolutely breathtaking! We spend the night in a funny socialist mass touristic camping in Basko Polje, apparently created by Tito for worker recreation

12: Rest Day in Basko Polje

We are trying to be beach tourists, but it does not work.

Day 13: Basko Polje - Trpanj (via Ploce)

  • Distance: 69 km

  • Topography: pretty hilly

  • Scenery: very nice views from coastal road to Makarska riviera and islands

  • Traffic: quite trafficked at the beginning, then cars come more in groups

  • Night: nice basic camping 1.5 km outside Trpanj

The beginning is difficult as our gas is finished and we have to start without a coffee, which we end up taking in Makarska. Then, the riding is very nice on the coastal road and the views are great. Our initial goal for the day is a place called Zarostrog, which the travel guide advertises as some kind of cute place, which is not true, it is a small cluster of tourism related buildings. So we to Ploce and take the ferry to Trpanj. Before Ploce there are some very nice lakes, extremely blue. Ploce is also kind of fascinating because it reminds again of the socialist past: the buildings of this harbor town are quite "Plattenbau"-style. Arriving in Trpanj, we head for the only camping that is close buy. It turns out to be of the nice type, small, and rather tent oriented. It is 1.5 km outside of Trpanj to the left in a small bay.The only bothering thing is 1) that there are quite some mosquitos around and that in the night you can hear the screams of jackal. Nevertheless, we decide to spend one day here.

Day 14: Rest Day in Trpanj

Day 15: Trpanj - Vganj (Loviste)

  • Distance: 35 km (67)

  • Topography: the island has a hill at the center..

  • Scenery: very nice, especially coming down towards Orebic

  • Traffic: very little!

  • Night:"Antony Boy"/ Vganj

A very nice ride. At the beginning, there is a long upward slope (9 km) to reach the top of the hill. Later, we are rewarded by very nice views riding down on the other side of the hill towards Orebic. Then, we have a bit the usual problem. Our guide describes the place as "sleepy" and we bump into a bunch of horribly loud campings. A better option might be to stay at Loviste to where one of us cycles later (who has just decided to stop smoking...). It is a the norther end of the island (but after another long upward slope) and appears to be - not sleepy - but smaller and nicer.

Day 16: Viganj - Ston

  • Distance: 69km

  • Topography: constant up and down

  • Scenery: some very nice views

  • Traffic: almost none!

  • Night: "Prapratno", ok for a mass touristic place

A very nice day with perfect weather. We turn around an go towards the South. A very nice place, where we have lunch is Trstenik, at the sea. Before going down, on the highest point of the road, there is some Titoist war memorial where the view is breathtaking. For our level, this is a really tough cycling day, as the road does not stay on one side of the peninsula but keeps crossing the inner mountain, and it is quite windy.

Day 17: Ston - Babino Polje (Mjlet Island)

  • Distance: 20 km

  • Topography: hilly

  • Scenery: very nice

  • Traffic: almost none

  • Night: Camping Babino Polje. Very nice camping with tents only

Day 18: Rainy Rest Day in Babino Polje

Day 19: Cycling Around Mjlet Island

  • Distance: 46 km

  • Topography: quite hilly

  • Scenery: very nice

  • Traffic: none

  • Night: see Day 13

We cycle to the Western part of the island (National Park)

Day 20: Babino Polje - Dubrovnik

  • Distance: 13 km

  • Topography:

  • Scenery:

  • Traffic: none on Mjlet, tons in Dubrovnik

  • Night:

The ride in the morning to the port is very nice (boat to Dubrovnik is leaving at 6.15). In Dubrovnik, cycling is horror, because of the traffic, but also because as we arrive, there is a thunderstorm and water is pouring on us and down the streets. We spend the night at a depressing and expensive place, booked through a travel agent at the bay (who provided a wrong address). The landlord has a barking dog that lives below our window. The old town of Dubrovnik is of course nice, and especially the fortifications are very impressive (when one arrives from above), and the walk on the city walls, etc., but it is also this typical tourist attraction: at the same crowded and dead (i.e. only maintained by tourism (if you walk outside the city gates, life seems to stop, no more coffee places and restaurants), and of course very expensive (except cevapi, our food suggestion in this place).

Day 21: Dubrovnik - Slano

  • Distance: 33 km

  • Topography: the coastal road, not too hilly

  • Scenery: nice

  • Traffic: quite a lot throughout (but nothing scary)

  • Night: private camping, around 1.5 km outside the village on a little bay

If you pass by Slano, don't miss the seafood rizot!

Day 22: Slano - Mostar (train from Metkovice to Mostar)

  • Distance: 60 km

  • Topography:

  • Scenery:

  • Traffic:

  • Night:

Day 23: Rainy Rest Day in Mostar

Day 24: Mostar - Sarajevo (train from Konjic to Sarajevo)

  • Distance: 74 km

  • Topography:

  • Scenery:

  • Traffic:

  • Night: