01. July 2022
24 Minute Read
Cycling the Dalmatian Coast
Croatia is a slice of Paradise
Let’s just get that out of the way, shall we?
Recently I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Dalmatian Coast in Croatia with my fiancée. This was put on via Exodus Travels, which is a UK based company that specializes in a lot of different kinds of biking and hiking adventures.
She actually bid on this trip as part of a charity auction for the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition back in 2019. But given that the world has been spun out of control since then, we were unable to take the trip until June of 2022.
In a word, the trip was awesome.
What the trip included
First of all, the trip’s details are actually hosted on Exodus' website. It includes 4 days of riding, an optional day of riding on Mljet, some food, the bike rentals, a van that takes you around to a bunch of places, and the hotel stays along the way.
Basically this trip is designed as a tour of Dalmatia, which is probably one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been or seen. Most of this you see from the saddle of a mountain bike that they take care of for you, as well as from a comfortable tour bus / van that takes you and all of your stuff from place to place. It certainly helps having a van like this when you’re island hopping in the Mediterranean!
You may notice here that this bike is a bit different than what I typically find myself on. It was a welcome change on the first day, though, as we found ourselves on some wet dirt roads! The bikes were clean, well maintained, were sized for us, and were labeled with our respective names on each.
They were made by the German company Cube, were made from aluminum, and were 29’ers. It gave me a lot more confidence on all kinds of surfaces, even if those big, knobby tires slowed us down a bit!
Our overall itinerary took us through several Croatian islands, taking advantage of the many ferry options that the country provides. It was particularly good having the van with the trailer for our bikes, as it gave us a lot of flexibility on getting to and from places.
Day One: Split transfer to Hvar
We met up with our tour guide, Marijo (pronounced like “Mario”) on the dock at Split, where we had opted to stay a few days prior.
Side note: Split is a wonderful place on its own. An incredible old city that mixes people’s current lives with an ancient palace that was made by Diocletian back around 300AD. A lot of the area was set as filming locations for Game of Thrones, and there are several tourist shops in town to remind you of this fact!
We got on one of the biggest ferries I’ve ever been on, along with many, many cars and trucks, and enjoyed a pretty fast hour transfer to the Island of Hvar (pronounced by “huhwar”). It was dark at this point, but we all piled into the van at the town of Stari Grad (one of the oldest cities in Europe as it turns out) and our wonderful driver took us about 30 minutes away to the town of Hvar where we checked in to the hotel for the night.
Day Two: West Hvar
After a big breakfast, we all piled into the van again and drove over to a starting point near Stari Grad, where we had landed via the ferry the night before. It was here that we all got situated with our bikes, got a bit more acquainted with the area, and then started off following Marijo.
The first time riding in another country or another location you’re excited about is always a special feeling. It’s almost like all of the newness and maybe even discomfort of being in a foreign location goes away - because you’re back on your bike, and it starts to feel familiar again. This is exactly how I felt the first few minutes of this ride.
Despite the weather not fully cooperating at first, the bikes were nice, the road was clear, and the landscape was just incredibly beautiful. We all kept wanting to stop to get photos.
This was also the time when we started to feel out each other’s backgrounds and capabilities. A lot of us were from the UK, several from the US, some knew each other ahead of time, others booked the trip just days prior. Overall, the pace was definitely slower than I’m used to going, but I knew this going into the trip. This one was more about experiencing Croatia!
We came up to a big climb about mid-way through the ride where I ran across a man named Dave from the Czech Republic who was out on a bike packing trip for several days. It was fascinating talking to him about his adventures and we had a great chat on our way up to the top of the climb where there happened to be a bar full of cold drinks. Congrats to him for doing such a huge adventure that week!
The way back down was marvelous, too, and it was our first glimpse into just how epic some of these roads out on these Croatian islands can be. Truly beautiful.
Once back in town, we dropped off our bikes and walked back to the hotel. We opted to walk around the town a bit more before heading back to get cleaned up and then later went out to dinner at Mizarola with the group.
Day Three: East Hvar
The following day, we were almost rushed out to the van to get our day started! The idea for this particular adventure was to drive us about halfway the distance of the island to start riding, then to ride eastward until we couldn’t anymore. There was a ferry we had to catch in Sućuraj.
This day was a both long in duration and crazy beautiful. I think it may have been one of my more favorite days of the tour! The views along the ridge of the island on its eastern side was unlike anything I’ve ever seen. We had views out to other islands southward of us, views out to the mainland eastward, and towards another island named Brač (known for its white stone that’s used in the United States' White House) on the north.
The roads were quiet, we passed through several quaint villages, and had basically endless views of the most incredibly blue water I’ve ever seen. A lot of the final descent into Sućuraj reminded me of Hawaii, actually, as the road snaked around some open vistas before diving into the trees.
Once safely on the ferry (and after eating one of the most delicious pastries I’ve ever had), we started a long transfer towards the next island destination. The more complicated nature of this day meant that this day was actually one of the longer days for us on the trip, especially since we were still in our cycling clothes!
First, we took the ferry to Drvenik on the mainland, then a van ride along the coast to the industrial port city of Ploče. To avoid a passport and customs check to cross Bosnia to another part of Croatia (the bridge to avoid this wasn’t yet open), we took another ferry to Trpanj.
We then drove the van over the middle of the Croatian peninsula to Orebić, which is an area known for its wine growing and absolutely stunning views. It was actually something the entire group noticed, almost in unison, each of us oogling out the windows of our van at the sudden glimpse of incredible endless views of the vastly blue Adriatic. The road zigzagged its way down the other side of the spine of the peninsula, with more unique rock variations that the road somehow managed to live in harmony with.
Once in Orebič, we took our final ferry ride to the island of Korčula (and the town of Korčula, actually), before driving to Lumbarda where our hotel was. I remember looking at the water along the dock and seeing fish and rocks at least 30 feet below the surface. It was weirdly engaging and calming at the same time.
What a long day of travel! Not that it wasn’t enjoyable of course, each area through this portion of Croatia seems to be slightly different, but each just so unique and beautiful in their own ways. It’s really hard for me to believe that all of this was once part of Yugoslavia - being an 80’s somewhat-post-cold-war-baby, I never imagined it to look anything like any of this!
Day Four: Mljet
This day was actually optional for the group, but the majority of us went. The fast ferry that goes directly there from Korčula is a bit expensive, and there is an additional charge to get into the park itself, but it was absolutely worth it.
We started the day of with riding from our hotel in Lumbarda back out to the ferry dock in Korčula city for some morning coffee, eventually to board the ferry to Mljet (pronouced “mee-yet”). Turns out this island has been continuously inhabited by humans for a few thousand years, and those who still live there can only do so because they have special permission.
The park is easy navigable by bike paths, and nearly every portion of it is paved, circling around two lakes that are fed by the Adriatic. If there was one place during our entire excursion in Croatia where we saw the bluest and most clear water, it was here.
We found ourselves swimming in the water a bit and being chased around by some big bugs. Bring water shoes if you head out this way, as all of the beaches here are quite rocky and things can be quite unstable when entering or leaving the water.
After some sightseeing, we got food at a local Konoba restaurant where I had the catch of the day, which was literally caught two hours prior. The owner even showed me the traps he used! Another perk of those who get to live here!
After we all took hundreds (or maybe thousands?) of pictures and wandered some tide pools at the edge of the island, we headed back to the ferry to get back to our hotel in Lumbarda, again riding back to the hotel from the port. We then opted to do dinner on our own, wandering over to a small, family friendly pizza shop that made some incredible bread and had Grk wine on the menu.
Grk is another local item you should try if you’re in Croatia! I found it to have a peachy, apricot-like taste that tasted at first like a white, but ended up with more thickness of flavor as you processed it. It can be hard to find outside of the region, as the process to make it is a bit more difficult and the grapes used to make it have to be fertilized by another grape variety. I don’t consider myself a wine-o, but this one was fascinating to me, and I got the impression that a lot of locals think of it as one of Croatia’s “best kept secrets.”
Day Five: Korčula
This day was perhaps our favorite day as far as biking goes! It was actually split into two separate bike rides, both on the same island of Korčula.
First, we got into the van and headed out towards the west side of the island, to an old fishing town called Vela Luka, which is apparently also known for some historical sights dating back 20,000 years. From here, we started riding some dirt paths that wandered through beautiful vineyards on the way towards a town called Blato. It’s a small, tree-lined town that had a bunch of red clay roofs everywhere. Very Croatian!
After a nice climb up out of Blato, we all took refuge from the sun at a small chapel and then took off down a glorious downhill descent back towards the ocean, eventually into the coastal town of Brna (pronounced “ber-na”).
We really liked Brna! It was quiet and the water was still and incredibly blue. We got some lunch at a local spot by the water in the shade, and then jumped into the water at a local beach spot for a while. I remember using my iPhone underwater to film a small, but curious fish who seemed to like hiding in my shadow. There also happened to be a giant (and beautiful) yacht docked in the harbor, called the Corsario, which you can reserve for a measly $75k a week or so, last I looked.
After some time in Brna, we loaded up the van again, which took us up towards another high point of the island, a place called Pupnat (pronounced “poop-nut”, for real, I’m not making that up!).
Starting from the top meant that we got to enjoy more amazing sights and some fantastic downhill roads, which eventually took us back into the town of Korčula and our hotel. And it was fantastic.
Later that night we even got to experience another Croatian favorite meal called peka, served from a property nestled in the hills above Lombarda. It consisted of veal, lamb, and vegetables, cooked for several hours in an outdoor stone oven. So tasty and worth it!
Day Six: Last Day on the Croatian Peninsula
Despite having ridden nearly 6 consecutive days, I remember us still being quite excited for this day. I know we were both ready to enjoy the rest of our trip (our plans were to visit France next), but this day promised some more incredible and (somehow) unique views.
It also started out as a transfer day, so we got loaded up with the bikes and dressed in our cycling kit, then took the bus to the ferry back over to Orebič. From there, the van drove us a bit further up again to a spot near a place called Kuna Pelješka. After being entranced and then later accosted by a wandering donkey looking for an easy meal, we took off through some more vineyards out towards an incredible coastline.
The ride this day was short, and even felt that way, but not because we just blazed through the route! In fact, the opposite occurred - we found ourselves wanting to stop every few hundred meters for pictures. This is truly a beautiful and unique section of coastline, a bit different than anywhere else we had seen on the trip.
Perhaps it was because we were up higher by comparison, as there was a steep drop off to the right side of the road. Perhaps it was just the fact that the area seemed to change dramatically every mile or two. We saw open shrubbery and vineyards at first, which gave themselves way to otherworldly rocky cliff faces hundreds of feet above us, eventually to then find ourselves engulfed in dry pine tree forests. All within a total of about 11 miles!
This particular area is certainly unique, and looks like it’d be quite the challenge going up the other direction, too! We saw several riders doing exactly this, most of which were with Trek Travel.
Once we pulled into Žuljana, it was time to give back the bikes for the final time. They were going back to Zagreb, while we decided to hang out in town for a bit longer, taking another dip in the water. The water here was also super clear and was actually fairly sandy, meaning that it was significantly easy to walk around in. It also was quite shallow for a long ways out, too!
After some amount of time there (and after we managed to scavenge some food because nowhere was open yet for some reason), we took off in the van for our final destination of the trip: Dubrovnik!
Day Seven: Dubrovnik
So admittedly, this post is quite long. If you’ve made it this far, fantastic! Thank you for sticking with me!
On our way to Dubrovnik, we stopped in briefly at a place called Ston (pronounced “stone”) that was actually one of the richest places in the region for a long time due to its salt production and the salt trade. Definitely stop in here for some novelty salt. I know we did!
Dubrovnik itself could be its own separate post, as it’s a fascinating place, kind of lost in time. People live within the walls of the old city, living their normal, every day and modern lives, even if it feels like a medieval castle.
It’s clean, there’s a lot of life, there’s the world’s oldest still running pharmacy inside the still-active Franciscan monastery, and a ton of Game of Thrones merchandise, as it was the featured shooting location for King’s Landing in the show.
I definitely recommend taking a stroll along the city wall. If you’re there during the summer season, it will get quite hot up there, so definitely make sure to go in the morning. Also note that you can get a city-pass that will not only give you access to the walls, but will also include access to other things within the city as well (such as the maritime museum, a place recommended to us by our guide). Just enjoy it. The city certainly feels a bit like Split, but has its own identity that was very unique to anywhere else I had seen in Croatia.
The trip at this point included a guided walking tour with the group, along with the hotel for two nights a mile or two away from the old town (you can take the local bus in to town pretty cheaply, and it’s easy and safe). At this point, others in our group had kind of paired off or grouped off and were starting to do their own things as the trip was drawing to a close.
The next morning, we checked out of the hotel and got a taxi over to the airport. Our next adventure took us to France!
Before this trip, I knew next to nothing about Croatia. I mean, besides the fact that everyone seems to talk about it and its crystal clear water. Seeing it all in person, however, was definitely more enthralling and interesting than I expected it to be! The water, the paths, the quiet areas, the ferries, the low costs for food, along with the quality of that food - all of it lead me to believe that there definitely is something special and unique to this country.
Starting next year in 2023, the country will officially move away from using the Kuna currency to the Euro. So that may have some interesting effects on the economy, so stay tuned for that.
Either way, perhaps I’ll come back with my road bike and check out more of what the Balkan peninsula has to offer. There’s certainly a lot more variety of landscape and history here that I have yet to explore! Until then, Doviđenja!