When Dad and I began planning our 3 week cycling adventure, we landed on Croatia’s Adriatic coast (specifically Dalmatia). These series of islands offer amazing cycling, from paved roads to gravel/macadam road far off the “beaten track”.
The Dalmatian islands exist in a historical region of Croatia on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea.
As we planned our expedition, knowing that we could not see it all, we opted to stick to the islands for the most part. We had an idea where we wanted to go (which islands we wanted to visit), but being that we traveled in September and tourism is down from the summer, we had the flexibility of “winging it”. We did not book our accommodations in advance and made decisions on the fly.
We started our journey in the city of Split where we rented our bikes. From there we headed to Vis, on to Brac island, back to the main land to cycle up Biokovo (the highest mountain range in the Dalmatian coast), over to Hvar island, to Korcula and ended our journey on the island of Lastovo before heading back to Split.
Here are a few aspects of our journey that are worth mentioning to anyone interested in traveling via bike to the Dalmatian Coast.
There are ferries to and from each of the islands, but the ferries do not go from each of the islands directly to the other islands on the coast, often a slight detour back to a main hub (such as Split) is required. Also, during the “off season” (outside of the summer months), the ferry schedule changes and often means that the ferries do not run daily to/from some of the islands. Also, bikes are only allowed on the main ferries and not on the catamarans.
We had originally planned on camping when we mapped out our journey. However, the camping options are not plentiful on the islands and from what we saw, the campsites did not have a lot of privacy and were sometimes quite out of the way (so if you arrived late in the day to a port, you may be riding late into the evening to get to a campsite to setup your tent). Also, it’s important to note that camping outside of these allocated sites is illegal and there are fire bans on all of the islands.
We opted to lighten our load and stay at Sobes and Apartments. A sobe is a room for rent in someone’s house with shared cooking and washroom facilities. An apartment is just what you would expect (one or two bedrooms, cooking facilities, private washroom and dining area). If traveling during the busy months, you would need to book these accommodations in advance.
We were fortunate traveling in September as the tourism is quite quiet and you are able to get away with showing up to a town and looking for apartment signs and asking about availability. We only struggled one day when we were looking to only book for one night. On average we paid about $60 and were really pleased with how clean and immaculate the accommodations were.
Traveling in September was again ideal when thinking about the weather. We saw an average of about 27 degrees. Storms would typically blow in during the night but by the morning, the skies would be blue again. In the 21 days we were there, the weather did not prevent us from riding a single day. Also, the water is still warm during September at about 23 degrees.
We swam at least once a day while we were on the islands. There are lots of allocated swimming areas (with lane ropes showing the designated zone) but you can literally swim almost anywhere. The ‘beaches’ are pebbly and I highly recommend water sandals for happy feet ;). There are lots of areas where the water is deep and you can dive right off rocks! The swimming was just fantastic and was definitely a highlight of our day after heating up on the bikes!
The islands are rugged. This is something we were really drawn to but it does equate to very hilly riding. I actually underestimated how challenging the riding would be. Most of the towns and villages are down on the water, but lots of the main roads are higher up in land. Regularly you see signs for steep climbs and serpentines.
Each of the islands has a series of main roads (beautiful perfect condition paved roads), secondary roads (also paved but typically quite narrow) and tertiary roads. We opted to stick to the secondary and tertiary roads as often as possible. When we cycled a tertiary road, we never knew what we were going to get. Some of them were macadam, some loose gravel and some were even dirt roads. To ride any of the tertiary roads (where the adventures really start ;)), you definitely need bikes with something a bit hardier than slicks and hard tail mountain bikes were ideal (courtesy of Red Adventure – they were fantastic to work with and provided us with exactly what we needed while answering our numerous questions leading up to the trip :)0. You definitely want to ensure you are traveling with spare tubes and appropriate repair kits as we experienced some burrs that were all but impossible to avoid and flattened your tire in no time flat (no pun intended ;)).
We noticed on the tourist maps, each island has a series of cycling routes should you choose to follow the main roads. We opted to use topographical maps (purchased from the local tourism office or sometimes tobacco shops) which provided us with the details of all roads on the islands.
The restaurants on the islands all have very similar menus. Lots of pasta, a few soup options and plenty of grill options. We were not in love with the food we had at restaurants or “konobas” (grill establishments) but we did find plenty of fantastic bakeries, fresh fruit/produce stands and a couple of opportunities to have our hosts cook traditional Croatian fish feasts for us.
When you are heading to the islands, don’t make the mistake I did of not traveling with any “just in case” medicine. I have an allergy to cats which resulted in a trip to a medical center for a cortisone shot while we were in Croatia. The pharmacies and medical centers seem to be (in our experience) few and far between. Hours of these facilities are inconsistent (go by ‘island time’). So travel prepared!
All of the islands we visited had extensive hiking routes as well as lots of tunnels, caves and military history to check out. We found biking with baskets (instead of clips) and shoes meant that we could jump on and off our bikes quickly to check out an interesting hike or point of interest. All points of interest are marked with the following visual:
I hope you’ll consider visiting the coast (especially by bike)…it’s well worth the trip!