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Bicycle Touring in Croatia

Our entry into Croatia marked our departure from the Schengen Zone of western Europe, so we didn’t have to worry as much about our visa time limit. Andrew also started online graduate school around this time, and we started spending more time in towns along the coast so we could have access to WiFi and electricity.

Croatia is a wonderful country full of diverse landscapes, where you can ride from the gorgeous coastline into rugged hill country in a relatively short distance. This combined with spectacular old towns and affordable traveling costs made Croatia an incredible place to bicycle tour.

Route

croatia bicycle touring map
Overview of our bicycle touring route through Croatia.

Download the GPX track of our tour through Croatia.. Read our previous post about the Istrian Peninsula here.

The Hinterland South of Rijeka

Shortly after leaving the port town of Rijeka, the EuroVelo 8 cuts inland and travels up into the mountain range that separates the coast from the rest of the country. This section of the EV8 was incredible – we were mostly on a paved road but we only saw a handful of cars, and we had expansive views of the Adriatic from high up in the mountains. The scrubby vegetation was windswept and somewhat barren due to the prevalence of wild horses in the area. As previous desert dwellers, the rocky and inhospitable landscape made us feel right at home.

bicycle touring croatia
Hazy day riding in the mountainous region next to the coast.
wild camping croatia
Wild camp up in the mountains.
parasol mushroom in croatia
Huge parasol mushroom at our wild camp. We didn’t know if they were edible at the time so we didn’t try any.

The route descends into a valley on the far side of the mountain range and travels through a long stretch of farmland before heading back toward the coast. We had a couple days of continuous rain during this section, and on one occasion a person we’d never met asked us if we needed a place to stay when he saw us hunkering underneath a bridge. We were thankful for the offer but ultimately declined, as it was early in the day and we were planning to continue further.

bicycle touring in croatia
Sunset cycling through farmland after a storm.

First Experience with Croatian Bura

One night, we wound up camping at the top of the final pass before the descent to the coast, and it was possibly the worst campsite decision that we made throughout the whole trip. We didn’t have much of a choice because it was dark and we didn’t want to start the gravel downhill at night, but that evening we experienced a horrendous windstorm that made us regret the choices that led us there. The wind was relentless and at one point pulled our front tent stakes right out of the ground – one of which was never to be seen again.

wild camping croatia
The infamous windy campsite. In our morning haze we forgot to take a photo while the tent was still up.

The following morning, the wind still hadn’t relented and we doggedly packed up our gear while trying to summon the energy to begin riding. We started off with a big descent on a fairly busy highway that didn’t have much of a shoulder. The strong crosswinds made the ride terrifying because big gusts would push us into traffic. It seemed like the cars realized our difficulty in maintaining control, and overall they passed us very carefully.

After the long downhill, we came to a flat area with lots of windmills that had signs along the road warning of high winds. We have never experienced such strong winds as we did here. Again, there wasn’t a shoulder on the road so it was too dangerous to ride. Even when we were walking off on the side of the road, the wind was pushing our bikes out from under us and we had to constantly brace against the wind. We noticed a dirt road running parallel to the highway, and we were glad to have the option to be off the main thoroughfare.

bicycle touring in croatia
Taking shelter from the wind at a bus stop.
bicycle touring in croatia
So, so windy.

Zadar

After our windy ordeal, we were glad to be staying in Zadar for a week. We found a nice apartment in the old town and checked out the sights throughout the city. We particularly enjoyed the two museums we went to – the Archeological Museum and the Museum of Ancient Glass. The Roman artifacts were astounding, and the sheer number of intact glass vases and delicate decorations was impressive. We also enjoyed the Sea Organ art installation and simply walking around the old town and waterfront.

Church of St. Donatus zadar croatia
Church of St. Donatus in the Roman Forum of Zadar, built in the 9th century.
Sunset on the Zadar waterfront.
Sunset on the Zadar waterfront.
Greeting to the Sun art installation zadar
“Greeting to the Sun” art installation on the waterfront.
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The imposing Land Gate in Zadar.

After leaving Zadar, we rode along the islands of Ugljan and Pasman, which was mellow and peaceful. The summer crowds were mostly gone at this point and the roads weren’t very busy. We took some paths we saw on OSMand that led us on some flowy coastal singletrack.

Island singletrack.
bicycle touring in croatia
Sunset on the ferry back to the mainland.

Back on the mainland, the EV8 took quite a few gravel roads and some quiet paved byways. One section took us through a farm area with a bunch of tall partitions made of piles of rock. It was unclear how old they were, but it was an impressive feat that someone had moved so many rocks to make the land more accommodating for agriculture.

bicycle touring in croatia
Pushing over a rock pile on a mostly fun section of singletrack. This wasn’t part of the EV8, we just saw the path on OSMand and decided to try it.
gravel bike touring in croatia
Gravel road with tall rock partitions and fall colors.
Cool abandoned building on an inland section.

Split

We took another week-long break in Split and stayed in an apartment just outside the old town center. We spent a lot of time walking around Diocletian’s Palace and the surrounding area. The way the palace ruins were integrated into the old town was really neat, and it was amazing that structures that were 1000+ years old were still being used. We went to a breakfast spot whose patio was in a medieval courtyard, and the owner casually mentioned that the foundations of the restaurant were Roman.

Diocletian's Palace in Split
Diocletian’s Palace at night in Split.
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Walls encompassing the old town of Split.
old town of split croatia
Cat relaxing in a restaurant in Split.

Hvar Island

At the recommendation of an American business owner that we met, we took the ferry from Split to Hvar and cycled the length of the island. We initially rode some gravel roads that were marked as cycling routes, but eventually we switched to riding the main highway because there was hardly any traffic in late October and the gravel was a bit too bumpy for us. The island is pretty narrow, and the road travels high along the main spine of mountains, which allows magnificent views of the sea and the mainland.

bicycle touring hvar island
Riding into the sunset on our first night in Hvar.
wild camping croatia
Found a good wild camp spot to watch the end of the sunset.
bicycle touring hvar croatia
Mazes of stone partitions for grape and lavender cultivation.
strawberry tree fruit on hvar
We were on the island during strawberry tree season, and there were a ton of plants right next to the road. They were sweet and had a very unique texture. We had seen them at a farmer’s market in Split, otherwise we wouldn’t have known they were edible.
View of a neighboring island from high up on the spine of Hvar.
Photogenic tree on Hvar.
bicycle touring in croatia
Lighthouse at the end of Hvar island.

Shortly after the ferry back to the mainland, we began to head inland toward Bosnia and Herzegovina. But first, we met a bunch of really friendly cats in the ferry town. The first one we saw was sitting on the beach and contemplating the ocean.

Beach cat coming over to say hi.
bicycle touring in croatia
Cats lounging on a bench, waiting to beg for food.
bicycle touring in croatia
Up into the mountains, heading for Bosnia.

Dubrovnik

After crossing back into Croatia from Bosnia, we landed in Dubrovnik, where we would spend about six weeks while Andrew finished up his graduate school semester and we caught up on video editing. Dubrovnik has a regal old city surrounded by high stone walls. We were there between November and late December, which coincided with the Winter Festival. Seeing the white stone buildings blanketed with Christmas lights and tasting the special food and drinks available from market vendors was a wonderful experience, and the long break refueled our energy to continue our bike tour.

dubrovnik winter festival
Dusk lighting on the Stradun in Dubrovnik.
Onofrio's Fountain dubrovnik
Onofrio’s Fountain with Christmas lights.
Food and drink stalls at the Dubrovnik Winter Festival.
bicycle touring in croatia
View of Dubrovnik on the descent into town.

Video from the Dalmatian Coast

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