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Cycling the Parenzana Trail

The Parenzana Trail is a roughly 80 mile (129 km) cycling route that runs from Muggia, Italy to Poreč, Croatia. The trail follows the route of a narrow-gauge railway that operated between 1902 and 1935. We bicycle toured the Parenzana in mid-September of 2021, and it was a major highlight of our trip around the Istrian Peninsula.

parenzana trail cycling map
Parenzana Trail Cycling Route Map

Route

Download the GPX track for the Parenzana Trail. This track includes an optional detour to Piran, Slovenia, which we would highly recommend.

The Parenzana Trail follows the same route as the EuroVelo 8 from Muggia to just after the Croatian border. This section mostly uses the coastal roads and can be busy at times. We rode the sidewalk when we could, but this would be difficult to do during the busier summer months.

Soon after crossing the border into Croatia, the route turns onto a designated bike path and begins a steady climb. From here you travel inland and pass through numerous charming mountain towns. The rolling hills support olive groves and vineyards, and this region is famous for truffle mushrooms that can be found in its forests – particularly in the area around Motovun.

cycling the parenzana trail
Riding past Motovun, famous for its truffle mushrooms that can be found in nearby forests.

Medieval Hill Towns

The town of Grožnjan suffered population declines after the Parenzana railway stopped running, and fell even further after World War II. In 1965, however, Grožnjan was declared a “Town of Artists” and underwent a subsequent revival. The town was somewhat sleepy when we visited in September, but there were many art galleries that hinted at the city’s cultural renown. It was a lovely place to wander around for awhile, with cobbled lanes and historic buildings full of character.

cycling the parenzana trail
Raised walkway connecting two buildings in Grožnjan.

Završje is another hill town we visited that, unlike Grožnjan, did not recover well after the discontinuation of the Parenzana line. There were many abandoned buildings being reclaimed by nature that were mixed in with the few inhabited houses. The cycling route doesn’t technically go through the town, but it’s a short detour to check it out.

cycling the parenzana trail
Abandoned buildings in Završje.

Tunnels and Train Stations

The Parenzana Trail incorporates old railway tunnels and bridges that were used by trains when the line was still functioning. There is an old station near Završje that has fallen into disrepair and has trees and dense vegetation growing inside of it.

cycling the parenzana trail
Old railway tunnel on the Parenzana Trail.

Trail Conditions and Navigation

Most of the bike path along the old rail line is gravel, and the trail also utilizes some gravel roads and stretches of pavement. The Parenzana website recommends mountain bikes due to rough road surfaces, but our full-rigid touring bikes with 2″ Marathon Mondials did just fine. The gravel was loose and chunky in some places, but we’d rather deal with bumpy bike paths than busy roads.

The trail is signposted fairly well, but having the Parenzana Trail GPX track was helpful as a backup.

When to Go

Summers in Istria are hot, and this is the busiest tourist season due to the popularity of the area’s beaches. While most of the Parenzana is further inland and doesn’t see as much tourist traffic, the sections of route along the coast would be more difficult. Spring and fall are much more enjoyable from both a weather and traffic perspective. Winters in Croatia aren’t terribly cold near the coast, but winter is the rainiest season so not the most ideal.

We cycled the trail in mid-September and found it to be a perfect time – most of the summer crowds had gone and the weather was great for bicycling.

Accommodation

Wild Camping:

We did the trail over two nights and were able to find wild camping spots without a problem. The first night we wound up camping right on the side of the gravel road because it didn’t seem to get much traffic and it was getting dark. No one came by the entire time we were there, though we were glad we left early because a long train of cyclists rode by right after we packed up.

wild camping on the parenzana trail
Wild camp along the Parenzana Trail.

Established Campsites:

There are a handful of established campgrounds along the trail if you would prefer to have showers, running water, and other amenities. We are on a budget so we can’t speak to these personally, but would recommend researching them in advance so you get a feel for what they’re offering. Some campsites in Europe cater more to motor homes and can be loud and unpleasant in a tent.

Hotels and Apartments:

Depending on the season, booking a hotel or apartment in the Balkans is generally cheaper than western Europe. The route goes through towns fairly regularly, so staying in an apartment along the route is a viable option and would give you the chance to explore some of the hill towns at a more relaxed pace.

Food and Water

Most towns along the route have a public water fountain where we were able to fill up on drinking water. We use OSMand+ for offline navigation and turn on POIs for grocery stores and drinking fountains. This is extremely helpful for planning out our resupplies. There are some decent stretches between towns so make sure to look ahead on your map and figure out where you can refill your water.

The towns along the route are pretty small but we were able to buy what we needed from basic grocery stores and bakeries. We usually cook our own dinners and stick to staples such as pasta, vegetables, and sausage or precooked chicken.

cycling the parenzana trail
Sunset in Porec at the end of the Parenzana Trail.

Final Thoughts

The Parenzana Trail is a fantastic way to experience the inland hill country of the Istrian Peninsula. Designated bike paths and low traffic roads allow users to explore rural villages without worrying about distracted drivers. Many people flock to the coast for their holidays, and the hill towns are a peaceful respite from the crowds and bustle of the beaches. If you’re on a longer tour of Croatia like we are, the Parenzana Trail is a great way to mix things up and take a break from the coastal riding of the EuroVelo 8.

Video from the Istrian Peninsula

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