Daniel Groves

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Eurovelo: Croatia and Bosnia

Published: 15 April 2019 · Tags: expedition, bike, eurovelo

Cycling the length of Croatia as part of a 4000km expedition.

This post is part of the nine part series Eurovelo. To see more from this series check the series index.

We were now over 900km down. Both of us agreed that the hardest miles should be behind us now. Not necessarily in terms of the cycling itself, but the miles where your body gets used to the abuse — the strain of riding everyday. Language was going to get easier from here on as we were now in an area heavily touristed by the western countries. Looking further ahead, we both knew that when we left Croatia and entered Slovenia we would be inside the Schengen area, meaning there wouldn’t be any more passport checks.

 alt: Views from the front of the campsite in Molunat  alt: Views from the front of the campsite in Molunat
Views from the front of the campsite in Molunat, Croatia.

Out of our small gathering of travellers Max and I were still the first two up. We ended up acting as the kettle for everybody, making a swift round of drinks before starting to pack down while they cooled. Watching the others I started to realise how well practiced we’d both become at setting up and breaking down our campsite after 10 days on the road.

While chatting in a restaurant the night before we’d arranged to spend the day riding with The Daring Dutchie as far as Dubrovnik, where afterwards we knew we’d have to increase the pace which meant riding as a group would not be practical any longer. Still, though, it was going to be a nice change from listening to Max talk about his favourite topic — concrete — for a few days.

We headed out, immediately turning uphill for the three of us to haul our bikes back up the steep hill we’d finished the previous day descending. The previous evening this hill had been such a relief, and now it was torturing our still-loosening legs.

 alt: Overlooking the from a watchtower we found by the side of the road climbing back out of Molunat.
Overlooking the from a watchtower we found by the side of the road climbing back out of Molunat.

On our way to the campsite the previous day Max had briefly scouted out a dismantled railway that appeared to go all the way to Dubrovnik, so when the opportunity arrived, we turned off taking it for a few kilometres before deciding it was too rough and we weren’t going to make progress fast enough.

 alt: Max
 alt: Max and The Daring Dutchie riding the dismantled railway.  alt: Max in the old tower.
Another old watchtower. This time on the dismantled railway we attempted to follow, before bailing back down to the main road. Also pictured here is the Daring Dutchie we were cycling with for the day.

We dropped back onto the main roads, which turned out not to be quite as busy as we’d expected, pushing on to Dubrovnik. The three of us had lunch before Dutchie went to find the hostel she planned to stay in for a few days, while Max and I went through our usual procedure of finding a last-minute bargain on Booking.com for the night.

 alt: One of the many old roads that are now closed to traffic we'd favour over the D8 running paralell.
One of the many old roads that are now closed to traffic we’d favour over the D8 running paralell.

We both quickly showered and ran all of our cycling clothes through the wash while we had access to facilities (this was the first proper wash for any of our gear since we started), taking advantage of the Mediterranean heat to dry everything overnight. We walked back into the centre of Dubrovnik to enjoy the city for the evening and locate some food; we both knew the next morning was going to be another early start as we had to get back to covering big distances everyday.

 alt: The bikes on the seafront in Dubrovnik.
 alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.  alt: The streets of Dubrovnik.
The city of Dubrovnik, as heavily featured in HBO series Game of Thrones.

Leaving Dubrovnik saw Max and I crossing 500-meter Franjo Tudjman Bridge after just 30 minutes of riding. It was here we spotted the first set of bike tourers that we didn’t get a chance to talk to. We were cycling along the Adriatic Highway, also known as the D8; it was simply too busy, and they had their heads down going into Dubrovnik.

We spent the day glued to the coast, dipping in and out of bay after bay, looking at the yachts of those that Max would describe only as “the flithy rich” — it was hard to disagree with him. Despite the constant variation in gradient we made good progress, and soon spotted another group of tourers stopped on the other side of the road, which seemed like a good chance to stop for a few minutes. We quickly found the other group were cycling from Spain to Dubrovnik. This would be the final day of their tour.

 alt: View from the Franjo Tudjam Bridge.
 alt: Waiting for Max at the top of one of the many climbs the D8 would throw at us over the coming week.  alt: The moment the GPS clocked over the 100km mark.
Top: View from the Franjo Tudjam Bridge; Lower left: Waiting for Max at the top of one of the many climbs the D8 would throw at us over the coming week; Lower right: The moment the GPS clocked over the 100km mark.

Just as we came up on lunchtime we hit our first major distance milestone of the trip — 1000km covered — somewhere just short of the Bosnian border. To celebrate we pulled over for a relaxed lunch in a seafood restaurant on the side of the road, fully aware we may pay the price for such a luxury in the evening by having to ride into the night.

As we approached the border crossing with Bosnia we both had our passports handy, but just as we expected we passed straight through the brief part of the country we would see without being stopped. This short stretch of road took us around 30 minutes to pass by bike, and we weren’t exactly trying hard; in a car it would have been a matter of minutes. Despite the short time there we both made the same observations about the small part of Bosnia we saw: it felt rundown compared to the rest of the coastline we’d seen.

 alt: Climbing on the D8 coastal road.
Climbing on the D8 coastal road.

Passing through the far side of Bosnia both Max and I were starting to grow tired of the relentless undulations in the road where we’d climb over 100m only to descend it again almost immediately. It was because we were growing so tired of this that when we turned a corner and saw the flatlands open up below us we immediately started studying the map to see if there was a road we could take through them that would help us avoid the main roads traffic and any further undulations.

 alt: Decending into the flatlands.
Decending into the flatlands.

We descended quickly into the flatlands passing occasional houses, some occupied, and some likely empty. We noticed there was a drainage ditch running behind them with boats moored near many of the houses and the fertile lands behind were clearly divided into fields. This was land that would flood easily and often, yet it would be because of this that it remained fertile enough to keep the families here. We quickly reached a small river which led us to a weir and a lock-gate controlled marina with a small collection of boats.

 alt: A typical house in the flatlands area
A typical house in the flatlands area, raised on stilts to avoid flooding with boat-only access.

We stopped here for a short while before resuming following the road along the far side that took us to a bigger river and a bigger road. This led us to a slip road would lead us over a bridge, and back up onto the main road where we started seeking a shop to buy dinner and some potential places where we could camp for the night.

 alt: The view over Baćina Lakes
The view over Baćina Lakes, just a few minutes walk from where we were staying at Camping Bacinska Jezra.

It wasn’t long before we’d located an Aldi which made for a fast resupply before we continued to follow the main road until we saw a sign for a campsite. We followed the signs until we eventually found a very enthusiastic owner, who quickly showed us where to camp and where the facilities were, chatting away in slow English to us. He told us how it was their second year, and how pleased he was with how well the campsite was doing despite us being the only people there. Still though, we had clean water, showers and somewhere quiet and off the road to get our heads down for the night.

The road was blissfully quiet as we headed off again the next morning, although the heat was already unpleasantly high for what we were doing. We were spending the majority of the day on the main road with the aim of reaching Split by the end of the day - 106km away.

 alt: Gradac
Gradac, Split-Dalmatia County

When you’re on a trip like this, riding everyday, your body starts to get tired. One of the things cyclists get here is a deep ache forming at the bottom of their thighs which grows quickly in intensity. As it grows it gets increasingly uncomfortable, you have two options: you can stop and it quickly fades, or you can ride through it and it’ll continue to build and then eventually fade away once the legs have loosened up. As usual, I rode through it.

We made progress, stopping at Makarska for lunch and then headed onwards towards Split. We kept to the same road all day until it eventually turned into a four-lane road as we approached Split itself. Despite its size the road was relatively quiet and took us straight into the old town. Max had been to Split before, so he took the lead and headed to the place he stayed at last time. Before long we were both showered and back in cleanish clothes as we headed back out to explore the city for the evening.

 alt: Split  alt: Split
 alt: Split
 alt: Split  alt: Split
 alt: Split
 alt: Split  alt: Split
The rather grand city of Split, a personal favourite fromn the trip.

Leaving Split turned out to be a more complex affair than either of us anticipated. We were trying to avoid ending up on the motorway, but it felt like every road we looked at would try and lead us into it. Eventually we found our way through onto an industrial estate which gave access to the road we needed, but we didn’t make it far before Max called that he’d broken a gear cable. Pulling over we set about repairing it with one of the spares we were carrying before heading on again.

 alt: Max
 alt: Max  alt: Max
Max fixing his second issue of the trip, a broken gear cable.

We left the coast for the first time in Croatia in an effort to cut a large dog-leg, this came with the cost of some big hills, however the coastline would have been undulating anyway; it’s the nature of cliff-top coastline. Much of the day had been overcast but now the sky was clearing just in time for the days climbing to begin, and as the sky cleared the temperature shot up.

 alt: Taking the back roads through Croatia.
 alt: Bikes in a small village  alt: Olive trees from the miles of groves we cycled through.
Taking the back roads through Croatia. During this section we almost ran out of food and water.

The general theme in Croatia was long undulating roads without much of interest to the riding itself, however we spent the entire time surrounded by stunning scenery. This was no exception as we dropped into Grebaštica for lunch around 15:00 on a long white beach. The staff running the hut fed us both and refilled all our bottles with a mix of water and ice to help keep the water cooler as we headed on.

 alt: Grebaštica.
 alt: Grebaštica.  alt: Grebaštica.

A little later in the day we stopped in Šibenek, and after a break resumed following “the line” which tried to lead us straight up several flights of steps. We both cursed as we hauled our bikes up them fully loaded before jumping back on at the top and following the road out of town.

Around 18:00 we arrived at the campsite for the day. We each paid €15 and proceeded to struggle to put our tents up on the gravelly ground, before having a cold shower (the “solar” water heating didn’t seem to work too well) before heading up to the bar we’d been invited to for some ‘shells’. The campsite owner had a massive vat of mussels cooking over an open fire in the yard and handed us each a plate and bread before telling us to help ourselves. While we were eating the campsite owner told us about the area, pointing out exactly where his mussels were collected from in the sea. These are about as fresh as they get.

 alt: Lightning over the campsite where we were staying
Lightning over the campsite where we were staying, Kamp Kalebić.

Once we’d eaten we headed back to the tents to get ourselves sorted for the evening, and as we were getting everything straight the skies opened and the rain pounded down around us. Every couple of seconds the sky would flash which would be quickly followed by the ground shaking from the thunder. After an hour or so the rain stopped so I grabbed the camera and ran down to the waterside and started photographing the lightning. Less than five minutes later the rain returned so we ran back to the tents for the night.

The next day we were up early. The day’s target was Novalja, 130km away. The town is located on a small island called Peg, linked to mainland Croatia by a bridge at one end and a ferry at the other.

 alt: Making out way across country to cut out a large dogleg and make up some time as we aimed towards the bridge onto the Island of Peg.  alt: Making out way across country to cut out a large dogleg and make up some time as we aimed towards the bridge onto the Island of Peg.
 alt: Making out way across country to cut out a large dogleg and make up some time as we aimed towards the bridge onto the Island of Peg.
Making out way across country to cut out a large dogleg and make up some time as we aimed towards the bridge onto the Island of Peg.

The days riding went smoothly over ground similar to that which we’d been riding through for the last few days until we reached the island. Here we stopped in a small town to restock on food before heading on using a small dirt road that ran parallel to the main road. We followed this for some distance before we found a pile of dirt with a blockade on telling us the road was closed. Not wanting to double back we simply pushed our bikes around it before continuing and found the road was collapsing. We kept going regardless until we eventually found a second blockade just short of a tarmac road again. Following this we quickly rejoined the main road for the next stint.

 alt: The bridge onto Peg.
 alt: The road that started as tarmac  alt: The road that started as tarmac
Top: The bridge onto Peg; Bottom (Both): The road that started as tarmac, and slowly derteriorated until we hit multiple roadblocks.

Arriving at Novalja we were disappointed to find that the campsite we’d had our eye on was a massive complex. We were riding along it’s fence line for over 1.5km before we found the entrance. Here they asked for €24 each. The staff spoke perfect English, so Max tried to barter with them a lower rate as we were on this trip for a good cause… they didn’t relent so we paid anyway and pitched up before grabbing a shower and walking into town for dinner.

 alt: Novalja beach.
Novalja beach.

Arriving in town be both quickly realised why the campsite here was so expensive — this town was built for the student–tourists; we were surrounded by the “gap-year” crowd. I took some photos of the sunset from the beach, and while I was doing this someone came over and asked about the photos. They asked for us to come up to the bar, built on a platform over the sea, after we’d eaten. We went and found some over-priced food before heading to the bar where the manager promptly handed us a beer each and started chatting about the photos. After our free pints we headed on back to the campsite for the evening.

We were now 16-days into the trip, and starting to build momentum with the first 1500km past us; we estimated another two days to cross the border into Italy at this point. As we packed down to start a new day Max discovered a tent pole had broken. He decided it would be a good idea to scavenge an old beer tin to make his own splint rather than just using one of the ones we were both carrying for this exact scenario; despite this we headed off to Lidl to restock on supplies for the day before heading on.

Outside the supermarket I spent some time chatting to a pair of Austrian mountain bikers. You could immediately tell we were closing on Western Europe again as they approached and asked me about my views on the, at the time, quickly approaching Brexit vote, just three days away. After chatting about this and bikes for a short while Max reappeared so we bade them both farewell and made for the ferry back across to mainland. On arrival it turned out we’d just missed one, so we took a seat while we waited and Max started on his tent pole repair.

 alt: The ferry we just missed
The ferry we just missed, heading from Peg back to the mainland.

After an hour or so the ferry arrived, and so after the 10 minute crossing we were first off the ferry and both immediately got stuck into the long and steep climb up to the main road above us. It was already 12:00 as we ascended the steep climb making it torturously hard work without even a hint of wind.

The riding throughout the day was relentless as the undulations never seemed to stop on what must have been one of the hottest days of the trip. We moved our sites down from Rijeka to Senji, and then again to Selce where we ended up camping the the night. We found pizza and beer after the days riding and sat looking at the maps coming up with a new plan. We decided that we’d aim for Rijeka for lunch the following day now, and aim to stop for the night at Triest which would make for a short day to Grado the following day before a proper – and much needed – rest day the day after.

 alt: Stunning scenery from the north Croatia coatal road
 alt: Stunning scenery from the north Croatia coatal road  alt: Stunning scenery from the north Croatia coatal road
Stunning scenery from the north Croatia coatal road, the E65.

Initially the days riding was fairly flat until we reached a large industrial bay we had to ride around on the slowly ascending road with several large works plants loading ships below. The head wind was torture as it whistled through the bay but we kept pushing on as hard as we could, knowing that we had to make good progress today to get our rest day.

Somehow we managed to make it to Rijeka for an early lunch, before we went and spent the last of our currency on snacks and supplies in Lidl. We wouldn’t be needing it anymore at the rest of the trip would be on Euros until we got back to England, except a small stint in Switzerland. Leaving town it was once agin 31 degrees centigrade, without a breath of wind, and the buildings surrounding us seemed to make this worse as the heat reflected off of every surface.

 alt: Bodging broken tent poles.  alt: Max proudly displaying his repair work.
 alt: The critcial spork-fix.  alt: Max
An evening on the campsite in Senji bodging broken tent poles and spokes to see us through the trip.

At Lidl we spoke to a guy who was doing a circuit Audax around Croatia — he’d just cycled 500km in two days, having only slept briefly in a bus shelter. He stopped for long enough to scoff some food while chatting to us before jumping straight back on his bike, and headed off in the direction we were headed. We didn’t see him again.

Crossing the border into Slovenia was surreal looking around and the abandoned border posts. We stopped at one for a while, using them as shelter from the sun where once we would have had to show passports before crossing. After a short while we moved off into the rolling hills of Slovenia with meadows as far as the eye can see. It felt like a peaceful and tranquil place in our short time there.

 alt: An abandoned passport control checkpoint from the days before Schengen area.
 alt: An abandoned passport control checkpoint from the days before Schengen area.  alt: An abandoned passport control checkpoint from the days before Schengen area.
 alt: An abandoned passport control checkpoint from the days before Schengen area.
An abandoned passport control checkpoint from the days before Schengen area.

Stopping at “Porkeys” for dinner just 250m short of the Italian border we had a relaxed dinner here before picking a campsite out on the map in Trieste and then heading off for it. We were trying to avoid going into the city, and so found ourselves climbing more painfully steep hills as the sun set behind us. Through luck alone we ended up on a campsite with views overlooking the entire city, and sharing a small pitch with another cyclist. The guy explained that he was a British expat who was cycling to China while stopping and teaching English en-route.

For once we didn’t set an alarm for the next day, knowing that we didn’t have far to go at all and wanting to get all the sleep needed. Croatia was far from Max’s dubious statement during our planning of being “flat”, and combined with murderous heat and now the wind made it had been very hard work. We were now, however, back in Western Europe and ready for a few more relaxing days before we got back to clocking up the miles.

More from the Eurovelo series

This post is part of the nine part series Eurovelo. This series is not yet complete; the published parts are:

  1. Eurovelo: A charity cycle expedition across Europe.
  2. Eurovelo: Arriving in Thessaloniki: The start of the adventure as we arrive in Thessaloniki, Greece and build the bikes before getting underway
  3. Eurovelo: Diesel and Dust: From the dust and fumes of Thessaloniki to the remote plains of northern Greece.
  4. Eurovelo: Into the Storm: Cycling from Bitola, Macedonia to Skopje, Macedonia though the mountains.
  5. Eurovelo: Kosovo: Cycling through Kosovo
  6. Eurovelo: Bad Roads and Big Diversions: Resuming the story of Eurovelo after crossing the border from Kosovo into Albania.
  7. Eurovelo: Montenegro: The story of a brief traverse across Montenegro from Albania to Croatia.
  8. Eurovelo: Croatia and Bosnia: Cycling the length of Croatia as part of a 4000km expedition.
  9. Eurovelo: Italy: A brief glimpse into the Italian countryside and culture.