Friday, 28 July 2017

Biking Along the Adriatic Coast

Text by Laura Wolfs for Balkan Insight   
A group of four self-proclaimed ‘Yugo-nostalgics’ ride their bikes from Trieste through Croatia to Ulcinj in Montenegro in 12 days, covering approximately 1,200 kilometres.

The Adriatic separates Italy and the Balkans, and particularly along its eastern edge, it gains much of its beauty from the mountain ranges and the resulting cliffs which line the coast– which makes for a challenging bike ride. If you are not quite up to the challenge, the route can also easily be travelled by car and if that takes your fancy you may also want to extend your trip to Albania and perhaps further down to Greece.

Four self-proclaimed ‘Yugo-nostalgics’ – Ben, Ed (on an original 25-year-old Yugoslav Rog bike!), Stuart and Yuchao, took this epic journey along the entire former Yugoslav coast to discover the beauty of the Adriatic, crossing the new territorial borders and one or two physical boundaries too.

The cycling proper starts in the north eastern Italian town of Trieste, perched at around 500 metres on the border with Slovenia. The city was built at the bottom of the ‘Kras’ Plateau. From there the route takes you 1,200 km down along the beautiful Adriatic coast right down to Ulcinj at the far end of Montenegro on the border with Albania.

The first adventure, however, starts some 16 hours or so earlier with the long train ride from Belgrade. Unsurprisingly taking a bike with you complicates the journey. It was a “a real pain,” Ben says to have to purchase a separate ticket for the bike in each country, and a Croatian train conductor who demanded a bribe for the transport of their bikes, irrespective of the tickets they already had, didn’t help much either.

Nevertheless, once this challenge was mastered, our intrepid travellers were one anecdote richer and one step closer to embarking on the cycling mission.

A little training in advance of the trip, the guys all agree, would have been a sensible thing and would have reduced the pain of the first few days. The tremendously unfit team confessed that “the first two days almost killed us. A cocktail of determination, picturesque scenery and chocolate milk” was what kept them going despite the muscle pain says Ed.

Not all woes are so easily solved with chocolate milk, however.

“Make sure that at least one of the people in your group knows how to fix bikes. And not just in the sense of a puncture or a slipped chain,” says Ed. Every day the boys needed to carry out some repairs and without the knowledge of one of their crew members, Stuart, they “would not have got very far.”

One of the main advantages of meandering along the mountainous route is that you are able to fully enjoy the beautiful coast. And to that end the guys recommend that you should keep a few days in your schedule to spend in that unforgettable village you pass through, with your feet firmly in the Adriatic in an undiscovered cove, or making a side trip out to one of the beautiful islands. Karlobag and Vrsar for example have islands close by that make a relaxing day trip.

Flexibility seems to work with accommodation – as long as you are not planning to make the trip in high season. Private accommodation is not too hard to come by. Just watch out for the blue signs saying Privatne Sobe, Zimmer, Rooms. “We didn’t make a single booking and managed to find accommodation everywhere without too much stress”, says Ed. And if, says Ben, you are “are amazing at haggling” there are some bargains to be had.

In most cases you’ll be able to negotiate the quoted price down and the guys report that hotel staff take particular pity on exhausted cyclists, although they had, they said a little trouble finding lodging for the night in Sibenik. Perhaps this may be one place to book ahead as the Krka National Park makes a great diversion from the route.

Krka National Park is just a few kilometres north of Sibenik. The river Krka runs from Bosnia down through Croatia carving out some beautiful gorges and waterfalls on its way. Once there, a boat trip through the beautiful nature of the park is the best way to explore it, and the crystal clear lakes are a refreshing place for a swim.

The comprehensive website of the park has schedules for the boat tours and accommodation details. We suggestion Vrata Krke, with off-season prices of around 53 euro for bed and breakfast, and in-season ones – around 72 euro.

Once you have recovered from the demanding journey through the Slovenian and Italian mountains (Crikvenica to Zadar) and the Karlobag National Park, some of the most beautiful sections of the route begin.

This scenery is what kept the four boys going at times when physical pain was threatening to ruin high spirits.

Beyond Dubrovnik, a city that was once described by Lord Byron as ‘pearl of the Adriatic’ the road between Croatia and Montenegro is particularly challenging due to its mountainous character but the pain of the climb makes the tremendous views all the more wonderful.

“Winding around the edge of the bay after a difficult journey out of Croatia and the mountains that surround the former Ragusan republic [A long forgotten maritime republic centred around Dubrovnik], was definitely a memory that will stay with me. Protected from the harsher elements the road was full of gentle inclines, leaving you plenty of opportunity to enjoy the scenery,” recounts Ben.

Heading further south, Montenegro comes into view.

“The 25-kilometre route around the bay of Kotor was the most stunning, beautiful and exhilarating part of the journey,” says Ben.

Kotor is, as yet, not as overrun by tourists as - given its beauty, it should be. Tucked away beneath 1,400-metre high mountains, Kotor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979. The bay is stunning with its medieval churches, mountains and magnificent views. One of the best known tourist attractions is St. Triphon’s Cathedral (1166) its Romanesque interior is impressive and still has some of its fourteenth- century frescoes even though it was extensively rebuilt following an earthquake in 1667.

If you make it the whole of the 1,200 kilometres, you are sure to feel a sense of achievement at the end and are likely to have made some new friends along the way.
The fainter of heart can of course, jump in the car and complete the trip without any of the pain but the guys all agree that two wheels, and a fair slice of determination and perhaps a pain killer or two is by far the best way to see this beautiful coastline.

This article is courtesy of Balkan Insight, the online publication of the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network, which contains analytical reports, in-depth analyses and investigations and news items from throughout the region covering major challenges of the political, social and economic transition in the Balkans.




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