April 1987, 2 weeks
It’s been awhile. In fact, it’s now a different country with a different economic system. So our rating for the Yugoslavian Coast is more like a fond remembrance than a present day recommendation. We will go back but the timing of the seasons is paramount. Too early (which we were in April) and you suffer cold, rain and especially winds (called the Boras). Too late, July and August, the European tourists are there in hordes and the temperatures climb. The well engineered main coastal road can carry a lot of traffic especially near the cities. This road can be avoided by island hopping. The scenery is rugged and beautiful, the people are warm and security on and off the road was not an issue. Because of the many European tourists, including cyclists, there are guide books, maps and tourist offices (which are very helpful) readily available. On the coast, the entire tourist infrastructure is well established. The weather limited us in April. We’d go later next time.
How We Rate This Trip
The Adriatic Highway runs 600 Ks between Rijeka and Dubrovnik. As a ride, the highway is not especially strenuous, since there are no major passes to cross. Ferry service is plentiful along the coast to get you off the main highway and onto the paved minor roads on the islands. In the off season, the main coastal road was quieter which allowed us to use this well engineered road. The terrain dictates that there are endless twists and turns which really make the biking fun.
During July and August traffic on the one and only coast road is very heavy. The solution is either to tour out of season or to “island-hop” down the coast, taking advantage of the offshore islands to cut out sections of the highway. During the high season, large sections of the main coast road were closed to cyclist between 3PM and 8PM. It’s better to avoid this high season for your cycle tour.
The heat can be intense during high summer. Mid April, when we were there in 1987, was especially cold, rainy and windy. The Bora, a fierce cold northeasterly wind, blew. We were forced to walk our bikes around corners to avoid being knocked off during the Bora. To avoid the summer heat and the big tourist crowds, biking is best in the spring or the fall. But avoid going too early like we did or too late (the high season).
Wind can be a bothersome element along the coast. The locals claim that the north winds usher in clear skies and rain comes with the wind from the south. So, with luck, it’s best for favorable tail winds to ride from North to South. When the winds are strong, the coastal ride can be risky. Because of the serpentine indentations that the main highway follows, the wind vectors can make radical switches. In 1987, in April, the Bora kicked up and we would dismount at the promontories to avoid the sudden wind thrusts that could blow us into the traffic or into the sea.
The Dalmatian shore has a natural splendor made fragile by decades of intense tourism. The whole coast is dominated by karst scenery. Its rocky coastline has many indentations and the backdrop of mountains or islands are viewed over surprisingly clear blue water. The ever-changing views from the saddle are excellent. In general, the islands are low, sometimes covered in dark green vegetation and vineyards with shore villages of red roofs or completely barren and waterless. Litter was a problem.
There are the usual general Guide books. Larger towns along the Adriatic Coast usually have lots of tourist officers. Almost all of them have staffs that are helpful and polite, and you’ll be able to check on lodgings and get city maps. As for bicycle specific information, you’ll have to rely on overall European guides that have a chapter or two dedicated to the Adriatic coast of Croatia. Back in the 80’s we browsed through, ”Europe by Bike” by Karen and Terry Whitehill and “Cycling Europe” by our favorite guide book author Nicholas Crane.
Road Safety: 6
The main coastal highway at times could be downright dangerous. In heavy traffic we clung to the edge of the narrow road at times with nary any barrier between us and the precipitous drop off. Where there were roadsides, they were strewn with broken glass. This being said, the drivers intended to be courteous. So to avoid this situation, its best to get onto the quiet roads of the islands and time your trip to avoid the peak summer season. In places, the main road was closed to bicyclist in afternoons, probably for the cyclist own protection.
General Safety: 6
Without a doubt where there are lots of tourists with full pockets there are those who want to empty those pockets. This was the case along the coast. Reasonable precautions will save you from this. In April, when we were there, the pick pockets etc. had not arrived yet so we had no issues. Back in the 80’s, violent crime was not usual.
This was some of the most inexpensive tourist living to be found anywhere in Western Europe. Groceries were extremely cheap but were of a lower quality. Restaurant meals were a good bargain in Croatia especially the house wines. For accommodation, the Sobes, the rooms in private homes, were, hands down, the best deal. They are very good value and also offer closer contact with the Croatians themselves.
In the main cities, we drank the tap water but mostly we consumed bottled water. There were plenty of supermarkets to purchase water, beer, wine and other beverages at very reasonable prices. The Croatians have borrowed from the ethnic groups who have passed through here over the centuries. The Turks, who were here, left them with the rich strong style coffee. Beer and wine were all excellent. All the other stuff, soda and juices were available. Stores on the coast were plentiful.
Groceries are incredibly cheap. But also the standard of the goods sold was lower than the rest of Western Europe. Restaurant meals are a good bargain. Cafes are great places for quick snacks. The Croatian (much like Serbian) food is excellent. Meat and cheese pies (Burek) and stuffed cabbage (Sarma) were some of our favorites. In April, the restaurants were closing early; you’d have to order by 8PM. The ubiquitous ice cream shops were open later for dessert.
Hotels, Inns and campsites are found at frequent intervals along the coast. The price difference between a Sobe, a room in a private home, and a campground was small. We steered clear of the hotels. These are mostly holiday highrises with inflated prices especially when staying for only one night. They’re meant for the European beach tourists for extended stays. Rather, we looked for the rooms in private homes. These “Sobes” were available almost everywhere along the coast. We were delighted by our hosts’ hospitality and cleanliness of their rooms.
In Croatia, in general, the people were somewhat leery initially, but warmed quickly, especially to cyclists. On the coast, where tourists of all sorts have come for decades, the people embrace tourism and are very open and helpful. Because the Croatians are friendly, gracious people, you’ll get by very well even though you’ll find fewer English speakers here than in other European countries.
Western modernism contrasted with Eastern orthodoxy was just one of the complexities that made Croatia a challenging stimulating and rewarding country for bicycling. These are the southern Slavs. To the west and north of Dubrovnik, the Serbo-Croat language is written in the Roman alphabet. Further east they use the Cyrillic alphabet. Dubrovnik is basically on the border between theses East West influences and therefore culturally of great interest.
The most interesting towns along the coast, and the most crowded too, are Zadar, Sibenik, Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik, the pearl of the entire coast, is completely walled and barred to all wheeled traffic except bicycles. Like Greece, Yugoslavia rejoices in a largely rugged and wild interior, a beautiful coastline, hot summer weather and a powerful history which brings color and interest to many of its towns and villages. There have been many invaders, all leaving some degree of influence. It started with the Romans in the fifth century and ended with the Austro-Hungarians.
TOTAL SCORE 94
Route Descriptions and Maps
Zagreb to Dubrovnik
Zagreb to Karlovac 48Ks
After we lost a day because our bikes were lost at the airport, we left from the airport (south of Zagreb) and took the “old road” to Karlovac. Minor hills, moderate traffic and a good road. Cold. Lots of old farms.
Karlovac to Rijeka
We took the train to make up for lost time.
Rijeka to Opatija 10Ks and back 20Ks
Beautiful start today, no wind but clouds in the P.M. We were headed to cross to the island of Cres it was recommended that we returned to Rijeka and got to the island of Krk. (Because it was early in the season, the ferries were not reliable.)
Rijeka to town of Krk on Island of Krk 51Ks
Out on the main coastal road (on a Sunday) busy and dangerous. Traffic, no guard rail and drop offs from the seaside road. 24Ks to the bridge to Krk. Now on island road quieter. Rocky and barren. Up and over a low pass. Krk town 51Ks.
Krk to Baska (Krk Island) 24Ks
(We were trying to reach a ferry off Krk for Rab and encountered weather problems.) First to Punat, 8Ks no ferry, then to Baska, 24Ks, in search of a ferry. Climb over a pass with spectacular views. Pine trees at the top then down into a valley on a steep twisting road. Most hotels were still closed. No ferry. Winds Howling.
Baska to Senj (mainland) 47Ks and Ferry ride
Clear but windy. First to Vrbnik and then to Silo, 15Ks. Finally caught a ferry but back to the mainland at Crikvenica. We feared the busy coastal highway but it wasn’t bad, actually quiet at times. Along the sea with beautiful views. Rode to Senj, 32Ks.
Senj to Small beach hotel 26Ks out of Karlobag 90Ks
Very cold. Only moderate traffic and beautiful scenery. After 10Ks, even less traffic. Climb up then descend into Karlobag, 64Ks. In the P.M., the winds pick up forcing us off the bikes when rounding promontories, tough going and very slow.
Beach Hotel to Sibenik 120Ks
In the A.M. its sunny warmer and calm. Along the coast to Starigrad Pakenica, 35Ks. Now past the rocky shore and then inland a short cut through vineyards and flowering trees. Some minor climbs. We didn’t go to Zadar. We cut through the interior, finally reaching the coastal road. Now 5Ks into Sibenik on the the very busy main road.
Sibenik to Split 88Ks
Beautiful day with no wind. Along the rocky coast. The road clung to the shore with big indentations into bays. You can see the road for miles. Only minor hills. Into Primosten, 29Ks. Turned colder in the P.M. into Trogir, 58Ks from Sibenik. Then 30Ks more into Split. Toward Split, there was a lot of industry then past the airport and very busy into Split, nice city.
Split to Hvar (on Hvar Island) 40Ks and ferry
Ferry to Starigrad on the Island of Hvar then rode 5Ks to Vrbanji then to Jelsa and Vrboska just to see them. Then back and over the mountain pass to Hvar. Beautiful vistas. It was 1½ hours up and 20 minutes down, long and gradual. Hvar Island is cultivated vineyards with rock fences. The grapes are planted up the steep rocky slopes.
Hvar to Korcula town on Korcula Island by ferry
(day trip on island)
This was Easter Sunday. Took the ferry to Korcula. Out and back to Blato, 40Ks each direction. Some climbing. Quiet and beautiful. The road to Lumbarda and back 14Ks.
Korcula to Ston on Peljesac Island 58Ks and Ferry
Short Ferry to Orebic on Peljesac Isalnd. Out of Orebic to the east. Thru Janjina, 30Ks. Plenty of climbing. Then another climb and descent into Ston, 28Ks.
Ston to Dubrovnik 61Ks
Headwinds this day. Ride along the coast with a few minor climbs and descents. 6Ks to the coastal road then 55Ks to Dubrovnik. Bikes allowed into Dubrovnik but it’s a hilly city. The main coastal road was rideable. Per the advice of the locals, the winds from the south east brought in rain.
Dubrovnik to Zagreb by air.
For What It’s Worth
The most interesting towns along the coast, and the most crowded too, are Zadar, Sibenik, Trogir, Split and Dubrovnik. Dubrovnik is the pearl of the entire coast, it completely walled and barred to all wheeled traffic except bicycles. Like Greece, Yugoslavia has a largely rugged and wild interior, a beautiful coastline, hot summer weather and a powerful history which brings color and interest to many of it’s towns and villages. There have been many invaders, all leaving some degree of influence. It started with the Romans win the fifth century and has not ended yet.