Sunday, February 5, 2023
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Croatia: Around Split & the Highway 8 to Dubrovnik

Many (if not most…) bike riders think I/we may be “better than we really are”.

We see those young guys on their crotch rockets zip through the canyon and think, “yea, I could do that!”.

Or, we see someone doing a wheelie at 60mph down the freeway, and say, “that looks easy!”.

Both of them are probably not true, and when we imagine or dream about riding through the Alps of Europe or the amazing roads of New Zealand or Italy, we often think that they may also be beyond us; an impossibility.

If we do a Reality Check, then yes, maybe speeding through the twisties or doing wheelies may exceed our skill (or brain!) set, but journeying through mountain roads or along amazing coastlines of Europe is NOT outside our grasp!

The Alps, Italy, and New Zealand are amazing, but let’s take a look at a country that many overlook, and one of the most beautiful biking roads I have been on, and that is Croatia.

In 2019 I left the US and decided to travel the world and live in different countries for six weeks at a time.

That is what I have done after leaving my home country at age 64, and the place that surprised me the most—in a good way—was Croatia.

I knew little about it as we arrived one beautiful May morning after taking an overnight ferry from Italy.

We went there because Croatia is a “safe haven” when it comes to visa restrictions in the European Union and what is called the ”Schengen Zone.” My fiancé and I lived in Croatia twice and rented bikes several times.

Once was to bike from the city of Split and head south to Dubrovnik, and then onward to Montenegro.

It was a magnificent ride.

This is a possible route if you intend to do the whole journey without returning to Split daily.

The other was up north, leaving the city of Zagreb, and heading out to the coast, ending in the city of Rijeka in what is called the Istrian Peninsula.

Care to join me?

Croatia is a country of amazing beauty, with over 1000 islands and 1100 miles of coastline. If you add in the coastline from those many islands it totals 3600 miles—about the same distance to cross the United States from one side to the other.

some coastline roads in Croatia are true hidden gems
Some coastline roads in Croatia are true hidden gems

It is also a country with a long history going back to the Roman Empire, with many of the buildings and structures still intact. After the fall of that empire, two other powerhouses, the Ottomans, and the Habsburgs, each tried to dominate it.

The Habsburgs were the stronger of the two and held Croatia as part of their Austria-Hungary empire until World War I, which is when it became known by a name familiar with those of us that studied 20th century history- Yugoslavia.

For decades that country was ruled by tyrants and was a Soviet puppet until they began their quest for independence in the early 1990’s. For several years that struggle escalated in the war of independence and was affected by Bosnia and Serbia, and it was not until 1997 that freedom was finally obtained.

Though they still have some wounds from those wars—visible and otherwise—in my opinion, Croatia is quite advanced in developing a modern culture, technology and embracing tourism for all it affords.

During the summer of 2019, we were in several different places in Croatia, and I knew that I had to experience it on two wheels.

Scooters are a practical and affordable option to explore Croatia
Scooters are a practical and affordable option to explore Croatia

As much as I was biased against “scooters,” I realized that scooters were the only way to go that was practical and affordable.

Staying in the “big city” (Split) was usually more expensive, so we tried to stay a bit outside, and in this case that was the “Kastel” (castle) city of Kambelovac.

The first place we had to visit is Krka Falls, a beautiful park filled with several dozen falls and pools, and the beauty is that you can actually SWIM in the waters, instead of just viewing them.

To get to Krka we went through the cities of Trogir, Sibenik, and Primosten, which we came back to several times. The city itself is on an island peninsula and you can jump into the water from scores of places along the waterfront.

On a bike not only do you get to experience the wonderful smells of the water and the foliage but you are also immersed in the spirit of the country.

The city of Split is ideally located since it almost bisects the country, and the ride to the south is different but just as spectacular as the northern route.

the “Kastel” (castle) city of Kambelovac
the “Kastel” (castle) city of Kambelovac – Photo by Sollymonster (canva.com)

We especially liked the city of Makarska, which we also returned to, and between the mountains on one side and the ocean on the other, you feel enveloped by nature.

One of the freedoms of Europe, which is unlike the US, is the freedom to stop anywhere you like, park your bike, and take a plunge into the water.

In the past few years, I have rented bikes in Spain, Italy, Thailand, Ecuador, France, and Croatia, though under the radar, can compete on natural beauty with the other more well-known destinations.

One afternoon I went back to the city of Omis, with the huge block walls right against my face, and explored inland through the amazing tunnel into Gata and eventually went as far as Blato Na Centini.

The final route for our southern Croatia bike tour was the 200 km ride to Dubrovnik.

Dubrovnik is a must, especially for GoT fans
Dubrovnik is a must, especially for Game of Thrones fans – Photo by Dario44 (canva.com)

We read up on all the details about the border crossing into Bosnia-Herzegovina, and were prepared for an inconvenience and time delay.

This is one of the more interesting border crossings as B-H only “owns” a 12 km section of coastal road, so no sooner do you enter, you exit back to Croatia less than 15 minutes later.

Highway 8 (D8) is windy, twisty, and slower than the freeway, so of course, any bike rider would take the slower way—and we did too.

The coast road into Dubrovnik maintains its allure and the city of Dubrovnik should be on everyone’s visitation list. For fans of “Game of Thrones”, you will recognize the three meter thick walls and turrets, and walking through town was like a walk through history.

The caveat here: try to avoid the hot summer months of July and August. They are oppressively hot and uncomfortably crowded with tourists and cruise ships.

But even as contained as the city is, there are innumerable places to strip down to your shorts and hit the Adriatic waters there, too.

take a break, have a swim on a croatian beach
Take a break, have a swim in the Adriatic sea

Aside from the fun factor, scooters excel when it comes to limited parking or winding your way through the throng of busy pedestrians. Let’s just say that I gained a new respect for them, and finding a parking spot was never an issue.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic? Not a problem! Like in most of the country, passing is an easy solution and traffic never gets in the way.

Kat - my fiancee - on the bike
Kat – my fiancee – on the bike

On the return trip, we stopped at the magnificent view spot at Vrula Beach to peruse the coastline, and that is one of the best features of a bike.

You can stop anywhere, make U-turns at ease, and go down roads that seem to go nowhere and find adventure along the way.

And you don’t need to spend a lot of money on gasoline.

To be continued…

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Norm Bour
Norm Bourhttps://travelyounger.com/
Norm Bour left the USA permanently in February 2019 at the age of 64. His goal was to travel the world six weeks at a time, which he did, and wrote two books about his experiences. He visited 25 countries along with taking countless plane trips and many motorcycle trips, and is getting a BMW bike so will have wheels for the first time in years while he explores the country of Turkey. You can follow his journey at www.TravelYounger.com along with his Facebook blog by the same name.

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