Exploring the islands of Croatia by bike and boat

Seven years ago, I travelled with a group of friends around Croatia, during the extreme heat of the summer months, on a road trip from the UK, with nothing but a tent and some camping gear. During this trip, after stopping in Slovenia and the Italian lakes we drove through the mainland of Croatia as far as Split. So, given the opportunity to go back and explore the islands of Croatia on a bike and boat trip, I jumped at the chance.

The same group of friends from the original trip 7 years previous were due to meet in the UK for a wedding, so this was the perfect opportunity for me to tag on some further exploration of Europe. We started the trip by flying into Dubrovnik, a place I previously never reached.   I had heard great things about the beauty of Dubrovnik but had been warned that it would be saturated with tourists. I was however, not prepared for quite the volume of people within and just outside the city walls. Never-the-less it is still worth a visit especially if you are a Game of Thrones fan!

Our first night we stayed in Lapad, a lovely seaside part of Dubrovnik away from the hustle and bustle of the old town. After a super early start because of jetlag, we set out at dawn on a walk of the coastline. We returned to the beach, which by 8am was packed full of families having their early morning swim. Later we checked out of our hotel and headed to our sailing boat, just a 10-minute taxi ride. We were greeted by the cycling crew who were either German or Bosnian, all of which were very friendly and helpful. We took our bags down to our cabin, which was a nice room with a small en-suite and just enough room for us to not be on top of each other. The air-conditioning in the cabin was definitely a bonus and well needed.

Later that day we tested out our bikes, and got them all set up. I was pleasantly surprised with the saddle, which had great cushioning and never gave me any trouble, which was a very pleasant surprise. Before when headed off to the old town that evening with our new group of friends, we popped over the road to one of the nearby restaurants. Croatia may not be famous for its cuisine but they do the most amazing salads, not the biggest claim to fame but well worth trying out from the large selection on offer.

After our briefing and little city tour of Dubrovnik, the group of 18 people on this trip all sat down to our first meal together cooked by the lovely Croatian Chef. Always get on the good side of the chef, is my moto – I love food! Evening meals tended to be a selection of fish or chicken, salad or pasta and a pudding over 3-courses. The meals were always extremely filling and delicious, especially after our cycle days.

The next day we set sail during breakfast bound for Sipan. This small island, with 400 inhabitants, with lovely rolling countryside and beautiful vineyards, is not too dissimilar to parts of Italy. The cycling was lovely, not too hard but a little hilly. The ride was from one side of the island to the other, then back again taking a slightly different route. When we reached the other side of the island we were welcomed by a lovely swimming spot and again when we returned to where we had started, a most amazing sea of blue. It did not take long before everyone had stripped down to their togs and cooled off in this most idyllic of locations.  At lunchtime, we headed back to the boat, where we all sat outside in the shade to enjoy a good meal, whilst sailing on to the next island.

The next island we reached was Mjet, much bigger in size and population than Sipan. It took us about 2 hours to reach and during this time most people had a nap, either in their cabin or on the many sun loungers. We arrived at the port of Pomena which is where we also spent the night. This was a lovely port with beach bars, nice restaurants and a really nice vibe. The cycling only involved part of the island, as this is the biggest island in the region. The area which we cycled was part of the national park, requiring a ticket to enter. The ride itself was not too difficult, mostly flat and in the shade within the forest. Our end point before returning had the most incredible views and on our return, we stopped half way at 2 beautiful lakes next to each other, both with high salt consistency, making it an unusual floating experience. From here we only had 3km to return to our boat before having a quick shower, dinner and then bed.

The following day, again during breakfast, we set sail to Lastovo. The route on Lastivo was a loop with some big hills involved. At the end of the day’s cycle, we sailed before dinner towards Vela Luca where we docked out at sea just off the island. This evening, after dinner the inevitable Karaoke competition began. Myself and Liv (my friend) came a close second, with “I heard it through the grapevine” to a north islander and “I’m too sexy”, he was extremely worthy of his first place.

The following morning I was the first one up and enjoyed an early morning swim. The water was still a tad fresh at 6am, but by 7am it was glorious!  Then a few people joined me out at sea for a morning paddle or kayak. After breakfast we sailed over to Vela Luca, where we set off immediately for a day of tough hills. We stopped part way through the ride at the village off Blato, to enjoy a cold drink and wander through the old town and up to the church and town square. The onward ride brought us to a point where we could then drop down back towards the boat, or get another 20kms into our legs. Most of us chose the extra 20kms before returning and treating ourselves to a nice cold beer before boarding. We then headed back to the same point out at sea, just off Vela Luca and all enjoyed an evening swim.

Day 5 was a rest day from Cycling, after breakfast we headed by foot (back on the mainland), to our bus which was waiting to take us to Mostar in Bosnia. Crossing the border was easy enough on the way out, but took a little longer on the return because a lorry in front of us did not hold the correct documentation.  Once we arrived in Mostar, the bus parked at the coach park and we had to make our way into the old town by foot. Unfortunately, just as we set off the heavens opened and we took shelter in the nearby church. Once the coast was clear, it was back to blue skies. We ambled through the old town and down to the river banks where we wondered why we had gathered down by the river. Then after a few minutes a couple of men appeared on the wrong side of the bridge towering over us. It became obvious that the men up on the bridge were preparing to dive off what must have been 24meters, but looked more like 50 meters to me and gave me sweaty palms just watching. Eventually, after a few minutes of collecting donations and building up the crowd’s anticipation the first man took the plunge, quite literally! Everyone, including myself was happy to welcome the VERY buff man alive out of the river and congratulate him. After this display we all headed off in our own direction to explore this magical, if not a little commercialised, city. There are a number of cute little shops here, so if shopping is your thing, this is the place to do it because you really don’t get much of a chance to do any souvenir shopping on any other days during this tour. After we explored the old town we found a very cute restaurant in a lovely courtyard. Our Bosnian guide had given us a tip on some local foods to try, which we did. To my surprise I discovered that Bosnian food is incredible, but only for meat eaters!

Once we got back to Croatia, after a hill climb on foot, part way back to the boat, we had to hurry because we had been informed of a storm heading our way. We quickly set sail to a different location that was originally planned, so that we could dock in sheltered waters. I think because I had managed to literally fill my stomach to the brim with all the amazing Bosnian meats, it may have been a combination of over eating and the slightly choppy waters, which took me to my bed until about 10pm when I surfaced wide awake. A few of us headed over to what seemed like a local’s bar, the only one in the port and enjoyed some good laughs for an hour or two.

During breakfast the following morning we sailed to Korcula, once home to Marco Polo. After our cycle, we had a guided tour of the old town and learnt some historical facts about the city and the residence of Marco Polo. Later that afternoon the weather took a turn for the worse, so on our return to the boat we and the bikes had to tender out. Sailing on to Trstenik was surprisingly smooth through the storm. Tonight, we had free time to explore and test out the local restaurants, which consisted of another amazing fish dinner.

On our final day of cycling the decision was made, at the last minute, to change our scheduled biggest day of cycling because of the weather. We sailed on for a couple of hours to Slano, were we enjoyed some nice weather and a final day of cycling with our group of lovely new friends, both Kiwi and German. By now we had grown to enjoy everyone’s company and there was exceptionally good banter between us all. The decision was made early on to rotate where we sat for dinner, so that each night we had time to get to know our travelling companions a little better.

The final night was spent docked in Dubrovnik, where a group of us enjoyed some nice beers at a local bar nearby the harbour, reflecting on what had been a great week!