All has been a bit quiet here so far and there are a number of reasons why. The journey has taken on a bit of a turn from the original plan but that is kind of what happens with a journey, and while we had some things set in stone for this trip, we wanted it to be organic and develop as we went along.
Our trip here began in Cres, a rather large island linked to Losinj in the Northern part of Kvarner, Croatia. I had seen a write-up in the Lonely Planet magazine and was sold; it looked like the perfect place for a much needed chill out.
We arrived from Edinburgh on an overnight flight where we spent the night on Olso Airport’s floor. The bikes, at this point, were all boxed up and it became apparent that lugging them about like this was going to be a real pain. We made it out of the tiny airport of Rijeka, which is actually on the island of Krk and disappointingly were unable to withdraw any cash or be able to get a bus to the port of Valbiska. A taxi it was going to have to be, which meant an early thrashing of the budget, and we were soon packed into the back of the nicest taxi driver’s car I have ever met. Looking at the roads around me I was already beginning to get a bit nervous about the impending cycle. The roads were well used, open and busy with pretty hasty drivers; not quite the quiet bike tracks I had envisaged.
The plan was to spend three days in an actual bed to wind down before beginning the journey down south towards Dubrovnik. We then planned on cycling some of Croatia’s coastline; taking ferries where possible as a means of easing our way in to the heavy cycling that would come when we entered Montenegro, Albania and then Greece. Cycling through these other countries was frankly our only way of getting to Greece from Croatia, unless we wanted to get a ferry to Italy and one from there. The problem was that we did not have the option of any other means of transport in these countries as trains were dire and we couldn’t take our bikes on the bus. This did not phase Andy in the slightest and he was happy to avoid the easiest option at any cost. I, however, was extremely nervous about this phase as in all honesty I had no idea what it entailed and had not left much time to get to Milos Island where we had a booking on the 24th July.
Driving through stunning villlages, where I was able to withdraw some cash, I was pleased to see that the north of the country was just as stunning as the south had been ten years prior. On reaching the port and buying our tickets for the short crossing to Merag, we then had the drama of working out how to drag our huge boxes on-board the vessel as well as devising a plan for how we were going to reach Cres Town. We had been informed by Dubravaka (the Airbnb host we were staying with) that we would be ok to hitch a lift with someone, but we had not quite expected our luggage to be so cumbersome and it was clear we would require something bigger than a car. Apart from those that were crammed with children and sporting equipment of their own, the growing number of cars at the port looked like they would be of little use to us, no matter how nicely we asked. After the stunning crossing was made on the good old Jadroljina ferry, we disembarked speedily so that we could hail one of the disembarking vehicles…no luck! Once the whole ferry had begun making their way up the hill, which we were pleased we were not having to cycle up (well I was), Andy went into the nearest bar and asked for the number of a taxi. A couple of beers were downed and the big taxi arrived charging almost the same price as the guy on the mainland for half the distance. The budget was taking a smashing and we had only just got here!
Making our way into Cres I was not only stunned by the beauty of the island, but the number of hills and the fact that although Cres was only 10km away from the port, there was no way on earth I could get my butt up these hills in anything less than a few hours. Andy agreed that it probably was too much of a challenge for me to ride this, board the ferry and continue the cycle to Zadar in one day. On looking at my planned route he was quite surprised that I had planned for such little time to cover the distances I had thought were ok. The cracks in the planning were already beginning to show and a new plan was clearly needed…change number 1.
Cres is seriously stunning, I am reluctant to write too much as I really want it to remain a secret. I was dubious about finding somewhere in Croatia that would live up to my previous experience here of the Dalmatian islands 10 years ago and I have to say it most definitely does. The town sits on a stunning port filled with small boats and a few restaurants on the waterfront. The real charm is in the backstreets and Dubravka’s house was a great way for us to experience this. Shining, polished white cobble stoned passages were shaded by high-walled buildings, overlooked by balconies and shuttered windows covered with flowers and streamed with washing lines. Dubravka showed us to our room (a splurge at £75 for 3 nights) in the rafters of her family home next to an old church. In Cres there are a total of 50 churches, apparently having a church attached to your building was a symbol of wealth and position in society many years ago! We were taken on a tour of the tiny town and shown the places to eat and where to avoid, whilst her friend took our bikes off into their new home (a derelict building tucked away under one of the most glorious old houses we had seen). Apparently he was an expert with bikes. I’m not going to lie, he looked a bit more like Russian mafia to me and on our last night a whole evening was spent sipping vino whilst conconcting a plan for how we were going to quash his ‘obvious’ plans to steal our bikes and sell them to his mafiosa mate, with whom we had just caught him rolling a fat one in the old building! Needless to say, ‘Olivia’ and ‘Chappers’ (newly named bikes) made it out of the building safely and perhaps Croatian wine should be sold with a cautionary advice against over dramatic trains of thought!
The next few days were basically spent cycling to and from the beach in front of the campsite, a few km from the town along a stunning boardwalk. We found an FKK beach, which possibly stands for ‘Forget Kit Kindly’ in a stunning location. It really was beautiful and we quickly embraced the nudist agenda. It wasn’t a sleazy kind of naturist beach with people parading about showing off, more a chilled out family kind of place with small rocky coves similar to those further down the coast. Naturism is common among families in Croatia and I will never forget the first time I had travelled in Croatia and boarded a boat to an island and within 3 minutes everyone on board got naked; granny, dad and kids…it’s just the way it is. Anyway I know it’s not everyone’s thing, but we were happy to feel at one with nature and soak up some rays.
Looking at the camp spots behind us we decided another day was needed here to plan some more of the upcoming journey. My previous research on ferries turned out to be idle as many of the boats are now catamarans, which you are not allowed to take bikes on and the car ferry routes are now few and far between compared to my previous experience. It looked like the best bet was to cycle to Mali Losinj, 70km to the south of the island, take the ferry to Zadar, cycle from there to Split and then ferry either to Korcula or Dubrovnik…change number 2. So, with Andy needing to service his bike breaks and time still needed to unwind, we booked in for a night at the campsite on leaving Dubravka…change number 3, and then after an awesome day of much needed chilling, we booked for another…change number 4!
Our favourite places:
Cres’s wine bar is a must visit. At £3.60 for a litre of local wine, straight from the vat, you cannot go wrong, especially since it sits right on the harbour side with cosy benches to sit and people watch. For pizzas the best place to go is Luna Rosa just a few doors down from the wine bar. It serves cheap delicious pizzas in a great setting and the pasta isn’t too bad either! If you fancy a bit of a splurge (although the whole meal actually only cost us £30 including wine) then head for seafood at Riva. It is a popular choice for locals and serves the freshest fish in the town. We demolished a bowl of clams, mussels and scallops for a steal. Our favourite bar was on the way to the campsite (Arty Bar); blaring out awesome old classics from Dire Straits to Alice Cooper and Europe. A perfect place to sip on a beer and watch the sun set.