Dalmatian Coast, October 2016

After every trip I did with Skedaddle I have had to fill in a questionnaire “Where would you like to visit ?” and I always put, the Dalmatian Coast, it looked beautiful.

So having said over and again, that’s where I wanted to go, when they arranged a trip, it would have been rude not to sign up. It was late in the year, but should still be OK.2016-10-06-22-03-21

The trip actually started in Slovenia, at Lake Bled, a beautiful location. We had a bright, but cool start to the day, which took us round the lake before heading West towards the Alpine Ski town of Kranjska Gora. This was the first time this trip had been run and was being guided by Hannah who had researched the route and Lubo a local guide from Split. It had attracted a group of people with a wide range of abilities, a couple of fast people and some that were going to take some time to ride-in to the trip.

P1010582Once past Kranjska Gora, we approach the big climb of the day, Vršič Pass. This was a beautiful climb, with a very dark history, built by 10,000 Russian prisoners back in 1915, made to carry military equipment when this was the border between Yugoslavia and Italy.  The side we climbed has 50 hairpin bends, many of which are cobbled to assist with climbing when it snows. Some of the ramps on the cobbles are 12% plus, so it’s a hell of a climb.

At the top the minibus is waiting with a quick snack and chance to regroup. The next stop will be for lunch, once we have completed the decent. We set off with a some pace down the descent, hitting 60kph in places, until we get just South of Trenta and we find a nice riverside location for lunch.

After lunch it is a gentle undulating roll to our destination town, Kobarid. The faster riders get on the front and keep the pace high in order to get there before we lose light in the shadows of the hills and try to keep some heat in, as it is cooler than expected.

We are now in the Triglav National Park, and today is going to take us South East through the valley, for most of the day. The route takes us along some of the great cycle specific routes, which have a great views and take you away from the traffic.

As we approach the town of Podnanos we see the main road, the A1, high above us and see that we are swinging round to run parallel, and that will mean a climb. Sure enough it’s about 8Km and 500m in height, but I attack it to try and get some heat generated. It works and I wait by the minibus for a couple of others to join me. At this point Lubo suggests that we go ahead and wait in the hotel, so that we don’t get cold waiting.

P1010594Three of us head off up the road taking it in turns on the front and we manage a good pace up in to town where we spot the hotel and the minibus, then pull straight in to the big, glass fronted reception.

It was a really nice hotel, very central and close to the restaurant, which I must say was very good. The food here has been excellent so far.

Today we will be crossing over in to Croatia on our way to Delnice. It is feeling very cold and I put another layer on, just to be sure, mainly because the pace has been slower than expected and I carry little in the way of lagging.

The day starts well, but we are on a main road and it’s Saturday morning, so the car drivers are a bit frustrated trying to pass us. We have a couple of close passes, but after Grahovo we get off the main road and on to a smaller road, heading for Gorenje Jezero. We take off down a stunning piece of road in the valley and then on to the border at Babno Polje. The border is a large barn like edifice, where we queue up and work our way through.

We continue on, now following the Cabranca river, which is a natural border between Slovenija and Hrvatska (Croatia). When we hit Cabar the road and river drop down in to the valley, and the border/river is clearly visible from the road. You can see that there is a fence all the way along to reduce the possibility of crossing from Croatia in to the EU, through Slovenia. This is not a steep descent, but it is beautiful scenery all the way to Zamost and the next border crossing back in to Slovenia.

This border is on a small bridge and takes a bit of time, as we have two Chinese and a New Zealander, so non-Europeans, with us. At this point we are starting to get cold, so Lubo goes ahead to see if there is somewhere we can get a hot meal.

Once we are through, we follow the river until we reach the village of Osilnica, where Lubo has found an awesome restaurant that is also doubling up as the local school canteen, so if we are happy with a set menu we are on. Perfect!

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We get nicely warmed up and hit the road, by which time the sun has started to peek through in places, but it is still not warm. We have a steady roll downhill after lunch for about 15Km before we hit Petrina. Here we cross the border again and in to Croatia, where we will remain for the rest of the trip.

The final drag up to Delnice is about 9Km and climbs about 600m, so we know we slowly separate and all ride at our own pace. We have instructions on how to find the hotels, so we head off.

It’s an interesting hotel, with a great restaurant, the food that night was amazing. However, it was a busy local bar, and noisy for most of the evening, plus the smell of smoke from the bar, really unusual these day.

We wake to overcast skies, but there is a glimmer of hope as breaks appear in the clouds. It’s going to be a short day, but we are heading to the sea, so really looking forward to this. It starts with a steady ramp up out of town, then we take a right on to a much quieter road and we start to enjoy a bit of sun on our backs, as a couple of us find a nice pace and aim for the town of Fuzine, where we are due to regroup.

On the edge of the lake Jezero Bajersko, which is a great place to stop, we find a cafe and grab a spot by the window.

After the break there is a bit of a shock to the system, only a few Km, but there are some good ramps in it. At the top there is a monument at the side of the road to remember the soldiers that lost their life in WW2, between 1941 and 1945.

We now roll all the way from 1000m to sea level over the remaining 40Km. This gives us the opportunity to take in the views as they change from woodland down to the green open spaces, then the sea. We hit the coast at Crikvencia and take the beach road until we arrive at our hotel, which has stunning views of the sea and the islands.

It’s only just past lunchtime, so we have our picnic lunch in front of the hotel, down by the sea, sat in the sun. After lunch I have a wander round Selce, which has a very “off-season” feel to it. That night we walk out to a local restaurant on the front and have a beautiful meal. A word of warning though, if you intend to split the cost of the meal, let them know first. It turned it to quite a long winded exercise, which the guides thankfully completed for us.

Wow, what a change in the weather! We wake up to cold and howling winds, which could be tricky as we are heading up in to the mountains and over to Ličko Leśčo. We set off in two groups, the slow ones leaving 45 minutes before the quicker ones. This is because we have a big climb to start the day, with ramps of up to 17%.

The climb is incredibly exposed and we start to pick stragglers from the first group, which has been decimated, they are all over the climb. It’s now just above freezing, sleeting and raining and the wind is so strong I have just been blown off the road on to the grass. The group I am with, which is now probably the lead group, decide to make it to the next cafe and regroup. We make it, slowly, 16Km in 1 hour 10 minutes and 500m climbed. Its over 30 minutes by the time everyone has reached the cafe. I say everyone, there was on chap who should have been with the slow group, but set off with us. We lost him about 1.5Km in, but pushed on. He had taken a wrong turn and eventually found his way back on to the climb.

We huddled round the fire in the cafe before the decision was taken that it was not safe to continue. We had another 500m to climb and the temperature was dropping fast. Lubo loaded the bikes on to the minibus and we persuaded the cafe owner to drive some of us to the destination, while the others went with him. Both vehicles took different routes, I was in the cafe owners old Golf Mk1, but those with Lubo went over the top and said they went through heavy snow, so it was a good call.

The hotel in Ličko Leśčo was really nice and rustic. We arrived in time for a good warm lunch, which we were ready for. In the grounds of the hotel, was an old hotel, which had been shelled and looted during the conflict back in the 90’s. This was our first of many reminders of the tragic past.

2016-10-12-21-52-09We woke the next day to an overcast sky and picked up the road that we should have come in on yesterday. It starts with a 300m climb, then right off the main road and in to some really lovely countryside. We have been given instructions as to the land marks to look out for, so ride at our own pace, occasionally spotting the minibus as we pass.

The aim was to meet up at Smiljan, the 50Km mark and the location of the museum of Nikola Tesla, the man involved in the design of alternating current. When we get there the cafe was shut for the end of season, so we grabbed a snack bar and headed on.

We had time constraints today, as we were due to catch a ferry at Prizna, which leaves at 13:30. So we leave Smiljan, still on the plateau for a short while, then up another steep 500m climb. Once over this lump we can see that we are getting closer to the coast, when suddenly, laid out in front of us is a spectacular sight of the islands.

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We are at 1000m and aiming for the sea, so downhill it is, a tricky one though, as there is a strong wind blowing off the sea. You find yourself setting the bike up for a corner, then either jumping 5 meters off course, or leaning in to the wind, which suddenly stops and you immediately drop in to the bend. Interesting, but we all make it. Smiles all round as we drop to the junction, cross over the road and park up next to the Hannah in a lay-by.

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We are now running out of time, so Hannah has picked up some sandwiches, which we eat at the side of the road, then quickly get back on the road, as we head in to the wind and on to the rolling coastal road to Prizna. The next 20Km is nearly all in the wind and uphill, ramping up to 300m, then there is a big drop down to the ferry terminal.

Hannah gets the tickets arranged and we have a short wait before we roll on to the first of many ferries to come.

We get off the ferry on to the island of Pag, which has a very white landscape, with a total lack of vegetation. We set off out of the ferry port and uphill for the next 10Km to the backbone of the island. We drop over the other side and hit a strong side wind, which lasts all the way to the town of Pag, where we stay the night.

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We wake up to a lovely surprise, more sunshine. We hit the road for what is going to be a long day down to Skradin, taking the D106, which after about 20Km crosses a bridge and takes us back on to the mainland.

To our right as we cross over is what is left of an old fortification, sat on one of the peninsulars.

As we get on to the mainland green patches start to appear and there are large, fenced off pools of sea water, where they are evaporating  sea salt off the top.

We take a turn off the D106 and start to head South towards Zadar and look back at the truly amazing view. You could see the clouds that we had been in on the previous day hanging over the mountain top.

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Sadly, we miss our left turn and continue up the road for 10Km before hitting the outskirts of the Zadar, then realising our error. We regroup and drop back down to a roundabout, where Hannah had spotted a cafe stop.

We have to remember that this is the first time this trip has been run, and there will be slight detours, such as this. In facet, about an hour later we find ourselves in a similar position. I have included the image below because it is so funny. It turns out Lubo knew a place for our lunch spot, but Hannah had not been there before and only had directions.

day 7We were due to meet Lubo for lunch where the green dot is, and initially we set off up the main road, but were called back, as it was thought to be the wrong way.

We then went round a 15Km loop to reach a point 200m from where we were when called back, the blue circle.

Anyone who has organised routes for friends will know how difficult it is when a plan gets changed last minute. These guys do a great job to keep us on the straight and narrow, so the odd detour is expected and to be honest it was very scenic. We continue on and ride through some abandoned villages, a very eerie feeling.  These were villages that had been shelled from over the border and were missing roofs and had walls full of holes.

P1010735When we arrive the picnic location is stunning and the food just what we wanted.

Nice work Lubo and Hannah!

Full up with delicious food we hit the road, as we still have 50Km to go before we hit Skradin.

It’s been a 160Km day and it is getting towards 17:30 by the time we drop down in to Skradin, and there is not much daylight left when we find the hotel. It’s a shame really, as we are on the edge of the Krka National Park, which is known for the Krka falls. If we had been there earlier, we may have been able to visit. I guess it means I need to go back.

We wake up to sunshine again, I could get used to this. The road takes us round the town of Skradin, then turns and climbs giving us a great view back to the harbour. They say this is where Bill Gates brings his yacht, good choice.

It is a rolling day and will be short, only 80Km, due to the fact that we cannot ride in to Split because of the busy roads, so we are going to have to stop and transfer. Despite the small climbs we are in the green valley, weaving our way between the ranges of hills in this area. We pedal on for 45Km, mainly in the valley, but with a couple of ramps, no bigger than 400m, but the terrain has split the group up and we are quite spread out. In the distance I can see a significant climb, which turns out to be about 9Km in length, but steady.

Once over the lump we find the minibus parked off the road, tables set up and food on the go. Ideal!

After a top-up, we continue up to the peak, then drop in to another valley, but there is just one final pull up to 500m, then we get our fist sight of Split, before its all downhill for 20Km to the coast. We ride along the coast road until we spot Hannah with the minibus next to a café. We load the bikes on to the minibus, change clothes and get a brew. We wait for the additional taxi to come then we split to Split.

When we get to Split, we have to transfer to some “golf carts” that take us to the hotel, a really plush place in the historic back streets. We have a great meal out in the city that night and I take and early morning walk, as I want to see some of Split before we head out.

The original plan was to take the ferry from Split to Korcula island, then ride to Vela Luka at the end of the island. However, the weather had other ideas, and the ferry was cancelled. Some quick thinking by our guides and they did some changes to the itinerary.

We left the bikes on the minibus and drove to Ploče, where we would pick up the ferry after lunch, and this would take us to Trpanj on one of the peninsulas. We found a café at the ferry port that did not do food, but were happy for us to eat our own food, as long as we bought drinks from them. Sorted.

The crossing went well and we took a really scenic 40Km ride over the top of the island, down to the Southern part, before looping back on the far side until we reached the port of Orebic. This is where it got interesting, as we still had to get to Korcula.

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There is a car ferry, and the minibus with Lubo was booked on it, but that didn’t leave for some time. So we loaded the bikes on the top and took our luggage out. So, as the sun started to set, we boarded a small taxi boat and made the 40 minute crossing to our hotel.

The hotel in Korcula was amazing, on the sea front and felt very posh. We took a walk in to the old town on top of the hill for our evening meal, and sat outside under the stars.

The next day would be a round trip on the island, then back to the ferry port. We left the hotel and started to climb for about 16Km and 500m, which offers some stunning views. We take a right turn at Pupnat, where we hit a strong wind coming from the West, the direction we are heading, so a few of us take it in turns on the front.

P1010854We continue to climb with great views of the sea, then drop down in to the town of Smokvica, where we find a café and grab a brew. We have a brief spell back on the road before we climb up to what looks like a working farm, but outside is a table laid out for lunch and a family all working together to prepare the food. The food was amazing and our hosts were really friendly.

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After lunch we make a  beeline for the port as the ferry leaves at 13:30. There is a good climb of 300m, before you start the drop in to the port, where we get changed, have a brew and wait for the ferry.

As the ferry starts to board there is a distant sound of car horns. Then we see what must be 20 cars with Croatian flags hanging out of the windows and realise it is a wedding party.

Once on the ferry all these smartly dress folk get out and have an impromptu party on the car deck with guys playing musical instruments and people dancing. A real spectacle.

From here the ferry takes us back to the mainland, and we drive through to Ston, then on to Dubrovnik. The road was so busy and we were thankful that we had not ridden it. We spotted a couple on touring bikes that we had talked to in Split and they looked battered.

When we got to the hotel, we were supposed to pick up our bike boxes, pack them, then go out in to Dubrovnik, but sadly there had been a mix up. We eventually found out that the couriers had not delivered them to the hotel and the boxes were in Split. Some threats and talk of potential extra costs persuaded them to put them in a van and deliver that evening, around 1:00 am.

All in all, it was unusually cold for this time of the year, and if you view it as just a holiday, you would think it could have been smoother, but we don’t do this for everything to go as planned. The changes and the planning issues are just part of it and the guides both did an amazing job, on the fly, keeping it all rolling. A trip full of adventure.

It was only a taster and at some point I do need to go back even if it is only for a weekend in Split and one in Dubrovnik.

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