I arrived in Split, Croatia via plane from Prague (just a 90 minute flight) for my 6th Backroads trip of the year, a cycling journey through the Croatian islands off the Dalmatian Coast.
Croatia has become increasingly popular amongst tourists over the past few years, having bounced back nicely from a very ugly period in the 1990’s.
Here’s a quick history lesson (missing many details and simplifying many others): Following WWII, Josef Tito became president of Yugoslavia, which had just been made a new socialist federation. Yugoslavia was made up of 6 republics: Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia and Slovenia. After Tito’s death in 1980, tensions between the Yugoslav republics emerged, with Croatia and Slovenia voting to secede from Yugoslavia in 1991. This precipitated a series of civil wars, including the Croatian War for Independence and the Bosnian War. Essentially they were fought because Slobodan Milosevic, the leader of Serbia, was pushing for what he called a “Greater Serbia” and wanted to keep the country of Yugoslavia intact and under Serbian rule. The wars raged until 1995, when the Dayton Peace Accord was signed and war was officially ended, though other outbreaks occurred in Macedonia and Kosovo in the late 90’s. As a result of all of this fighting, the former Yugoslavia is now 7 individual countries: Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Macedonia and most recently, Kosovo.
Croatia was officially inducted into the EU in July and is expected to convert over to Euros sometime within the next 3 years (they currently use kuna as their currency). Tourism is expected to increase as a result of the induction into the EU, so I’m glad to be visiting now.
My first night in Croatia was just a quick stopover in Split. I wouldn’t recommend it as a holiday destination – very, touristy – but worth a couple of hours to check out Diocletian’s Palace which is located right on the harbor.
In the morning, I met up with my Backroads group and we boarded a boat for Brač (pronounced Braatch), the largest of the Croatian Islands. First observation: the Adriatic Sea is crystal clear and beautiful. This was to be the case throughout my stay in Croatia – the most gorgeous, inviting water.
The island of Brač is known for its marble mines, whose stone has been used in buildings in Venice and (supposedly) even the White House. When we arrived in the port village of Milna on the west side of the island, we said hello to our bicycles and jumped on to begin our very warm (temps were in the 90’s) ride across the island, getting our first taste of many hills to come. The islands off the Dalmatian Coast were formed from volcanoes, so not surprisingly, our riding for the week would be a series of big ups and downs.
We cycled first to the north coast, and then followed the coastline for about 10 miles through the town of Splitska and into Postira where we stopped off for lunch at a cute little restaurant called Konoba Toni for some great local food (side note: Croatia has the BEST tomatoes except for maybe Italy).
Most of us (except for a couple of rock stars who kept riding) opted to jump in the shuttle to the town of Pucisca where we stayed in a quaint (yet non-air-conditioned!) hotel called the Deskovič Palace owned and operated by a countess.
After a visit to the local beach for a refreshing dip in the sea, we had a welcome dinner and had the pleasure of getting to know each other a bit more. The group was small, fun and diverse, guaranteeing an interesting experience for all:
Frances – an author from New York
Hallie – a professor and artist from New York; Frances’ wife
Houshang – a hand surgeon from Oklahoma
Carrie – a hand therapist from Oklahoma; Houshang’s partner
Roy – a software exec from Boston
Lisa – a homemaker from Boston; Roy’s wife
Dan – a pharmaceutical salesman from Anchorage
Vicki – an HR exec from Anchorage; Dan’s fiancée
Kate – a marketing exec from San Francisco (and former Olympian!)
Annie – a Backroads trip coordinator from San Francisco
Erin – our Backroads leader from North Carolina
Marija – our Backroads leader from Slovenia
The next morning it was time to hop on our bikes again for a 31-mile ride east and then south across the island to the seaside town of Bol. Along the way, we stopped off at the oldest village on the island, Skrip, to the home of a lovely lady named Luca for a tasting of locally pressed olive oil and a requisite shot of rakija (very much like grappa) and then climbed some very difficult hills before a long (and much appreciated) descent into Bol.
After lunch at a seaside pizzeria, we boarded the Bozidar, a 100-year old wooden boat and headed for the storied island of Hvar.