The Dalmation coast is amazing. The cycling is fairly easy, with the exception of a small section we did between Orebić and Potomje (see video). The weather hasn’t hurt either. Gorgeous sunshine and 20 to 25 degrees. The wind, which can be ferocious here, also didn’t amount to much. The five days we’ve spent getting from Split to Dubrovnik have been, in a word: fabulous.
After spending four days in Split, we were ready to hit the road again. The bikes were cleaned and fitted with new chains, the broken rack mounts were dealt with (temporarily), the laundry was done and the weather was gorgeous. The ride out of the city was pretty straightforward. We were able to follow streets all the way to the edge of town before getting on the highway.
Going south, the scenery became increasingly beautiful. On one side, the mountains running parallel along the coast loomed overhead while the bright blue Adriatic sparkled on the other, as the road snakes through olive groves and small villages. Off shore, the island of Brač and Hvar filled the horizon.
Traffic was very light, a benefit of traveling in the off-season. The other benefit is the availability of accommodation. There are rooms and apartments for rent in every town, no matter how small. Campgrounds are almost all closed with the exception of the odd one here or there, but since it’s difficult to find out which ones are open, we’ve taken to arranging accommodation through Air B&B.
With good internet availability, we’ve been able to arrange a place to stay a day or two ahead and it’s worked beautifully. The apartments are generally small and basic and only a little more money than most campgrounds. We haven’t camped now since our last night in Italy.
With the shorter fall days – it gets dark around 4.30 – our cycling days are shorter and we pretty much have to get off the road between 4 and 5. Looking for a place to spend the night in the dark is not all that attractive so having something lined up makes life easier.
The first day out of Split we cycled 68 KM to Makarska and after picking up some groceries, found the apartment we had rented for the night. It was on the top floor of a large house and “Ivica’s Momma” was there to greet us.
Momma spoke no English, but with the international language of gesturing and doing whatever is necessary to make oneself understood, we were shown our pad and the bikes were safely stored in an empty studio apartment in the back yard. Momma even helped drag some of our gear up the five flights of stairs.
The sun was just down and we sat on the balcony having a beer and watching the sky over the Adriatic change colour from orange to indigo to black. What more could one ask from life?
Initially, we had thought of island hopping our way down the coast but the limitations of the ferries quickly killed that idea. Many of the coastal ferries are passenger-only catamarans and, even though they could easily take a couple of bicycles, they don’t. We were limited to taking car ferries and the route selection is quite limited compared to the catamarans. So, after looking at possible route options, the island hopping idea was done away with. No regrets, though, as the mainland coast offers more spectacular scenery.
In the morning, we rode through Makarska and watched the hustle and bustle in the harbour as fishermen were cleaning and selling their catch along the docks. We continued south about 60 KM and hopped the ferry from Ploče to Trpanj on the Pelješac Peninsula, a region known for its wine. The ride was even nicer than the day before with a little more variety as we climbed away from the coast to the Bačina Lakes before descending into Ploče, a kind of industrial port town with not much appeal except the surrounding landscape.
The hour-long ferry ride over to Trpanj gave us a great view of the mountains we had been cycling alongside all the way from Split for the previous two days. Once on the other side, we didn’t waste any time as daylight was waning and we still had 20 KM to go over a mountain pass to Orebić where we had rented another little apartment.
The climb was quite long but not too difficult. There was a sign at the bottom indicating a 10 % incline but it never materialized. It never got any steeper than 6.5 %, according to our GPS data. The climb was 9 KM and took us an hour.
Reaching the top, we were rewarded with a gorgeous view. The island of Korčula and its surrounding smaller islands were silhouetted against a brilliant orange sun as it dropped below the horizon.
We lingered up high to take it all in and enjoy the last few minutes of sunshine. Once the sun dropped behind the islands, we coasted along the 11-kilometre-long downhill road into town.
It took us a little while to find our digs for the night, but a helpful barman in a café was able to point us to the little street where the house is located. Our host, Dijana, warmly greeted us and showed us upstairs. It was a 1-bedroom apartment with a kitchen and large bathroom. Again, we had found a clean, comfortable and affordable apartment for only $35 per night.
Because we arrived so late we decided that night we would take the next day off to be able to see Orebić and also take the ferry across to Korčula, an old fortified city like Dubrovnik, rumoured to be the birth place of Marco Polo in 1254, an appropriate place to visit for a couple of travellers like us.
Korčula is a walled, fortified town dating back to the 13th century, and was part of the Venetian empire. The town’s narrow streets are laid out in a herring bone pattern allowing free circulation of air but protecting it from the strong winds that are common in this region. The city’s Town Statute, dating back to 1214 prohibiting slavery, makes Korčula the first place in the world to outlaw the practice, more than 600 years earlier than Britain, which abolished slavery in 1833.
It is a gorgeous little town and was mostly free from tourists. I imagine it gets overrun in the summer. It was quiet and a pleasure to wander through its narrow streets to marvel at the architecture. The thick walls of the houses, churches and palaces just ooze history and I tried to imagine what life would have been like here 500 years ago.
We had lunch in a small restaurant ordering Pašticada, a traditional Dalmation meat dish served with Gnocchi. It’s meat is marinated in vinegar, lemon and rosemary for 24 hours. Then it is slowly cooked with carrots, cloves, nutmeg, red wine and diced prosciutto. I could have eaten two portions. Delicious!
We took the ferry back to Orebić in the middle of the afternoon, along with all the school kids heading home, and wandered around Orebić until sunset, having a beer at a sea-side café and marvelling at the large waterfront mansions that once belonged to rich mariners. Some are still private residences but many have been converted to apartment houses and hotels.
From Orebič, we had found a route along the west coast of the peninsula that was rumoured to be passable on the bicycle. The first section to Podstub was along the same road we had taken to come into the town, route 414. From there we dropped down toward the water instead of heading up into the pass where route 414 continues to run down the spine of the peninsula.
The small, paved road continued all the way to the town of Podobuče where it essentially ended, however, there is a narrow gravel track above the town connected by a walking path. We had to ask one of the locals to show us where it was and then we began the arduous task of hauling the loaded bicycles about 200 metres from town up to the gravel track above it. The video posted a few days ago displays the rest of this story in graphic detail.
One thing of note not mentioned in the video is that when we arrived at the winery shop, there was nobody around. The sign out front said it was open and the door was unlocked so we went in. We rang the bell but nobody showed up. All the wine was there on the shelves with the price tags prominently displayed. We decided to wait, have lunch on the patio, and hope somebody would show up. Nobody did. So, we put the money on the counter for a lovely bottle of red and hit the road.
We did not continue on the coastal road but chose to take route 414 to Ston as it had taken us much longer to get to Potomje than planned due to the slower travelling on the gravel road. By the time we got near Ston, it was dark and we needed a place to stay. We pulled into a vineyard advertising rooms and met with success. After viewing the rooms and a short bargaining session in sign language, we had made a deal for a double room with a balcony, but no kitchen, for 150 Kuna, or $30. We cooked on the balcony using our own stove.
Ston is famous for two things: salt, and its stone walls, an inner one of nearly 900 meters, and the Great Wall outside the town with a circumference of five kilometres. The wall runs all the way to Mali Ston (Little Ston) which is famous for its oysters and mussels. The wall is known as the European wall of China.
The wall was completed in the 15th century and is laid out in an irregular pentangle with five fortresses and 40 towers, of which 20 are still standing. Part of the Republic of Ragusa, the city plan of Dubrovnik was used as a model for Ston and had water mains and sewers built in 1581. Dubrovnik was the capital of Ragusa and existed from 1358 until 1808 when it was conquered by Napoleon’s armies. Today, the red and blue coat of arms of Ragusa can be seen in the centre of the Croatian flag.
We cycled into the Pearl of the Adriatic the following day. Dubrovnik is a large fortified city, one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Mediterranean and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Many empires have controlled Dubrovnik over the centuries: Byzantine, Venitian, Ottoman, Napoleon and finally Habsburg. Following the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire after World War I, Dubrovnik was incorporated into what eventually became the Kingdom of Yugoslavia and fell under the rule of Marshall Tito who ruled until his death in 1980.
Most recently, this city was under siege for seven months in 1991-1992 when it was attacked by Yugoslavia’s Peoples Army (JNA) after Croatia declared its independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The city took a pounding and many people were killed. The artillery attacks damaged more than half of its buildings to some degree. The Croatian army lifted the siege but the conflict and attacks continued for another three years. There are poignant reminders all over Croatia of the “Homeland War.” By 2005, most of the damage had been repaired.
The key piece in the defence of Dubrovnik was Fort Imperial at the top of Srd Mountain, 412 metres above the city. The fort was built during the Napoleonic wars between 1806 and 1816. The fort was the site of one of the most intense battles during the 7-month siege of Dubrovnik but the Croatian army managed to repel the JNA invaders.
Today, a museum dedicated to the the war from 1991-1995 is housed in the still damaged buildings. There is a poignant photojournalism exhibit made up of photographs and video displays taken during that period. It is a graphic reminder of the price the people of Dubrovnik paid seeking their independence.
The weather was not exactly great while we were in Dubrovnik. The night we arrived was nice, warm and humid, a sign of things to come. We unpacked our bikes, had showers and headed into the city to have a look around and find a place for dinner. We ended up at Kolliseum Restaurant and had a seafood feast with mussels, lobster, shrimp, scampi and seabass, served with fries, rice and mashed potatoes.
Later that night, a thunderstorm raged most of the night and the next morning with torrential rain lashing the city. We were happy to be inside our little apartment. The weather did clear up enough later in the morning enabling us to venture out to explore more of this old city. We decided to stay another day, hoping the weather would improve and giving us more time to look around. It was no problem with our host, Pavo, who was happy to receive another 150 Kuna ($30) for us to spend another night.
Here is a little selection of photographs from Dubrovnik. We now move on to Montenegro. There are more photos on the Flickr page. You can click on the link at the top left of this page.