I’ve known for some time that Croatia is considered to have some of the best cycling in the world. Catching ferries to the dozens of islands off its coast is high on the list for any traveler who loves to ride their bike. And the interior is well known for its acclaimed gastronomy delights - wild asparagus, tasty truffles, top-rated olive oils and award-winning wines. But what is undiscovered is the fact that there are 100 designated bike routes on the peninsula, including mountain bike and road routes. Standardized maps, altimetry, technical data, road books and free GPS tracking are available for all.
While visiting Croatia, I cycled a lollipop route with Fiore Tours, (www.fiore.hr) for they have specialized in adventure, cultural and gourmet travel for over thirty years. My twenty mile ride with charming Ilija Milos, Fiore’s top cycling guide, originated in the village of Oprtalj. We traveled west through Sterna and Marusici, south to the artist town of Groznjan, then north to Martincici and Sterna and back south to Oprtalj. We passed no vehicles but only enthusiastic cyclists instead! I was fortunate to be visiting Istria during the world famous Tour of Croatia, a 5-day professional cycling race that crosses five counties and ten cities. This ride, occurring in late April, is third in line after the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia. I later caught up with them in beautiful fishing village of Novigrad. It was very exciting to witness twenty professional teams, including eight World Teams, zooming through town.
You might go to Istria to cycle but while you are there, check out the olive farms like Ipsa, (www.ipsa-maslinovaulja.hr) in Livade, a family-owned and run operation whose slightly spicy flavors are unusual and award-winning. Visit Karlic Tartufi in Paladini, (www.karlictartufi.hr) a family run estate that specializes in escorted truffle hunts with their friendly dogs. What fun to climb the forested hillsides while watching the dogs and their very sensitive noses discover these tasty wild treats.
In this area of Croatia, the largest forest in Eastern Europe is found; the Motovun Forest, where truffles thrive and where some of the best cycling trails are found. After a meal, it feels good to climb back on the bike and work off the delectable foods you can indulge in like sausages, cheeses, breads and mustards, all laced with tasty truffles.
My favorite part of our ride was exploring the gorgeous hilltop village of Groznjan. This center of culture is a mecca for art lovers, with over 30 galleries and studios nestled in the labyrinth of cobbled streets. The doors of the stone buildings with clay tiles roofs are flung wide open, inviting visitors to wander in and out at their leisure, perhaps catching the artist at work, throwing a pot, painting at an easel, always welcoming a chat. Around every corner are new visual delights, brightly painted wooden doors, windowsill boxes overflowing with colorful flowers, walls covered in dripping wisteria, and stone benches to sit on. In the summer, the town’s ancient streets become a hive of activity, with art, music, dance and drama workshops as well as peace activism workshops.
A favorite gathering place is the town’s compact loggia with its four Roman tombstones. It sits just inside the great gate that leads through the mid 14th century walls that the Venetians built. Even today, Groznjan has the greatest Italian ethnic majority of all northern Croatia’s villages. This spot is also a favorite resting spot for cyclists, peering down from its 228 meters of height, above the bucolic
World guides now recommend Istria as the new Tuscany, for you can see a wonderful blending of nearby Italy with Croatia everywhere you go. Riding a bike makes you feel like a kid again, so why not explore this 3,600-sq km of beauty that is the peninsula of Istria, on a bike, before the world catches on!