A hybrid bicycle with one pannier rests on a kickstand on a one-lane road through a forest. The road looks very quiet, and the pavement is somewhat broken up, with dirt and leaves on the edge of the road on both sides.

Croatia: Zagreb to Dubrovnik, the hard way

Croatian bike tour: Introduction

I was spending two months in Europe after finishing a study abroad program, and a group of friends had planned a bike tour in Croatia during the time I was there. Theirs was an organized tour with van transfers, which wasn't what I wanted, so I decided to see if I could do a solo bike tour, more or less following their itinerary. What could go wrong?

Day 1: “You are in Croatia!” (Zagreb to Karlovac)

The first day of the tour was expected to be mellow, only around 70km, with a high point of 220m. But, information about bike routes in Croatia is fairly spotty. Neither Google nor RideWithGPS have reliable data, and there appears to be little in the way of local cycling maps. There is a list of national cycling routes available from OpenStreetMaps (which integrates with RWGPS) but they're not comprehensive, and, as I found out later, are of widely varying quality.

So, while I expected to have to do some creative way-finding, I didn't anticipate quite how creative it would have to be.

Day 2: The Hinterlands (Kalovac to Plitvice)

Yesterday's unpleasant traffic inspired me to revise my route plan for the day. The RB-02 route I'd discovered continued to the west of Karlovac, and I usually prefer a longer, hillier ride to a shorter, more trafficky one. It turned out to be a good choice, although over the course of the day I learned a lot more about the perils of Croatian way-finding.

Day 3: It’s downhill, right? (Plitvice to Posedarje)

Day 3 had a lot of distance planned, but it should be easier (I thought) because I was starting in the hills and ending at sea level. I took some time to see the most picturesque spot at Plitvice, an overlook where you could see the most impressive waterfall cascading into a blue-green pool, then got on the road, which was a mix of pavement and dirt road. There was more dirt road than I'd anticipated, so the ride wound up taking much longer than expected, and I didn't arrive in town until well after dark.
A bicycle with one pannier is parked on the side of a road, on a hillside overlooking a valley. The valley is dotted with farmhouses with red tile roofs.

Day 4: Supposed to be a mellow day, right? (Posedarje to Šibenik)

This was, once again, supposed to be a mellow day, Just 85 km, and only one notable climb, near the end of the day. 250m max elevation. Easy, right? Except for the headwinds, lightning, hail, and forest fires.

Day 5: White rocks (Šibenik to Split)

I really liked the look of Šibenik, so I had breakfast in the garden of the convent, then checked out one of the fortresses, and the basilica. This area of Croatia is full of white rocks; those became the basis for construction, so the cities sparkle. I had an easier day of riding through rolling hills, and over the ridge again to Split, though weather again played a factor.

Day 6: The Splitshow (Split to Hvar)

Split is a major port city, with 25 berths for ferries and cruise ships, and today I'll take one of the ferries out to the islands. My plan was to mostly chill out, check out Diocletian's palace, and head to Hvar Island on the catamaran Vida, which I'd read online would take bikes, but that turned out not to be the case. So I took a later ferry and had to ride after dark again.

Day 7: Finding balance (Hvar to Vela Luka)

I had a very pleasant breakfast on the plaza on a bright, sunny day. Finally out of the rain, I did some lubrication of a few rusting components and got on the road back to Stari Grad. Not pressed for time, today I would take the other road over the summit. It turned out to

Day 8: Marco! (Vela Luka to Korčula)

Vela Luka was a pleasant town which seemed like a place for local boat people; pretty but not super-touristy. It would be a short day to Korčula, with great riding, farms and vineyards with sea views, not much traffic. And I finally caught up with my friends!

Day 9: The cheater’s home stretch (Korčula to Ston)

This was the last riding day; 60km to Ston, or 110km to Dubrovnik. Last night Robbie had kindly offered to ferry me in from Ston if I made it there in time. I woke up still feeling sick, and went back to bed for a couple of hours. I wasn't sure I'd be able to ride at all, but eventually marshaled enough energy to catch up with the vans, just in time.

Croatia: Conclusion

The was the physically most difficult bike tour I'd ever done, and also intellectually difficult. The relationship between tourism, development, and place was also a consistent theme of the trip. For myself, I learned that I need to be less goal-oriented.
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