Are you an exceptionally rubbish photographer? Do you sometimes lack the creativity it takes to keep your social media channels looking like everything you do is far more beautiful than it actually is? If so, the solution that you seek may just be Croatia. Here you could spin around in circles whilst blindfolded and then take a picture in a random direction with your thumb covering half the lens and it’d probably still be the most stunning picture on your friends’ feeds that day. It’s like Croatia (at least the small section we’ve visited) learnt all it needed to know about being a country from looking at inspirational Instagram posts.
The route that we planned across Italy after leaving Lake Garda nearly 3 weeks ago was one of our least inspired of the journey so far. Once we had left the ever-changing mountainous scenery of the north we spent a pleasant day or two following old railway lines, meandering in and out of towns and farmland – a welcome rest for our legs after the mountains of the previous week. We then found ourselves crossing vast flat plains where every square inch of this fertile ground was covered by a mosaic of fields and olive plantations. Our camping opportunities were severely limited here and so we resorted to pitching up or bivvying in spots that were not ideal – close to noisy roads and railway lines or just a bit too close for comfort to public footpaths. This lasted for a few days before the rural lanes eventually turned into a perfectly straight monotonous main road that we followed in and out of small nondescript towns for two entire days before eventually reaching the touristic Adriatic coast where we were led by brightly coloured cycle paths along promenades and quays towards Ancona. A few weeks earlier these paths would probably have been congested with slow-walking visitors in search of sun and sea however we were fortunate to have missed the busy season. Despite the beach being a little spoiled in my opinion by an unending line of beach-bars and restaurants, all moth-balled for the winter, it felt good to be on the coast for the first time since leaving home, even if it meant periodically ducking for shelter to avoid heavy down-pours and thunder storms.
We know that Italy had much much more to show us than we asked to see but we were still trying to figure out how we would be apportioning our 90 day Schengen zone limit and so instead of taking some time to find a more scenic route, or visit places of interest along the way, such as Verona and perhaps a detour to Venice, we just routed directly to Ancona without deviation other than to stop at a B&B at the top of an un-cyclable steep 3km gravel path around 40km before Ancona from where we had the most spectacular view of a particularly intense lightning show and much appreciated shelter from the storm.
We had decided that in Ancona we would take some time to rest and begin planning the next stage of our trip before catching the ferry to Split. Neither of us had any experience or expectations of Croatia and this made us feel a little anxious and uneasy about the coming weeks – this is the first country where we know almost nothing of the culture, language, road conditions, weather, and customs – it felt like we were arriving at a milestone in our journey, on the threshold between some kind of familiarity and the unknown. Although we were out of our saddles for a couple of days in Ancona we left feeling no more rested than when we arrived.
The pre-travel requirements for Croatia involved the usual formalities of providing a scan of our passports and covid vaccination certificates but also we were required to give details of our accommodation bookings for the duration of our visit, which meant knowing how far we would want to cycle each day – an impracticable, if not impossible, task. The section of Croatian coastline that our route would follow, from Split to Albania via Dubrovnik, was dotted with campsites and so it turned out not too difficult to provide the required details even if we didn’t intend to stick exactly to the plan. As it turned out though the friendly officer at the Croatian border post in Split didn’t look up the details we had painstakingly prepared and instead just asked us a few questions about our plans before welcoming us to the country and wishing us an enjoyable stay.
Just in case you didn’t pick it up from the tone of the opening paragraph to this post; I really like Croatia. We’ve reached the point in our trip, a point that we seem to get to eventually on any trip, where we have the revelation that hills are in fact good – they are to be embraced and enjoyed, perhaps even sought out. This realisation couldn’t really have come at a better time because despite sticking to the coast in Croatia it has been a hilly 10 days snaking in, out, and over rocky outcrops and zig-zagging our way up and down mountainside switch-backs; resisting the temptation to stop every 5 minutes, breathless not from the inclines we are tackling but from the panoramic views and picture-postcard vistas. We planned short cycle days for the first week in Croatia which meant we could cycle through the morning until mid-afternoon and then swim in the sea and relax in the hammock on the beach until the sun went down. The most difficult part of our experience in Croatia was unzipping the tent each morning and knowing that we needed to leave such a stunning spot.
Fortunately, and with a little tweaking of plans, our 3 rest days here in Dubrovnik have coincided with the arrival of our first Croatian rain. This has given us time in the hostel for planning and re-planning, over and again, our rough route for the next couple of months. We are torn between travelling through Montenegro, Kosovo, North Macedonia and, Bulgaria – or via Montenegro, Albania, and Greece as we make our way to the Black Sea. The rain of the past couple of days looks as though it will be a feature on the forecast for the foreseeable future and so as we say goodbye to Croatia tomorrow, crossing the border to Montenegro, we know that our beach holiday is over and it’s time to get back into the rhythm of the road.