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  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier
  "From flying monkey gods and amorous donkeys to tales of a bus caravan speeding through a terrorist-infested desert, Downes puts you right there with him."-- Ben Gohs, Charlevoix Courier

A sail & cycle cruise of Croatia's islands

Croatia, Opatija, backpacking, cycling, Planet Backpacker
A sail & cycle cruise is a great way to see Croatia.
  It turns out that bicycling the islands of Croatia in mid-April can have you singing the soggy bottom blues when the weather doesn’t cooperate.  Springtime and the sea tends to equal rain.  Who knew?
Even so, we loved every minute of it.  Well, almost every minute…
Croatia is a stony land of grapevines and olive trees located on the Adriatic Sea to the east of Italy. This is the ancient coast where Jason and the Argonauts sought the Golden Fleece, and where early Christians built their churches of stone 1,600 years ago.

Known as the “poor man’s Italy” because it’s a cheaper alternative, Croatia is all the rage with travel writers owing to its medieval villages, Roman ruins, pebble beaches and outdoor cafe scene.


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   The women of Croatia are said to be among the most beautiful in Europe, the wine flows like water, and there are ancient ruins to explore around every corner. Croatia also offers some of the best sailing in Europe along the necklace of islands off its coast.

  Bicycling these islands is one of the best ways to see Croatia, but in the spring it’s also the wettest, as my wife Jeannette and I learned after being drenched in icy rains for three days straight after hooking up with the good ship Dalmantinka in the harbor of the resort town of Opatija.  We signed on for a week’s cruise among the islands of northern Croatia with Sail Croatia Adventures.  The company also offers a southern route of cycling out of Split.
The ensuite boat, capable of hosting 22 passengers, was first-rate, as was the food (lots of it!) and the company, with fellow cyclists from Denmark, Germany, Slovenia and Britain.

  We’re fairly hard-core when it comes to cycling, so we shrugged off the rain, as did our fellow cyclists; though as the days wore on the chilly downpours got to be a drag, especially when we were marooned on the island of Rab for a day as a result of a storm and heavy seas.  Bonus: we were treated to constant, heavy winds and endless rolling hills to climb through a rocky land of deep forests, grazing sheep and vineyards.

  But there are some laughs to go with the soggy bottoms. At a winery along the cycle route, we were treated to three glasses of wine and two double-shots of 45-proof schnaaps. It’s not the kind of hospitality you’d expect on an American cycling adventure, but our German, Slovenian, Danish and Austrian companions are apparently used to boozy biking. It makes for an interesting ride down the mountains in the rain, our ponchos flapping in the wind.
Our guide, Rab, was a real trouper, keeping everyone’s morale high even when we were dodging raindrops.  He also taught us that in Croatia a ‘flat’ day’s ride tends to nonetheless pack plenty of hills, just not as many as what would be considered a real ‘hill’ ride, which is a lengthy thigh-burner.  Jeannette and I coined the term “Croatian flat” to describe these paradoxes.

  And for what it’s worth, we were glad we ended up cycling the islands at the northern end of Croatia because we heard that the hills (mountains?) of the islands to the south are twice as high.  Also worth noting, we have some cycling friends who biked the islands the year prior to our arrival and never saw a drop of rain.
Despite all of the gush about Croatia in the travel magazines, only about 15,000 Americans make it here each year out of more than 10 million annual tourists. Most visitors come from Germany (22%), with tourists from Slovenia and Italy accounting for 9% of visitors, respectively.

  Slovenia? I barely knew this country of 2 million people existed before coming here, and yet now I am pals with six
Slovenians on the boat taking us between islands.  

  Some of the German cyclists have no problem tossing their clothes off in public and leaping naked into the Adriatic Sea after a chilly bike ride in the wind. And you wouldn’t even want to try keeping up with these guys in a drinking contest – they can really put away the schnapps.

  Our fourth day of cycling dawned sunny and clear as crystal. We rolled past 400-year-old olive trees and miles of rock walls piled waist-high by peasant farmers over hundreds of years. A lamb and her mama stopped in front of me in the road, their wool backlit a flaming gold in the morning sun. Have we stumbled on the Golden Fleece? Maybe not, but we have found the sunny side of spring in Croatia.  
 
   DETAILS:  Sail Croatia offers cycle/boat tours in April-May and Sept.-Oct. (the summer months are said to be too hot, winter too cold).  Their rates seem to be generally below those of other cycle/sail companies we investigated.  See http://www.sail-croatia.com for details.

Croatia, Planet Backpacker, cruises, cycling, Opatija
You can't beat Croatia when the sun is shining, nor the view from a ribbon of road, hundreds of feet above the Adriatic Sea.
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