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Cycling in Croatia: Tours, Routes, Regions, Races & Islands

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Cycling in Croatia is growing in popularity. A look at why Croatia is the new cycling hot spot: biking tips including where, why, how and when to cycle.

Cycling in Croatia: an introduction

One of the things I love about Croatia is that if locals declare something to be the case, they expect it to be an established fact. Take cycling in Croatia, for example. Croatia is one of the best and most diverse cycling destinations in Europe, they will tell you.

And they would be right.

The only problem is that there is no official tourism promotion website to tell you the same. A little like Croatia's incredible wine story which lacks any official website whatsoever, tourists are supposed to just know that cycling in Croatia is a great thing.

Which is it. It is one reason Total Croatia Cycling started years ago.

Top cycling destinations in Croatia - Međimurje

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I pedalled down the one less travelled by, and ended up in Međimurje

Bob Frost obviously cycled through Croatia. Međimurje, for Croatian standards a prosperous region in Northern Croatia, historically notorious for their peculiar melancholic folk music and being the leader in suicide stats is now slowly becoming a favourite road cycling destination. 

This is thanks to no stunning roads, although the path by the river Mura and the winding gentle vineyard roads offer great vistas, but more for the serenity, bike and driving culture and amenities that cyclists encounter on the low traffic roads in this area.

The pancake flat Mura-Drava trails that follow the rivers upstream connect all the way through Slovenia and into Austria and offer a great place to chill out and ponder about the meaning of bicycles.    

Top cycling destinations in Croatia - Istria

Istria has gotten used to lazy pelotons of cyclists shepherded around by mushrooming cyclo-tourist agencies.  Although take note, even in this oasis cycling infrastructure is lacking for a serene self-guided bicycle vacation and cycling culture among the Istrians is nowhere to be found. But locals are beginning to wake up. Cyclists are good spenders armed with mighty credit cards, and they are making efforts at being friendlier to the Velominati. And if you are OK with venturing off road, head to Parenzana. This abandoned railroad turned into a mixed use hiking-cycling trail in the middle of black truffle country is a great way to find your way to the next mistletoe brandy bar.

Central Dalmatia, a biking destination of the future

No destination has made more progress in recent years than Central Dalmatia. The regional tourist board has realised the potential of cycling tourism as a year-round attraction. Some 4,000 km of bike routes have appeared in recent years. Islands such as Hvar and Brač are now established cycling destinations.

Island hopping with a bike - how practical is it?

The glorious Adriatic islands, surely the best Croatia has to offer to the world. And yes the roads are narrow and overcrowded during peak season days and island-hopping can be a hassle of dealing with costly and bike unfriendly passenger ferries. But if one just uses larger car ferries and set out on your bike adventure avoiding the July-September peak season period you can experience a dazzling trip.

Just look at the average for Hvar in December. 

The weather on the islands is ideal for yearlong cycling so no wonder Bahrain Merida chose the island of Hvar for their winter training camp. Out of season prices are agreeable, the traffic light. But beware, while it may be hard to find any inhabitants on certain islands during the winter, and when encountered as pedestrians they tend to move very sloth like, hibernating on the hard earned tourist cash, if found in a vehicle they transform themselves into loosely guided missiles that consider it their right to cut that corner at full throttle on your side of the road. 

Taking bikes on ferries and catamarans

With a significant increase in cycling tourists in recent years, the issue of transporting bikes on ferries has come into sharper focus. In general, the rule is that bikes on ferries are no problem, while bikes on catamarans are a lot more problematic. Click here for more of an overview of transporting bikes in Croatia.

A map for cycling in Croatia

cycling in croatia map

In an attempt to improve tourist information for cyclists a few years ago, Total Croatia Cycling created a map. Bike clubs, gear and shops, races and events, regions, the idea was to build a resource for all. I can't say that the map will be fully accurate in 2021, but hopefully it will be useful to some.

Adria Bike and the 4 Islands race

As with so many initiatives in Croatia, private business takes tourism forward better than official channels.

This is certainly true of cycling in Croatia. Adria Bike quickly became a true pioneer for expanding the opportunities of cycling tourism. From organising races to developing tours and accommodation for cyclists, the small company did amazing things. You can learn more about their current work.

The biggest success story was the MTB 4 Islands race, which will take place once more in 2019 from April 9-13, run by MITAS. Check out the video below.

Tour of Croatia

If there was one event which finally put cycling on Croatia on the world map, it was Tour of Croatia. The event, organised by Ivan Crnjarić and Vladimir Miholjević in 2015, was beamed into 130 million homes by Eurosport. Stunning pictures of Croatia went all over the globe, and the country's magical cycling terrain reached its biggest audience ever.

Sadly, Tour of Croatia in its original format stopped in 2019 after a disagreement between the two owners. Attempts to stage a similar event in 2020 were hampered by the pandemic. Let's see if 2021 brings better luck to the race!

Bahrain Merida (McLaren) and the Hvar love

In December 2017, the Croatian cycling story had a real PR coup as leading global cycling team Bahrain Merida arrived on Hvar. The 75-strong party, including World Champion Vincenzo Nibali, took up residence for winter training.

Bahrain Merida were clearly very happy with their time on Croatia's premier island, for they returned in December 2018. Check out the thoughts of Bahrain Merida during their time on Hvar.

Bike tourism in Croatia

Cycling tourism has really taken off in recent years in Croatia. As the season gets longer, the shoulder seasons are seeing a large increase in bike tourists.

Tour agencies have been very responsive to this development, and cycling tourism has undergone something of a revolution in recent years. Island-hopping tours are much better organised these days, and one can really get incredible value and diversity in your Croatian cycling holiday.

There are plenty of cycling agencies out there, but And Adventure gets my vote as the most organised and offering the best tours. Check out what they have on offer for cycling tours and mountain biking tours. The self-guided tours are excellent.

Bed and bike tourism

Hotels and tourist workers in Croatia have caught air of the fact that cyclists belong to a peculiar tribe loaded with wads of cash; hence should be given the choice to share their holiday intimately with their bipedal partners. Plenty of hotels are pouncing on the niche market and will happily cater to globetrotting velomaniacs and refrain from frowning at the sight of muddy, sweaty, grinning bipedals swinging through their front door. Some hotels in Istria as well as the Adria bike hotel group offer various à le vélo suites for cyclists. The level of service provided ranges from just being friendly, providing a bike pump and storage, to the full luxury vélo-suite, including a glorious bike-lounge complete with a mechanic to apply lubricant and grease of choice to satisfy the hungry drivetrain of your better half and a private hotel coach for you, the human chaperone. 

Ferdinand Budicki, a cycling pioneer

Croatians have been touring the world by bike since the days of bike-dinosaurs. Mass cycling developed in Croatia very quickly after the advent of the safety bicycle in Europe and our hero Ferdinand was a bicycle pioneer famous for his cycling exploits. Back in 1897, before selling his soul to the engine ( soon became famous as an automobile and motorbike pioneer), “Ferdo”, a locksmith from Zagreb toured Europe and North Africa logging 17000 km on his bicycle before coming home.

This adventure, long even by today’s standards landed him an invitation to the World Fair in Chicago. In 1898 he opened the doors of Zagreb’s first automobile repair shop where he also fixed bikes and gave free bike maintenance classes. Zagreb’s automotive museum that bears his name is in financial trouble so maybe it’s time to give him a bicycle museum?

Interested to learn more about cycling in Croatia? Here is TCN's guide to 25 things to know, written by Marko Rajkovic.