Two sides to paradise: backroad cycling in Croatia
Continuing the story of our recent Balkan adventures, we return to Croatia, where after troubles cycling on the main roads we finally find a back-road heading towards Montenegro. You know one of those quiet gravel strewn roads you dream of, where traffic disappears, the sun warms your back and the wind pushes you gently along towards a mountain kingdom that just begs to be explored. And then…
What goes down must go up
It’s a punishing climb up and out of the pretty Croatian resort of Cavtat. It always seems a good idea at the end of the day to freewheel down to these rocky seaside resorts but never seems so clever the morning after, especially when you’re late setting off and the sun is already high in the sky. Still it’s a small price to pay for that cooling morning swim. Isn’t it?
We are hot, sweaty and irritable by the time we reach the top of the hill and the main road that runs from Dubrovnik down to Montenegro. But we’re not going on the main road. I’ve spotted a track on the map that looks like it runs parallel to it, behind some hills, and after the drama of accidents and near misses on the main highway I am are determined we should find this quiet backroad and enjoy some safe, quiet cycling.
Looking forward, looking back
It takes us half an hour and several excursions along dusty dead end trails to find the right track. It turns out to be bigger than a track; a gravel strewn minor road. Perfect. I love roads like this; touring always feels like more of an adventure on an unsealed road. The scenery is great too, a valley to our left, mountain panoramas ahead, the shelter of hills to the right and a flattish road ahead. It might even be slightly downhill.
We have the road to ourselves and at last there’s a sense of peace and contentment amongst us. This is cycle touring perfection. We’re on the backroad, on our way to Montenegro and if things go well we will be there by sunset. We chat as we pedal along together.
“What do they speak in Montenegro?”
“Do we have to cycle all the way around the Bay of Kotor ?”
“What money do they use there?”
“Can you swim in that bay thing?”
“Will we have to cycle in those mountains?”
“What do they eat in Montenegro?”
As hunger takes hold we wonder if we’ll find a little restaurant to stop and have lunch at. It looks unlikely so we picnic instead. There’s not much in the picnic bag but we don’t care. Until a snake crawls out of the grass and stops play.
I wonder if we’ll miss Croatia. We’ve had a testing relationship. The coast and islands have been beautiful, the people friendly, the cities intriguing, the beaches divine in their stony kind of way. But it’s been so busy visiting in peak season, and our experience with traffic, heat and hills has coloured things. But imagine if all the cycling was like this…..
The joy of backroad cycling
There’s not a car to be seen. It’s so nice to be able to relax on the bikes. To be able to ride side by side instead of in a defensive single file. To let the older kids ride off ahead, squirting precious water at each other and squabbling over who should be leading. It’s such a contrast to the tensions of the main road.
It’s slow. Sunny. Safe. Sweet paradise. And so quiet. Just the crunch of tyre on gravel. At last. I was beginning to think we wouldn’t find moments like this on this journey.
Of course we knew it couldn’t last. These things rarely do. But I was glad we had that moment. And that when it was shattered, it shattered beautifully. Noisily, strangely, unexpectedly, and beautifully. By a gang of workmen who stopped what they were doing to build us a little stretch of road to help keep us on our backroad way to the very edge of Croatia. Just one more thing that never happened to us before.