During any travels I always feel the best way to see and learn about a country is to either hike or bike. It’s too easy to wiz by a stone structure that’s been there for hundreds of years while texting a friend or checking the latest News Update on Facebook while in a car, bus or train. Likely, it’s the sheer slower pace you’re moving at, but I also think the sweat from your brow somehow makes you embrace the world around you in a way that touches all the senses and even the heart more keenly. In traveling from Barbariga to Rovinj in the Istria region of Croatia on bike I was reacquainted with this notion.
I had rented a mountain bike in Peroj (through Bike Peroj) and planned to take the main roads indicated on the map to Rovinj. Since the entire universe seems to be mapped on Google I noticed an “unimproved road” which looked like a short cut as the hardtop road way looked like the mileage might be too much in the time I had, so off I went counting on my Boy Scout inner compass to guide my way. The sign at the turn off did not indicate Rovinj, the largest town in the region, but a smaller one, Mandriol, which I had not noticed on the map I was using. I took a gamble and off I went. The Adriatic Sea was on my right, the wrong side if I was headed north to Rovinj giving me a bit of panic. After a mile or so the road turned to gravel – more concern, but continued on. The beauty of biking is you can always turn back, but the downside is the energy spent, and given I’m the size of Lance Armstrong x 2, and certainly not (and shouldn’t) wear spandex I need to calculate a trip as efficiently as possible. I pass a sign that looked rather ominous with my first crazy thought being some type of border control knowing full well I was nowhere near a border. Minutes later came upon an intersecting dirt road. Admittedly a brief sigh and then a chuckle that I actually thought this might be Checkpoint Charlie. After another mile the main road comes in sight, and I make a left that Bob’s gut GPS says to do, and sure enough the Adriatic is on my left and my roll to Rovinj continues.
The main road is well paved, but no real shoulder for bikes. The locals must be used to this as I did not encounter one horn. The ride was extremely scenic with the Adriatic in view much of the time (yes, on my left), with olive groves like welcome billboards along the way. The main roads are well signed, so found my way into Rovinj easily. This is a must see for anyone traveling to this region. A medieval town basked in colorful window shutters sitting on a stunning harbor. Great place for a walk by the harbor and then a climb up the polished cobblestone hill passing quaint shops (without an overly touristy feel) and ending atop the hill at St. Euphemia church. You are treated to a wonderful view of the Adriatic beyond. Down at the harbor treat yourself to lunch at one of the many cafes. My pork dish included a local red pepper sauce called Ajvar which was delicious and a perfect accompaniment. Since you’ll have worked so hard on the bike you’ll deserve a dessert. Stop by one of the stands for Sladoled, a luscious marriage of gelato and ice cream. As I knew I had the return trip to make, I sadly left this memorable spot.
Hitting the road back just outside of Rovinj I noticed a dirt road which had a bicycle marking and trail numbers of 202 and 203. I guess I was in a Robert Frost mood of wanting to take “The Road Less Traveled,” and was onward to another adventure. I had read in my trip preparation that Istria had an excellent bike trail system, and can now certainly whole heartedly endorse. As I did not have the trail map with me I was tentative on this decision, but soon came to a large trail map on a billboard and could see that this trail would not make my trip shorter for the return, but could add some interest by going off road. You certainly should have a mountain bike or hybrid for these trails. Thin racing type tires would not make it very far on this terrain. I passed olive groves, sheep, rock walls that have been there for ages with peeks of the Adriatic. I came upon only one other biker, so you truly get the solitude of an off-road experience. Each intersection was very clearly marked with trail numbers and never was confused. These maps are available at local bike stores or online.
Returning to Barbariga I checked messages from friends in my coastal Maine town and saw that Fall had certainly arrived with morning temperatures in the low forties. My day had started with morning temps in the sixties, and I was making a quick stop at my rental apartment to change into a swim suit for a twilight dip in the Adriatic. For those people who want to hold onto summer a bit longer with T-shirts, biking, swimming, etc. this area is ideal. Winter will certainly be long enough!
Written by guest blogger Bob Ackley