Cycled Osor to Mali Lošinj
Ferry Mali Lošinj to Zadar
Date: 29th May 2008
We left Osor quite early and the ride was very easy down the island of Lošinj to Mali Lošinj. The scenery along these islands was very rather sparse, with more rocks dotting the hilly landscape than trees. We stayed in Mali Lošinj for around six hours until the ferry left, then it was a further six hour trip to Zadar. It was dark once we started cycling from the ferry terminal to our campground, but it was well lit and not too hard to find our way.
The guy serving us at the campground offered us a 50 kuna deal instead of the normal 140 kuna if he could take our money under the table and we agreed to leave before the office opened in the morning.
In Mali Lošinj we dropped into an internet cafe and booked our plane tickets home. There was a new Estonian Air service from Dubrovnik to Tallinn, which we booked for the 7th of June. It cut our trip short a little both in time and distance, but it was the easiest way for us to get home.
Cycled Krk to Valbiska
Ferry Valbiska to Cres
Cycled Cres to Osor
Date: 28th May 2008
This day was quite a killer due to the heat. There was a short ride to the ferry terminal, then a ferry to the nearby island of Cres (the ‘c’ being pronounced like the ‘z’s in “pizza”). By the time we made it off the ferry it was getting towards the middle of the day. The first 8km or so off the ferry was a steady climb and the heat was really getting to us. We were a little disheartened by the time we got to Cres town. The Melbourne couple we met on the ferry Matt and Vanessa seemed to fare a lot better on their 8 speed commuters!
We spent the whole afternoon drinking beer, eating icecream, and trying to hide in the shade. We couldn’t catch a ferry out of there though, so our only option was to continue riding down the island. The first 12km was uphill, but then it was flat along the top of the island. There was a fantastic bit of new smooth road which was easy riding.
Osor was another well positioned campground near a town. Although the town of Osor wasn’t as nice as Krk, it had its charms. It’s a small town of about 80 people, with a centre square with stairs leading into it and a couple of small cobbled streets. The town guards a small bridge over the channel between the islands of Cres and Lošinj. We enjoyed a dinner of spaghetti with a couple of beers as we watched the sun sink below the waves.
We left Rijeka and started out down the coast road of Croatia towards the island of Krk. There’s quite a lot of traffic and it was quite a change from our relaxed Slovenian experience. The cars didn’t give very much space, particularly the buses. I was driven off the road by a truck who was a bit impatient to overtake on Krk.
Against the warnings of some locals we rode through the middle of the day, and the heat was quite oppressive. Particularly as we were told of a “shortcut” that took us up and down some steep hills before taking us back to the main road we had started on. The bridge to Krk was also kind of strange as we were directed by a toll operator to take the footpath, but that led us into a large set of stairs, so we reversed up and took the main road instead. We’re learning quite quickly that the advice of locals here is not always of a high quality (apart from “don’t ride in the middle of the day”), although it seems they mean well.
We made it to the town of Krk and settled into the campground there. It’s quite fantastic as it’s only a short walk from the town centre. Krk is a very beautiful walled town and we spent the evening enjoying beers and the company of a friendly german shephard, who was very well mannered and seemed to want to act as our tour guide. This was one of our best stops of the trip because of the facilities of the campground and it’s proximity to a very lovely town.
Although it was very hot, we were relieved that there was finally no sign of rain clouds. For the entirety of the trip before we reached Croatia it was either raining, or there was the threat of rain. Now the skies were clear and we had a great excuse to take a break in the middle of the day for ice cream and beers.
Campsites are generally reasonably priced and good quality.
There’s a supermarket in most towns (which provide delicious fresh bread.)
The train system is good for bikes (at least in May.)
Some big climbs.
A lot of rain.
Campsites aren’t everywhere.
Slovenia is an excellent country for cycling. A lot of locals cycle, even in the mountainous areas, so the infrastructure is there and the car drivers have a “share the road” attitude. It is a mountainous country, but when we weren’t going over a mountain range it was usually a nice steady incline or decline along a river. I would highly recommend everywhere we went. You may wish to skip the two big climbs (Vršič and the Kamnic Alps), but then you would miss out on the best views.
Food was easy to come by except occasionally on Sundays, when the Mercator supermarkets were closed.
The biggest negative was the unpleasant weather. It was raining most days and if not the threat was always there. I only ran into one other cycle tourist, and they were about to cut their trip short because of the rain. There were a few times we caught trains because cycling just wasn’t very pleasant. However locals told us that it was unusually wet for May, and when it wasn’t raining it was a great temperature for cycling.
Later in summer it would almost certainly be better weather, but there will also be more tourists. Except in Bled there weren’t all that many tourists at the time we were there.
Camping in Slovenia isn’t as easy as we had hoped because there are so few campgrounds. Camping is only legal in the official campgrounds, which are all commercial. There are about 45 of them, and they are more concentrated in the tourist areas. So although in some areas they are easy to find, sometimes they are few and far between. Apart from the rain, this was another factor which influenced the distances we rode each day. Sometimes we opted to stay in more expensive accommodation just to keep dry.
On the plus side, every campground we stayed in was of a pretty good standard. For the two of us we were usually paying around €15, and the pitches were all grassed.
At Maribor tourist info we picked up a brochure Camping in Slovenia, which listed all the campsites and which we referred to quite often.
In general I think it would be OK to free camp, although I don’t know if there is any punishment if you are caught. We did it once in a populated area and weren’t bothered by anyone.
We rode to Škocjan Caves in time for the first tour of the morning. The caves are nothing less than terrific. You walk through a series of large caverns to a section with a river running through it. It reminded me a little of the mines of Moria. The walkway goes along the sides of the cave with a river raging 100m below, and a high bridge crossing between the two sides of the gorge-like cavern. The river ends as a waterfall disappearing into the depths. It’s completely awesome. Sadly we weren’t allowed to take photos inside the caves.
The entrance to Škocjan Caves
Afterwards we caught the train to Rijeka in Croatia, ending our Slovenian experience. Rijeka was a very busy city, but there’s not much else to say about it. We stayed at a hostel and looked forward to moving on in the morning. If you ever end up in Rijeka it will probably be as a stepping stone to or from the Croatian islands.
Cycled Volarje to Gorizia
Train Gorizia to Trieste
Cycled Trieste to Fernetti
Date: 25th May 2008
The next route map may be inaccurate, because we were a bit lost
In the morning we passed through a few more nice small towns before reaching Nova Gorica. Kanal in particular was memorable as it was Sunday and it seemed the whole town was walking the streets on their way home from church. Just before Nova Gorica was the largest stone arch train bridge in the world, which was very impressive. Nova Gorica is a young town with an interesting history. It was built after 1948, when a treaty left the traditionally Slovenian town of Gorizia on the Italian side of the border. A new town on the Yugoslavian side grew up to replace it.
We planned to finish up our trip in Slovenia quickly and move on to Croatia, so the plan was to take a train from Nova Gorica to Divača to see the Škocjan Caves. However there was only one train from Nova Gorica and it was in the evening. About 10 metres from the train station was the Italian border, and a couple of kilometres from there was Gorizia train station, so instead we caught the train from Gorizia to Trieste which is about 20km from Divača. This turned out to be a bit of mistake – it would likely have been quicker and easier to cycle the rest of the way (it often is).
Getting the train to Trieste was easy enough, but getting out of Trieste proved quite difficult. We had no maps and people we asked were of little help. When we did find the general direction it was a huge climb out on a narrow but very busy road with impatient drivers. I stacked it at one point after my front panniers got caught in a hedge on a narrow path. I received a few cuts and bruises, but nothing major. It was an unpleasant ride, but had I had the OSM Cycle Map I carry with me on my phone these days, we would have known there was a bike route out of the city and it would have been a much more enjoyable visit.
We ended up reaching the border a little out of our way but heading in the right direction. By then it was time to pack it in so we found a campground on the Italian side. The hard gravel pitch was a disappointment after all the nice Slovenian campsites.
Our side trip to Italy was shortlived and not so fun, but eventful.
This was the big day – over the Julian Alps via the Vršič Pass. It was a sunny morning which was great for the views. It’s about a 13km ride to the top of the pass (1611m), with approximately 800m of climb. The road is quite steep, but would be much worse if it weren’t for the hairpin bends. Each of the bends is cobblestone and a bit bumpy, but has a numbered sign with the altitude which gives a wonderful sense of progression. There are 24 numbered hairpin bends to the top. Along the way there are huts, hikers, and some of the best views around.
Millerine close to the top, with a view back at where we had come from
Wally at the top of Vršič pass
The 26 hairpin bends on the way down were very fast and fun, and with even better views. At the foot of the mountains we met up with the Soča river which we followed most of the day. At its best the Soča is supposed to be a bright emerald green. It was quite cloudy for us because of all the rain, but still a beautiful green. In fact the whole day there was very little that couldn’t be described as beautiful, including the place where we had lunch by a footbridge over the river.
Lunch spot on the Soča River
We stayed the night in Camping Vili, which was a minor highlight in itself. It was right beside the river and Vili himself was a very talkative and energetic character. He also cooked a good dinner of trout and allowed us to dry our shoes in their house. Basically it was a very homely and welcoming camp ground.
I had been looking forward to this part of the trip and it exceeded my expectations. The climb was hard work, but wouldn’t be too much of a challenge for most seasoned cyclists, and it’s worth it.
Yet another rainy day, but an easy ride. There was a rise leaving Bled, but from then on it was an easy day. Around Mojstrana a proper bike track off the main road began. It started off as a rough gravel road, but eventually became a fantastic sealed road that went all the way to Kranjska Gora and beyond. At one point the clouds retreated a little revealing the view of the Julian Alps, which were quite impressive. The road goes alongside Triglav National Park and is fairly flat. Fantastic views and an easy ride.
Although we made it Kranjska Gora fairly early, we were soaked and it seemed a good idea to leave the crossing of the alps until the next day. We checked into a guest house and went for a side trip to near the Italian border. It really is a fantastic place for cycling. There are a bunch of very good bike tracks around the foot of the alps and on through Italy.
Kranjska Gora looks to be a ski resort village, but is also a base for outdoor adventures in the Julian Alps in summer. Climbing Slovenia’s highest mountain, Triglav, is quite a popular pastime. It’s not an easy trek, but I understand there are routes you can just walk up. Come prepared for a few days of walking and it should be doable. There are other tracks of varying distance and difficulty around the Alps.
It didn’t look like there was anything interesting between Ljubljana and Bled and the weather was still bad, so we took the train. There was a short ride from the station to the town, which we rode to before going to the campground. Bled is incredibly touristy, but with good reason. Bled lake is quite small and very photogenic, with its island and castle. There are also a lot of adventure activities like canyoning and white water rafting.
Lake Bled, with the island and castle in the background
On the first day we had a few drinks and chilled at the campground. In the evening I went for a bike ride up a nearby very steep dirt road that went for about 5km before opening out to a very peaceful meadow with a few buildings. It was a rough track and more suited to a properly equipped mountain bike than the 1.75″ slicks I was using. The ride back down was still very fun though.
On the second day we visited Vintgar Gorge a short distance away from Bled. It’s a lovely narrow gorge with a walkway following along the rapids, ending at a waterfall. Our photos don’t do it justice, and I highly recommend this place.
In the afternoon we went white water rafting on the Sava river. It was far from extreme, but fun nonetheless. We finished up at the farm of the people who run the place. They had a heap of animals running around, and they gave us a shot of their homemade spirits which was impressively strong, but reasonably drinkable.
Bled was perfect for a relaxing escape from riding in the rain. The lake was beautiful and the campground was one of the best we visited on the trip.