Monday, January 5, 2009


Combining a land and sea adventure is one of the best ways to explore so many of Croatia's delights. So I signed up with a Canadian-based company, Pedal & Sea Adventures which offered a low-key, value-for-the-money trip -- they paired up with a German adventure tour company that handled the land operations. The newest boat they operate is the Romantica, a 110-foot-long teak and mahogany motor cruiser that was manned and personally built by the young handsome captain and his 25 Croatian friends and colleagues. For someone so young -- he's under 40 -- he did an amazing job of deftly maneuvering our ship into each of the often crowded ports. Our cabins were comfy and cozy and each day they prepared meals centered on locally-sourced ingredients where fresh fish, fruits and vegetables were abundant. We needed all the calories we could devour because we spent most of each day cycling 30 to 40 miles or so up and down a multitude of hills through the heart of each island. But there were always options to either hang on the ship taking in the sun or cycling only part of the way on each island.

Mljet, Sipan, Korcula,
Vis, Hvar and Brac each had a distinct personality both scenically and historically. Sipan is unspoiled and covered with thick pine and cypress forests that hide old chapels, fortresses and the summer villas once occupied by Dubrovnik's rich.

On Mljet we rode past fig trees into a national park that's home to a unique feature: two interconnected salt water lakes. In the middle of one sits an islet where we found a 12th century Benedictine monastery.

Korcula, the supposed home of Marco Polo, has roads that wind past vineyards that grow the unique Posip grape, and later along an allee of lime trees in the town of Blato.

We were lucky to arrive in Vis because usually the seas are too rough for the crossing. Here we found the tranquil fishing village of Komiza where a Venetian fortress is now home to a maritime museum. Later we were delighted to take a break at Vinoteka where the family has been making wine for 200 years. (They served us sheep cheese, anchovies and proscuitto.)

Hvar gets plenty of tourist traffic but we avoided most of it by pedaling on roads where vendors sell lavender and cherry liquors from roadside stands. Later, we spent time in the old town of Stari Grad where a noted 16th century poet built an amazing summer palace. In the late afternoon, we took the optional bike ride to seaside villages and small towns pierced by church steeples.

Brac's most noteworthy feature is the Golden Horn, an unusual 1,300-foot-long sandy tongue that constantly changes shape. Famous for its white limestone -- it was used in the White House and other notable edifices -- Brac is blessed with placid hillside villages with tall bell towers and where men still sit astride donkeys. It's hard to be bored or disappointed on this Pedal & Sea trip because every day brought an interesting adventure. And I found a broad cross-section of friendly guests -- young and old alike from all over North America -- so you're bound to find a kindred spirit to hang out with.