In April 2018, I travelled with Ben from our marketing team to Trogir on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia to experience the National Parks of Dalmatia - Deluxe tour. Croatia boat and bike tours are very popular with Freedom Treks customers, so I was very keen to see one for myself.
I’m a fairly seasoned bicycle tourist – I cycled from Japan back to England a couple of years ago – but this was my first taste of this style of cycling holiday. I wasn’t sure how I’d take to it, the deluxe Princeza Diana with her spacious cabins and onboard chef is a far cry from my usual routine of wild camping and cooking my meals on a camp stove.
Well, I’m sold. What better way to see Croatia’s stunning coast and islands than cycling on quiet roads with a local guide, then returning to a luxurious floating hotel for lunch and a cold drink on deck? The week flew by, with the perfect mix of cycling, exploring and relaxing which kept us smiling all day, from the plentiful breakfast through to yet another beautiful sunset.
They say that a picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s a selection of my favourite photos from this trip. If you’re considering Croatia for your next cycling holiday, I hope that these help make your decision a little easier!
The Princeza Diana, named after the captain’s wife, is a three-masted, 131 foot long, beautiful motor-yacht. It was almost guaranteed that she would turn heads as we pulled into a port. The 16 cabins are all spacious, en-suite and air-conditioned and there’s plenty of deck space to relax - there’s even a hot tub! She was certainly quite an upgrade from my accommodation the last time I cycled this area of the Mediterranean:
Though the views were still pretty good!
The crew were all proud of their ship and treated us like VIP guests, but also as friends. Nothing was too much trouble - meals were served with smiles, beers served with jokes, and they even gave a tour of the engine room to those of us who were interested!
This is Ben enjoying the views on Dugi Otok island. We cycled up on to the ridge that runs the length of the island and looks down to the sea on both sides. A word we frequently heard at our morning briefings was ‘undulating’. It became a running joke, but it sums up Croatia’s landscape. There are some hills along this moderate level route, but they’re worth the effort for the panoramic views and swooping descents back to sea level.
I was very impressed with the variety of the cycling. Some days we were up in the hills, some days inland in the countryside and some days hugged the coast between quiet coves like this one on Molat Island.
The bikes were touring hybrids, sturdy and comfortable, with 21 gears that are perfect for this type of cycling. They’re supplied with a padded saddle and pannier to carry your water bottle, camera and other essentials (I brought my own tried and tested Brooks saddle, which the guides were happy to fit for me).
E-bikes are also available, and a popular choice with our group. They make the more challenging days really achievable for less experienced cyclists, or those who hadn’t squeezed in quite as many pre-holiday miles as anticipated!
The week ran like clockwork. Here the bikes are lined up on the dock and the guides ready and waiting for us to finish our breakfast. The bikes were adjusted to our heights and labelled with our names.
There are two guides on board who cycle with the group each day, one at the front of the group and one at the back. They’re all local and speak fluent English, German, and various other languages. They brought the cycling to life with great facts and stories about the places we were seeing, though some of their jokes can be of Christmas cracker standard, at best!
Most days, after cycling, the boat would sail for an hour or two, moving on to the next stop on our tour. Afternoons were spent on the deck relaxing and enjoying the views. Most of these places are only accessible by boat and I was amazed at how remote and untouched the islands were.
This is the gateway to the Krka National park, and what better way to arrive than on the Princeza Diana, sailing between the cliffs.
Off the Bikes
The Krka Waterfalls, one of the real highlights of the tour. This was a day off from cycling, when we took a boat ride up the river then a walk up and around the spectacular waterfalls. I’d seen numerous pictures, but I hadn’t realised quite how far upstream the falls stretched. We spent a whole morning exploring then returned to the Princeza Diana on foot, along a scenic riverside path.
We moored in the heart of the national park and hiked up through the pine forests to look out over the Adriatic from these impressive cliffs. We then continued with a loop around the unique ‘Mir’ salt lake.
We had guided walking tours with local guides at Sibenik, Zadar and Trogir. Not only did the guides lead us through the narrow alleys of these historical towns showing us to places we wouldn’t have seen by ourselves, they gave us invaluable local’s tips, like where to find the best ice cream!
Mooring up at these popular tourist towns put us in an amazing central location and gave us a room with a view. Enjoying a drink at a harbourside café and wandering back to a waiting yacht isn’t something I get to do every day!
Alfred Hitchcock apparently described Zadar’s sunset as the most beautiful in the world, a big claim, of which I was rather dubious. But watching the sun dip behind Ugljan Island with dozens of other tourists and locals, I had to admit, he wasn’t far wrong.
As Freedom Treks employees, we’re not allowed to enter the annual photo competition. Otherwise, I reckon we’d be in with a good chance with this sunset shot from Zlarin Island!