COVID-19 made us feel as if we were living in a science-fiction movie
I wanted to write this blog for some time now, but I wasn’t really sure what to focus on. I figured it would be read mostly by riders, eager to get as much info as possible on the motorbikes we ride, the roads we take, to get tips on what to see and which turn to take. On the other hand, it was impossible for me not to mention this crazy year, when COVID-19 made us feel as if we were living in a science-fiction movie.
We had really big plans for 2020. People had contacted us from all over the world: the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan… By the end of February our guests had confirmed the bookings for the tours we then thoroughly organised. Also, we had organised a private 7 to 8-day tour with our friends. It is a thing we do every year and that we all look forward to (despite the fact that, working in a motorbike tour-ism agency, we ride miles and miles on business). We can’t wait for the school year to end so that our kids would go to their grandmas and that we could go back to our childhood dreams.
Every year, as soon as we finish our bike tour, we start planning the next one. As last year (2019) we were on Corsica, this year we were planning to go to the Alps and the Dolomites or maybe to Romania, if there is still snow in Italy in June.
So, what happened? COVID-19 happened. The lockdown started, the guests started calling and cancelling the tours prepared to the very last detail, people in general started fearing of what the new day might bring… In short, only three months ago, everything changed for our agency but not for us, for our little team of friends. We didn’t give up our trip but we had to adapt it to the new circumstances, particularly considering the lockdown. We held a brief meeting and in no more than five minutes agreed on our 2020 destination: we’ll do a tour of Croatia. I swear I could see some of us had thought bubbles full of question marks hovering above our heads: Croatia?! Really?! Why, we live here, we’ve been everywhere and seen everything…? What sense does it make? It turned out it made all the sense in the world! This time we didn’t focus on towns and far-famed roads. This time we focused on small and forgotten villages and country roads. Yeah… we zeroed in on small Croatian villages, their sights, the roads leading to them that are about to sink into oblivion, their traditions safely hidden from tourism and our modern way of life. Of course, we didn’t skip towns all together nor our must-see islands. In fact, I was struck by my own ignorance when I discovered the extent of diversity awaiting us if we just got off the main road, turned left or right and drove for a mile or two. Add to it a stretch of macadam and the long-forgotten roads built in the 19th century, and you are in for a treat.
And this is how it all began. We were running late with the preparations as we had to organize the entire trip from scratch. In our small team of friends, motorbike enthusiasts, each of us is charged with specific tasks in the process of trip preparation. How-ever, since as always when we go on this particular traditional annual trip, we were accompanied by our wives (as passengers), the organisation was easier and the tasks were divided. For instance, Miro sees to it that no one is hungry. And, boy, is he good at that job! I’m sure that even if we went to the Sahara Desert, we would have copious provisions for all the three daily meals every day. Renata takes care of our finances. We don’t know how she does it, but we return home with more money than we took for the trip. Then there is Domagoj, the photographer, and his lovely companion Sara. Domagoj’s specialties include organizing adventures and surprises, especially for his beloved Sara. He loves nature and sleeping in tents. Sarah also likes nature but at the end of the day she does prefer to sleep in a bed after having a warm shower. Now, there’s our endless source of amusement.
However, Domagoj always manages to make it up to her with his amazing photos, which are part of this blog. Another source of amusement is our friend Darko. He loves “the speed and the wind in his hair”. It often happens that when we are queuing for a ferry and are about to set sail, we suddenly spot our Darko somewhere far in the distance, behind some curve, gliding leisurely towards us. His nonchalance is our constant source of amusement. Finally, there is my wife Andrea and myself. You’d think there is nothing more to add. Only there is. Despite the fact that we own and run an agency for organising motorbike tours and that I personally plan all the tours myself, we are usu-ally “to blame” for all sorts of things that go wrong and that we then talk about for the rest of the year while waiting for a new trip and new adventures and misadventures. We are for instance “the” couple who locked their motorcycle key in the top case, miles away from any repair shop, which is how Andrea earned the nickname “The Key-Keeper”. I, for one, realized I had taken the wrong vehicle registration certificate only once we got to the border-crossing… And so on and so forth.
However, despite and in part because of such cute little stories, we have the energy and the desire to go further. We always wait impatiently for the next year and our seven days of freedom. Most importantly, these trips bring us closer together to the extent we feel that we are not only friends, but one big family.
I’m sure that now after having read this “brief” introduction, you’ll want to read more about the trip and the places we visited. As I’ve already mentioned, in the process of trip planning I am responsible for preparing bike tours in the agency and for our private trips. While preparing this route, I had to take into account that we had already seen a lot of places in Croatia, that our traveling companions were with us which excluded some harder-to-reach areas and finally, that our trip had to begin and end in Zagreb.
It has become sort of a tradition not to be able to avoid rain despite all the meticulous planning. This year was no different and we embarked on our journey wearing our rain suits. Luckily, the rain was with us only for the first 50 km on the first day and after that we had only sunny weather for the rest of the week. The plan for the day was to get to the island of Pag but not by taking the main roads. On our way to Pag we rode past some 15th century castles, we crossed Napoleon’s bridge and before we got down to the coast, we rode on our first mountain pass through Gorski kotar at an altitude of 1000 m. We drove on “Rudolfina”, an old and somewhat disremembered road connecting Ogulin and Novi Vinodolski built during the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the 19th century.
Nowadays fully reconstructed, Rudolfina is a stunning combination of bends, nature, mountain peaks and the sea. Rudolfina also passes through some of the filming locations of the famous western “Winnetou”. The village called Breze still hosts the original movie set: the tent camp of the Apache tribe. When we got to the seaside, we drove along the Senj-Karlobag road.
This road is very well-known as many commercials for automotive industry have been filmed here. That is why the road is so very popular among European and world motorbike riders. And this is how we got to Pag, also known as the moonlike island. “Why?’’, you wonder. Just look at these pictures… You’re riding through bare rocks surrounded by the sea. Marvellous landscape. As usual, at the end of the day we had dinner and a beer or two amazed that nothing had gone wrong, we didn’t forget any-thing, we didn’t have to return home to fetch things… Incredible!
The first impressions are recounted, the first good night sleep is behind us and a new day bringing new adventures before us. In order to avoid daily packing and unpacking, we had decided not to stay in a different place every night, but rather to have two bases on this trip, to which we would return for dinner and sleepover.
We had picked Brela as the base for the first three days. Brela is a place at the foot of Mount Biokovo, not far from Split. Of course, we didn’t get there by using the shortest or the simplest road. I had a few surprises organised for my gang: a ride along the is-land of Pag and down the Zrmanja River canyon, a visit to a 13th century monastery and a visit to Krka National Park. I was in for a bit of surprise as well as I was to explore some of the sights for the first time.
On our way to Skradin, for instance, we came upon Bribirska Glavica, a Roman settlement that had lived its days of glory somewhere between 11th and 16th century. We rode less than 300 km today but we were on our motorbikes all day long. We came to Brela quite late, around 8PM.
Our preparations for today were not exactly brilliant. Yesterday evening, we had a glass (too many) in a (too) relaxed ambience and the plan for today was rather ambitious: to get to the plateau of Mount Dinara, at an altitude of 1100 m above sea level. The temperature didn’t rise above 22 degrees Celsius, which is ideal for riding, but we kind of missed the warmth of the sun. Some of our destinations for the day were the source of the Krka River, the headwaters of the Cetina, the Vrdovo Plateau, the Cetina canyon… And, yes, this means that there was a lot of macadam.
The team was aware of it before and there were some doubts about how we would ride on macadam with our travel companions. But, actually, it turned out that these roads had been well maintained ever since the times Napoleon drove on them and even built some bridges in the vicinity. I will not even begin to describe the landscape!
The photos will tell you more. The Vrdovo Plateau was the top story of the day. It is situated at an altitude of 1000 m and has some 40 km of macadam roads winding through wonderful scenery. This was really something else.
The experience does require some basic skills in off-road riding and a certain level of endurance on the part of the rider. However, it is still what we’d call soft off-roading. We were filled with emotions, so we returned to Brela feeling light and smiling happily.
So, the first three days we tested the endurance of our motorbikes and of the entire team, as the pace was brisk and the roads demanding, passing through some mountain passes and several macadam roads. Our travel companions complained that as much as we were close to the sea, we never seemed to finally get to the beach. Well, this was the day they had been waiting for. A whole-day trip to the island of Brač.
These pictures will help you imagine the ride on the beautiful island roads, through famous vineyards. We started at sea level in a place called Milna, climbed 780 m to Vidova gora (Mount St Vitus), the highest peak of the island, rode through a thick pine forest and finally went for a swim at what could easily be the most famous Croatian beach – Zlatni rat (Golden Horn). Here the summer showed us its true colours. The weather was hot, around 28 degrees, and the sea temperature about 24. It doesn’t get better than this. We were having such a wonderful time and then took the last ferry to Split and returned to Brela late at night.
“What does Brela look like?”, we wondered. We simply didn’t have time to see it. What a day!
Today we are setting up a new base for the next three days. Mali Ston on the Pelješac Peninsula will replace Brela. Mali Ston is most famous for its oysters and its walls, best conserved and longest walls after the Chinese Wall. OK, but let’s not rush to Mali Ston just yet. We have a special story for this place which I will save for later.
We had lots of things planned to see before we got to our new base, as every day of our trip had its purpose, its programe and its surprises. Today we drove to the Red and Blue Lakes in Imotski, rode on three mountain passes at around 800 m above sea level and arrived at the entrance of the Nature Park of Mount Biokovo, the highest peak of which, Sveti Jure (Saint George), is situated at 1750 m. And did we go to the top? You bet!
And some of us twice. Just as we started wondering what sort of a boring trip this was where nothing ever went wrong, 3 km before the peak (after riding uphill for 20 km), Domagoj ran out of fuel. Yeah… he blamed his fuel gauge that had stopped working. The look his companion Sara gave him meant just one thing: Again? Really? So, I went down again to sea level, drove to Makarska and climbed again to 1750 m. This adventure lasted three hours. Were my friends bored up in the mountain? Not the slightest.
This might be the best three-hour wait in history as they spent their time at an altitude of 1750 m overlooking our sea and islands in the far distance. Of course, this was not all.
My little errand to get the fuel led to exhaustion or rather material fatigue so I damaged the side suitcase while descending the mountain. So, there is a good example that we should never exaggerate and that we should always respect our limits. Despite every-thing, by the crew’s unanimous ruling, today was the most beautiful day of the whole trip.
Before I start describing what today looked like, I feel compelled to tell you a thing or two about the Pelješac Peninsula and Mali Stone, our new base for the three last days of our motor tour. I will start by saying that Mali Ston is my family’s second home. We have been spending our summer holidays in Mali Stone for almost 20 years.
Here we found an amazing harmony of peace, beautiful beaches, excellent food and wine. And as for our hosts, we have long considered them our family. Mali Ston, a place with no more than some 50 houses, is only 1 km away from the town of Ston, famous for its history, its walls that defended this region (including Dubrovnik) in numerous wars, and its oysters which rank among the highest quality oysters throughout the world.
That’s why we bring all of our guests to Pelješac, to our Mali Ston. And now let me tell you about today. We are practically immersed in the sea. The sea is all around us, and today’s goal is to reach Croatia’s southernmost point: the Prevlaka peninsula and Rt Oštro (Cape Oštro). At the cape there is a fortress, destroyed during World War II, which is now being completely rebuilt. On our way to and from Cape Oštro, we visited old settlements in Konavle, the old medieval town of Sokolgrad, the town of Cavtat, and the inevitable city of Dubrovnik.
I guess I don’t have to talk much about Dubrovnik. The vegetation of southern Dalmatia is rich in dense pine forests, tall sycamore trees, and the architecture of old stone houses leaves you breathless. We didn’t ride much today. We stopped for a couple of swims along the way, and returned to Mali Ston, where we prepared a big barbecue together with the hosts and recounted everything we had seen so far in a relaxed atmosphere.
Of course, all we could talk about was how we ran out of fuel just before reaching the peak of Sveti Jure on Biokovo.
The last day of our tour before we went back to Zagreb. We had discussed several options for our last day: the island of Mljet, the island of Hvar and the island of Korčula. Of course, the ideal thing would have been to visit all the three islands, but we couldn’t spend more than 8 days away from work. So, we had decided to ride across Pelješac to get to Korčula and return to Mali Ston for the night.
The entire trip was so fulfilling that we weren’t sad this was our last day. The goal for today was to visit the old town of Korčula, which is believed to be the most beautiful town on the Adriatic coast, and to go for a swim at the most gorgeous beaches on the Pelješac Peninsula and on the island of Korčula. And this is exactly what we did. We had plenty of swims and plenty of coffee in various beach bars. An utterly relaxed last day.
At the end of the day, a fantastic moment occurred. Unfortunately, I was not able to capture it with my camera, but I will try to describe it for you. We were all sitting at the table, relaxed, having dinner.
At one moment, I’m not sure how it could happen, there was perfect quite in our little summer house. I looked at everyone around the table and noticed they all had the ex-act same smile. It was one of those moments when all of us motorbike riders become aware why we love that feeling of freedom and riding together.
If I was to add anything else, I would spoil this blog. So, I will just thank you for reading it and for looking at the photos. Hoping that we will win this virus war and that we’ll come out of it as better people, I am sending you my best wishes and my hope that someday you will join us in our beautiful Croatia and become part of our stories.
Moto Tours Croatia team, Andrea & Robert