So you’re considering an island hopping boat and bike tour in Croatia.
But there’s lots out there! How do you pick the best Croatia boat and bike tour for you?
In this article we speak to Fiona from Wild Atlantic Cycling Tours. She runs cycling holidays in Croatia’s southern islands. Here she shares the things to consider when deciding whether a Croatia cycling holiday (and a boat and bike Croatia trip in particular) is right for you.
Croatia bike tour or boat and bike tour?
If you’re reading this article, it’s likely you’re more of a cyclist than you are a sailor. So why would you ever pick a boat and bike tour over a normal cycling tour?
The answer is because you fancy a bit of island hopping. And perhaps a bit of novelty factor for your overnight accommodation!
The great thing about the boat is that it provides the benefits of a single base bike trip (no unpacking/repacking every day) with the benefits of a multi point bike tour where you get to see somewhere new every day.
Plus a boat is just a nice place to be – and certainly the best way to see a few different islands in Croatia!
Why do a boat and bike tour in Croatia?
A boat and bike tour allows guests to enjoy the relaxation of both a cycling and boating holiday rolled into one. Spend the day cycling Croatia’s islands and the afternoon and evenings leisurely floating to your next cycling destination.
The boat element also means you can often start your day cycling somewhere it would be extremely difficult to get to by car, like islands, difficult to reach headlands and well hidden traffic free tow paths.
Spending the day cycling means you can get under the skin of the islands you visit, getting some miles in, stretching your legs, but also enjoying cafe stops and impromptu swims before heading back to the boat for a relaxing evening meal.
The best of all worlds?!
What is cycling in Croatia like?
Croatia enjoys a huge stretch of the Adriatic coastline – its mainland coastline is a whopping 1,777 kilometres and you add a further 4,000+ kilometres if you add the islands too.
For the purposes of this article we’ll mainly focus on cycling the Croatian islands. There are two main reasons for this:
- The roads on Croatia’s coastal mainland are busy, both on and off season. Although you can find quieter roads away from the coast, cycling tours in Croatia often end up with having to drop down to the coastal main roads from time to time. And this isn’t pleasant.
- Croatia’s islands are stunning. In our opinion they’re the jewel in Croatia’s crown and the best place to focus on for a Croatia cycling tour.
What to expect from cycling Croatia’s islands
One of the best parts of a cycling trip in Croatia spent island-hopping is the near constant views over the sea. On sunny days, you can enjoy the sun glinting off the water and views to other islands. Looking down on the clear water in all of the bays is absolutely spectacular! The sea also makes a welcome bath after a sweaty day in the saddle or at lunchtime.
The towns in Croatia range from the lovely little harbour towns to the busier party towns like Hvar. All of them are full of history and beauty.
With the majority of the country being by the sea as you’d expect there is a huge range of seafood on offer and other local delicacies – as you ride you will see roadside displays of homemade honey, jams, chutneys and wine (and cheese on Pag Island).
Road cycling in Croatia
On the whole, roads in Croatia are smooth asphalt that is well maintained with clear markings. They twist and turn up the hills and they sweep and curl back down.
With only two lanes on many of the island roads, we’ve found traffic is generally patient passing cyclists. It’s also a good idea for cyclists to be patient with traffic, in that if you allow a ferry-load of traffic to pass you first then you will enjoy the traffic-free road ahead (at least until the next ferry comes in!).
Cyclists with a fear of heights may want to bear in mind that on many of Croatia’s islands, you find yourself riding close to the road barrier, with significant drops on the other side. However, on quiet roads with considerate drivers, it shouldn’t dissuade you from embracing the overall cycling experience.
When to visit
The heat means that cycling holidays in Croatia are best in the spring and the autumn.
What’s the best place for a Croatia bike and boat tour?
Croatia’s islands really do have something unique about each and every one of them.
Croatia’s southern islands
Deciding where to base our first island hopping bike tour in Croatia was difficult, but for a number of reasons including ease of access, we selected five islands in the south and the Peljesac Peninsula.
Brac is the largest island in the central Dalmatia region. It’s bathed in sunlight for a whopping 2,700 hours a year making it very popular with the tourists but a challenge for its farmers! You’ll see many rocks inland gathered over centuries to better facilitate the cultivation of olives, figs and grapes; but the island’s main export is a lustrous white stone which is still quarried and exported. Its two main resorts are Supetar and Bol.
Croatia’s Madeira! It’s an island of scenic splendour. Sveti Nikola is the crest that stretches across the middle of the island, reaching 628 metres at its peak.
You’ll pass many roadside stalls selling lavender. Hvar claims to be the sunniest island in Croatia; at one point in the not too distant past, hotels used to famously offer a discount if you experienced a full cloudy day and a free night if it snowed!
Ask any Croatian which island is their favourite and I’ll bet they’ll all have Vis in their top 3!
Vis is stunningly beautiful, quiet, small, distant and unspoilt and it still holds the allure of the forbidden: it was a military base until 1989 and the public were not allowed on the island.
Today some of its popularity can be attributed to Stiniva Beach, which has become a very popular attraction since it featured in the Mama Mia II film.
The island stretches southwest to northeast and is separated from the mainland of the Peljesac Peninsula by a narrow channel. It is rich in olive groves and vineyards, with natural harbours on the flatter northern shore.
Korcula Town sits sheltered on the north side. It is a typical medieval Dalmation town which was apparently designed to keep its inhabitants comfortable, with streets that curve to protect them from the ‘bura’ (northeasterly) wind.
Mljet is a tiny little island and the most forested of all the islands in the southern archipelago (over 70%). It is host to a plethora of wildlife. A large chunk on the western side is a dedicated National Park that borders two salt water lakes. Pomena, Polace and Sobra are the three small towns that can be reached by ferry.
Mljet is harder to reach by boat and therefore less visited. Its tranquility is another of its great attractions.
The main coast road that goes along the Peninsula and heads towards Dubrovnik is, as you would expect, busier than the island roads. It is a popular diversion for those travelling south to take the Trpanj ferry from Ploce to avoid crossing the Bosnian border en route to Dubrovnik (although this road border crossing is actually fairly quick). The town of Ston and its walls are very much a highlight. Ston was, and still is, an important salt producing town and its 5.5km wall, is the longest fortification in Europe. We stop here for lunch on Day 5.
Favourite parts of your tour
It’s hard to choose, but if pushed, here are my top three:
- Korcula town on Korcula island is a mini Dubrovnik. The quayside restaurants are decadently decked out and serviced by penguin waiters.
- Komisa on Vis is the most delightful little harbour reached by a fantastic climb and descent from Vis Town on the other side – a perfectly timed coffee stop on our tour.
- Best of all the descent from the exit of the Dingac tunnel will take your breath away.
Best of the rest
For those interested in some other excellent parts of Croatia for cycling:
Pag Island is barren and rocky with no trees and very little vegetation. However it is renowned throughout Croatia for its sharp-flavoured cheese. On my first trip across Pag island (one August) I remember distinctly how thirsty I was and how my eyes would roll as, desperate for water, I’d cycle past yet another road stall selling nothing but cheese!
Losinj and Cres islands
Losinj and Cres are the two serpentine Islands in the Kvarner archipelago and separated only by an 11 metre wide canal. Mali Losinj and Veli Losinj are busy as they are linked by ferry to Venice. Cres in the north is somewhat quieter and you can find pristine beaches and campsites interspersed with hiking and more off-road biking trails. The west is more densely populated than the east
Small mainland harbours also have their appeal; Krkvenica is such a harbour. Opatija in the north has a waterfront promenade that stretches 12 kilometres along the gulf of Kvarner. Its vista is one of the most stunning coastal views in Croatia, enhanced by the backdrop of Mount Ucka to the west. It was the fashionable playground of the Austro-Hungarian empire until WW1 and the grand buildings of the wealthy are now elegant hotels.
On the other side of the peninsula, Rovinj is very popular in summer months due to the proximity of Venice. The peace and tranquillity of Red Island can be reached by boat, kayak or swimming for the really adventurous.
I love Croatia. I could go on! I haven’t even mentioned all of the bigger islands in the north!
Things to consider when picking a boat and bike tour
Below are some of the differences you’ll find when comparing Croatia bike and boat tours. Hopefully this helps you decide on the kind of cycling tour that fits what you want.
When researching bike boat tours in Croatia, you’ll find there are tour companies offering everything from bike-boat day trips to two week long trips and everything in between.
If your mission is to cover both north and south archipelagos, you’ll need two weeks as an absolute minimum. Some of the ferries only go once daily to some of the more remote islands and bear in mind that the catamarans will not let you on with a bike. Believe me, I’ve tried!
If you are relying on the ferries to get around, my advice is that you leave plenty of time and enjoy this relaxed means of getting about. Although there are schedules they don’t always run to them. There are of course more boats in the summer months but the downside is that they are busy. The sailings are also affected if there’s bad weather.
What we do
Our bike boat tour in Croatia’s Southern Archipelago is 8 days and 7 nights long. We think this amount of time is perfect to explore Croatia’s Southern Islands.
Guided or self-guided
Here’s a summary of the difference between guided and self-guided bike boat tours in Croatia.
- Someone else has taken all of the wrong turns before so you just get to cycle the best bits.
- You know exactly how long it will take so it helps with planning your holiday(s)
- You can join a tour that best matches your fitness level
- You have the reassurance and security of support on hand should you need it
- You can relax knowing that accommodation and sustenance are all taken care of
- Most guided tours will offer convenient transfers to and from airports to the starting point of the tour
- There may be specific places you’ve read or heard about that you’d like your cycling holidays in Croatia to focus on but which are not on the organised tour
- Might be more expensive
- No duvet days – the schedule usually means riding each day (although our tour has a ‘stay on board’ option!)
- You are completely in control of your own agenda
- Freedom to move at your own pace and even decide not to ride on some days
- Do your own research
- Carry your own luggage
- Plan your own routes
- Arrange your own accommodation
- A lack of local knowledge / ability to get information easily due to language difficulties may also affect ferry timings
When deciding between guided and self-guided, think carefully about the amount of support you think you might need. For example
- Do you need assistance if you puncture?
- Will you be carrying all of your own clothing, food and water you require for the day or would you prefer to refresh your supplies from a support vehicle at lunch time?
- Are you fairly self-sufficient and want to know that support is only there if you need it?
What we do
We provide a fully supported cycle tour.
- We support you from the minute you get off the plane to the moment you and your bike get back to the airport at the end.
- Each day, we run a briefing after breakfast, sharing what you can expect to see and any safety points on the day’s route.
- We provide you with GPX files of your Croatia cycle tour.
- We’ll give you some ideas and recommendations for coffee and lunch stops, evening entertainment, dining and any other sports you might want to try your hand at such as kayaking and swimming.
- We allow our cyclists to cycle comfortably at their own speed. There is no need to ride as a group.
- We aim to pass our cyclists at least once or twice in the morning and again in the afternoon after lunch. We arrange a suitable lunch stop where you can catch up with others and replenish your supplies.
- We provide support with refreshments including snacks, juice, bars, basic first aid supplies and equipment for minor mechanicals. For the more major mechanicals we can arrange to have you collected and taken to a bike shop where required. Most islands have at least one bike shop.
- We provide reassurance and encouragement, wait for you at the top of the really tough hills and do our best to get to know you on tour such that we know when to give you a gummy bear sweet and when a shot of whiskey might be necessary!
Joking aside, everyone has a different riding style and idea as to how they would like their own particular cycling holiday in Croatia to pan out and we will always do our best to make sure our support lives up to your expectations.
What kind of cyclist is the tour aimed at?
Many Croatia boat and bike cycling holidays are designed for casual cyclists rather than the more avid cyclist; the type of Croatia cycling tours on offer can vary dramatically.
For example, some are more focused on history than riding and so there will be lots of stopping at ‘points of interest’ when you might just want to ride your bike. How much sightseeing do you want to do on the way?
Also consider the daily distances and climbing.
What kind of a mix of abilities are there likely to be within your group? The more mixed it is, the more difficult it becomes for the guide to cater well to everyone’s needs and speeds.
Are these the islands you want to visit?
Croatia has over a thousand islands. There is much to see and as you can appreciate an infinite amount of coastline. Where do you want to ride? Make sure the tour you choose goes there!
What we do
Our Croatia bike trip route has been carefully designed to take in some epic climbs, stunning descents, sea views, pretty harbours and delightful towns. It’s aimed at ‘Active’ riders (explanation of what these are here). Our average day is 70km with 1,200 metres of climbing, but there are also options for exciting switchbacks and climbs if you happen to be more of an ‘Avid’ rider!
Our Croatia tour tends to have longer gradual climbs and descents as you often will climb away from the coast and down to the other side of the island then around and back again following a similar pattern on a different route. As climbs are on the whole gradual they are what I call ‘kind’ climbs. (Get in touch and we can email you a pdf with detailed distances and climbing so you can decide if you agree!)
There’s enough cycling and climbing challenges to feel a wonderful sense of achievement and satisfaction; but not so much that you can’t fully appreciate the produce and surroundings in your evening finery!
Cycling on the route we’ve developed is a truly pleasurable experience; you can expect quiet island roads and smooth tarmac. We’ve incorporated time for chill out time in harbours and you’ll be able to enjoy browsing round old towns (Korcula, Ston and Hvar). Our private yacht is a little piece of heaven to come back to every evening and the catering standard is exceptional. It provides us with the perfect floating hotel to enable us to take in so many beautiful islands in a short period of time.
Group sizes on Croatia boat and bike cycle tours vary from six or so to nearer 50 so it’s important to ascertain the size of the group you are joining on your chosen tour to manage your expectations. This is particularly important if you are expected to ride together in a larger group without route files where abilities are mixed.
Pros and cons of bigger v smaller groups
Big groups are good if you want to have a sociable time on your cycle tour. If you don’t like cycling alone you are also more likely to find someone who cycles at your speed.
They’re not so good if you want to be a little more independent and perhaps cover more ground a bit faster or are seeking a bit more luxury.
Small groups are good if you have chosen a tour more tailored to your own requirements and ability. As a result they may also be a bit more relaxing. And the converse of the above is true in that they are potentially not as appealing if you want to ride in a group and don’t want independence.
What we do
We do our best to accommodate all of our ‘Active’ riders in our Croatia bike boat tour, with a maximum group of 12 road cyclists. This is both the capacity on the yacht and also happens to be a perfect number of people for the right mix between socialising and creating your own space on a cycle holiday.
Everyone rides at their own pace after a morning briefing and we meet aboard for the evening meal. For the most part our cyclists will also meet up at coffee and lunch stops but it’s not always practical with varying degrees of ability in riders.
We find this group size is an optimum number that allows you to combine private time both on route and aboard and socialising to suit.
As we all know, there are boats and there are boats!
Have a careful look at the type of boat you’ll be on for your boat and bike trip. If you’re doing a DIY cycling trip in Croatia, you will need to become familiar with the ferry timetables and it’s worth carrying a bungee so you can strap your bike in although in the frequently calm waters around Croatia’s islands it isn’t always necessary.
Around Croatia, guided boat-bike tours often use large boats that sleep around 40+ people. These tours are often focused on mountain bike, hybrid and e-bike routes. Bear in mind that the heavier bikes can take a little time for loading and unloading. Also the choice of harbour for docking needs to be able to accommodate a larger boat with ease of manoeuvring the bikes aboard and ashore. Trips on these kinds of boats are usually guided – the cycle routes provided are generally shorter and most will have a guide on the road at the head of a group with frequent stops for everyone to catch up. The level of catering varies. Accommodation is slightly smaller on these boats but they are a bit more stable in higher seas for those who prefer a sturdier cruise.
When deciding on the right bike-boat trip for you, you’ll want to pay close attention to exactly what kind of boat you’re going to be travelling on and what level of luxury, catering and service you’re going to receive.
What we do
Our bike-boat trip uses a gorgeous wooden yacht that was built in the style of a wooden gulet, the kind of boats that are seen all over the Adriatic. As far as old boats of this size go, they don’t come much more luxurious than this!
There are two twin rooms and four double rooms aboard, each an en-suite. The cabins are spacious enough to accommodate two people comfortably.
We dine together at a large table in the aft deck for breakfast and for our evening meal we are attentively waited upon. Prior to dinner our waiter is available at the bar to serve pre-dinner drinks (drinks on board are not included in the tour price, but the pricing is very reasonable).
With a maximum of 12 clients on this trip (plus four crew and two tour guides) you are assured the best of attention at all times. Our priority is your safety on board and we make no compromises when it comes to this. Our skipper is accompanied by a suitably qualified skipper’s mate, an excellent chef and a waiter who also pulls ropes and throws out buoys at appropriate times!
The crew handle the bikes carefully aboard each evening and they can be hosed down in the morning where necessary before your ride. They are stored under bicycle covers to protect them.
Sailing these wooden gulet yachts is difficult with an inexperienced crew on board and given the unpredictability of the weather and the fact that we are on a fairly tight schedule we motor between the islands, usually in the early hours of the morning before breakfast.
If you’re going on a bike-boat holiday you need to be prepared to share your room! Yachts seldom have single supplements available as all berths are twin or double. If a room to yourself is important, perhaps consider a tour of mainland Croatia or a tour that covers one or two islands from one base, as they are more likely to have single rooms available at a more reasonable cost.
On most boats, each cabin has either a double bed or two single beds. Sometimes luggage space is available and sometimes a separate locker area will need to be accessed so your packing will need to be compact and organised!
What we do
As mentioned above, there are two twin rooms and four double rooms aboard our boat, each are en-suite. The cabins are spacious enough to accommodate two people comfortably.
As well as luggage space our yacht specifically also has an en-suite toilet, sink and shower and bedside table with lights. Electric charging points are available until ‘bedtime’ to allow you to charge phones and bicycle lights etc.
Find out more about our Croatia bike tour
Before you book your Croatia boat bike tour, check carefully what meals are included in your tour and what kind of food you can expect. Croatia has some great dining experiences so make sure yours aren’t all pizza, pasta, fish and chips!
Some tours are all inclusive, some breakfast only and others may charge a pre-arranged supplement for food.
All-inclusive options might help you budget a bit better but there’s also the potential for them to zap a bit from the cultural experience.
What we do
Our Croatia cycling cruise is half board catering, with an excellent breakfast and first class dinner provided aboard by a dedicated resident chef who produces an outstanding spread given the boat’s compact kitchen quarters.
This option also leaves you free during the day to choose which cafes and restaurants you’d like to eat in for your coffee and lunch stops.
And after dinner you can walk off your excesses along the harbour … and add to them further with a cocktail or two!
Knowing you’re booking with a credible operator who has run trips to the region previously is key. (You can find a full list of things to consider before booking here.)
What we do
2023 will be the second year we’ve run trips to Croatia’s southern islands. But we’ve been running tours throughout Europe since 2018 and have some pretty stellar reviews!
As with all of our tours, we will let you know when the tour has reached minimum numbers and you are able to book your flights / make transport arrangements. Most other tour operators will have a similar sort of system. You can check on trip numbers before you book to be sure.
The cost of your cycling tour is obviously a big consideration. As ever, you’ll need to look carefully at the inclusions and extras and decide what value for money looks like for you.
You may find that local operators offer cycling tours in Croatia that are less expensive than trips operated by businesses based outside of the country. The local operators obviously speak the local language and depending on their level of English can communicate effectively with guests too. They will also often have local geographical knowledge and operational information such as ferry times and opening times of tourist attractions.
In comparison, foreign operators will rely often on previous years’ experiences and online updates and will most likely sell tours to foreigners.
What we do
We like to think our tour offers the advantages of a locally run tour but, being based in the UK and Ireland, we have a deep understanding of what our clients are looking for from their trip.
Our trip makes the most of
- The vast knowledge our skipper has of the waters around Croatia
- Our ground agent in Split who updates us regularly on new developments and attractions and any local and Governmental issues that may affect us on our ride.
- Our own extensive research of the routes and stops
- Transfer to Dubrovnik town or airport on the morning of departure
- Half Board Accommodation aboard a luxury yacht with breakfast and dinner
- GPX files
- Snacks and refreshments for your ride
- Basic mechanical assistance and/or a lift to a bike shop where required
- Airport transfer to the marina for you and your bike at the start of the tour
- Custom cycling jersey
Find out more about Wild Atlantic’s Croatia bike tours
You can find full details of our Croatia cycling tours on our website here. Alternatively, get in touch with Fiona and the team below:
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A big thank you to Fiona for sharing her insights into bike boat tours in Croatia.
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