Explore's Jonny May went to Croatia to try out our new 'Cycle the Dalmatian Coast' tour. Not a regular cyclist, find out how he got on:
"When I was asked if I wanted to test run our new cycling tour in Croatia, I was imagining a romantic cycle along the beach as the sun set over the Adriatic Sea. This thought continued to mock me as I found myself cycling up a slow and steady hill with two large Croatian men for company and my bottom crying out for help. It turns out I had perhaps been a little over-confident about my cycling abilities and general fitness.
The trip started quite differently; my colleague Naomi and I travelled to beautiful Dubrovnik to train a great bunch of new tour leaders from Croatia, Albania, Serbia, Czech Republic and Ukraine. Five days later, we had 11 newly trained Explore leaders and it was time to get on the saddle.
It had become apparent to me during the training that Croatia was not quite as flat as I had imagined and that there was a distinct possibility that I might have a challenge on my hands. My fear was mixed with giddy excitement as we reached the Island of Hvar and I started to learn about the history of wine making on the island. There was a promise of wine tasting and this worked a treat as I cycled my heart out to get to the winery for a well-deserved glass, which I always believe is a great way to really get to grips with local culture! We spent the next day and a half exploring this beautiful island on our bikes, where I acquired a new found respect for Bradley Wiggins. When we reached the top of the island and looked out at the awe-inspiring views over the Adriatic, I felt like I had earned that yellow jersey. The fact that I was only a few hundred metres above sea level was trivial - I had made it!!
The island of Korcula was our next destination and much to my delight is renowned for its white wine. Now there was only one thing that stood between me and a glass of cold white grk. I set out on a full day’s cycling around the island with plans to befriend some locals and sample their goods, whilst appearing to be completely focussed on the job in hand and showing no weakness to my Croatian guides, Damir and Niko.
We had established a routine, Damir (the machine) was always at the front and Niko was back marker; up until now I had never been so close to challenging the status quo. On our way out of the picturesque village of Zavalatica something strange happened; my legs didn’t hurt and I had a smile on my face… I was enjoying the ride. The hills became surmountable challenges that I relished, wine tasting became an enjoyable accompaniment rather than the sole reason for being on the saddle. Korcula is a wonderful island to cycle around, lots of time spent riding through villages where you begin to understand the life of a rural islander and envy the tranquil simplicity of their lives.
Back on the mainland we visited our final winery where we tried the local speciality Plavac Mali, a full-bodied red wine which reminded Niko and Damir of their grandfather’s favourite tipple. My mind was on other things; surprisingly not on the wine but on the final two days of the trip on the Postup coastal road and in the Konavle Valley, but this time more with relish than worry. They were incredible days; Postup was a varied day of stunning coastline, fun dirt road and a long hill up to the Napolean fort, which provided the first views of historic Dubrovnik on the tour.
Konavle Valley is a great way to finish the tour, a fulfilling ride with spectacular views over the ancient farms and villages where you don’t feel like a tourist but more as a local on the way home from a day’s work in the field. We even had a friendly dog accompany us along part of our journey, to ensure we had safe passage through his land. My Croatian adventure was not the gentle cycle along the coast that I had imagined, it was something much better; a fantastic physical challenge which has reignited my love of cycling, an exploration of some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen and of course the chance to enjoy a good selection of wine along the way."
By Jonny May
Jonny travelled on our Cycle the Dalmatian Coast adventure.