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Following two excellent trips to Dubrovnik and the enchanting islands of the Dalmatian Coast, Croatia sits in top spot on my list of favourite European destinations.
This laid-back country, steeped in medieval history and lapped by turquoise waters, is home to smooth tarmac roads that would make for a very pleasant road ride…if that had been what I was looking for!
This time, however, would be different. Rather than being charmed by Dubrovnik’s streets or enchanted by the islands off the coast, I was here to try some serious off-road mountain biking and put Croatia (and my bike!) through its paces!
Velebit National Park
I’d been to Croatia twice before and yet even I had not heard of my destination: Velebit National Park was definitely not on my radar. In fact, the only national park I’d heard of in Croatia was Plitvice Lakes, a UNESCO-protected park renowned for its 16 colourful lakes that cascade through towering limestone karsts.
The initial introduction to Velebit was relatively tame; great twin tracks through forests which cloak the foothills, gentle inclines followed by declines; all very straightforward. However, the 18km climb to the Zazvian mountain hut was what confirmed that we were on for some ‘proper’ mountain biking in Croatia after all.
Gasping for air at the top, our tough 1,100m ascent rewarded us with a view over the national park spanning as far as the islands punctuating the distant seascape. Here, the highest point of the trip, we spent the night in a humble mountain hut. Communal dorm – check; cold shower – check; simple food – check. Thankfully to be the only night of ‘roughing it’! In fact, all other nights of the trip are spent in relative luxury.
Mountain Biking in Croatia
The third day through the Velebit mountain range started perfectly given the previous day’s exertion; a gentle ride along blissfully quiet roads winding parallel to the mountain range for about 40km.
However, before long the gradient changed and I was having to dig deep on the 10km twin-track mountain climb. The rewards were jaw-dropping at every bend of the gravel track. Snaking around the monolithic stone towers, I marvelled at the powerful beauty of nature from my two wheels.
Stopping at the edge of the range to draw breath, I took a moment to check out the route down from the mountains to the ocean. An exhilarating 90-minute descent lay before me and I was soon tearing over rough twin tracks in a real test of control and nerve.
Eventually, the terrain changed and I felt the welcome relief of tarmac under my tyres. The sweet smell of sea air filled my nostrils and a warm sense of achievement started to emerge.
This feeling was short-lived; it was to be another gruelling 30km before I reached the sanctuary of my comfy bed at the seaside hotel in Novigrad. You have been warned!
See our trips below and set off on an exciting adventure cycling in Croatia.