We recommend arriving into Zagreb, Croatia a day or two before the start of your Croatian adventure to allow your body to adjust and to make sure any flight or luggage delays don’t spoil your trip.
We have a handy guide to spending 24 hours in Zagreb, with recommendations of things to do and places to stay. If you’re travelling with your own bike it’s worth staying as close to the train station as you can.
Your guide will meet you at Glavni Kolodvor train station in Zagreb at 9am, then you’ll make the 3 hour transfer through beautiful scenery to your first stop of the tour.
We will arrive in Buje, a small town that has its own charming brewery, where we’ll have a delicious lunch, build and fit bikes, then your guide will take you through the all-important pre-trip briefing.
We’ll then start our Istrian adventure on the famous Parenzana trail, which used to be a 123km-long narrow gauge rail road between Trieste and Parenzo (Porec). It is now a mountain biking and hiking trail, and we’ll ride one section of it to the town of Grožnjan.
You’ll warm up your legs and start getting into the relaxed pace of life here, as you pedal through farmland and olive groves, with the aroma of abundant trailside herbs and flowers filling your senses as you pass.
It’s not all gentle doubletrack, however, and after an hour or so we’ll join some technical, fast singletrack trails through the forest near Grožnjan that will take us all the way down to Mirna valley.
We’ll then rejoin the Parenzana trail for the final push that will deliver us at the foot of Motovun, and our breath-taking hilltop accommodation.
Motovun is one of many spectacular, medieval fortified villages, perched high on the hilltops around Istria. With a population of just 531, you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time.
To earn our dinner at our family-run hotel dating back to the 17th century, we need to cycle all the way to the top of Motovun, where only the church tower overlooks our hotel. The views are absolutely worth the effort! If we have time, you can enjoy a swim in the hotel pool, before dinner on the terrace.
After a hearty breakfast, including scrambled eggs with truffles, we’ll make the short transfer to Buzet, considered the Istrian truffle capital.
You’ll have an easy start today, with a van transfer to the plateau of Cicarija that affords views over the entire day’s ride and all the way to the coast. After traversing the clifftop and taking in the views we will descend to the outskirts of Buzet before picking up a rocky singletrack, with a few short, challenging climbs, that will deliver us to the medieval town of Hum – officially, the smallest town in the world.
Riding into the old town of Hum, you’ll be forgiven for expecting to see knights in full armour, brandishing swords and shields; it really is that kind of a place!
We’ll stop for lunch in the only (but very good) restaurant in Hum, then descend to the valley floor and follow the aromatic smells of thyme, wild garlic and rosemary as we head back towards Motovun.
Today’s trails are hugely diverse: from rocky singletrack through the forest, to high plateau riding, to fast double track descents and riverside singletrack at the bottom of a beautiful gorge. We’ll end our first big day on the mountain bike in Istria with an ice-cold beer at the local brewery.
After freshening up, and enjoying a relaxing massage in the hotel spa, we’ll share another delicious meal ‘al fresco’ on the hotel terrace.
With strong Italian history Istria is like the Croatian Tuscany. As far as your eye can see there are rolling hills dotted with vineyards and olive groves, with hilltop fortresses keeping watch over these valuable crops.
Today we’ll use one of these historically-rich towns as our base for enjoying a day of multiple fun descents.
The hilltop town of Grožnjan dates back to the early 12th century, and is the only town in Croatia to have an ethnic Italian majority. It is known as a village of artists as almost every door leads to an art studio or gallery, and with the smell of coffee in the calm warm air, it is a place you’ll want to spend a lot of time in.
We will be riding a selection of singletrack descents that peel off from this enchanting town, dropping you to the valley floor with ever-increasing smiles. We’ll be passing through the town a few times today and have lunch here, so if you feel like resting and taking in the atmosphere, you can opt to sit out a run or two and sip on a cappuccino whilst looking over the vineyards, instead.
After we finish today’s riding, we’ll leave this inland region and head to the turquoise coast and our accommodation for the night in the charming town of Bale.
Again, you’ll have the option to ease aching muscles in the hotel spa, or have a wander round the village, before dinner in the hotel restaurant.
Now that we’ve arrived on the coastline of the Adriatic sea, we’ll spend today weaving in and out of coastal bays, skirting the outline of the Kamenjak Peninsula, which is also a nature park. Remember to bring your swim suits, the beaches of Cape Kamenjak are the best in Istria, from small, pebbled bays to rough cliffs above the turquoise sea.
Your guide will show you the way through a tangle of singletrack trails, snaking through pine forests all the way to some beach bars where we can stop for lunch and a swim in the Adriatic.
As the trails turn back towards the town of Premantura we’ll be riding along a ridge high above the rocky coast below, with the sun setting on the horizon. We’ll bask in the last golden light of the day, committing to memory (and memory card!) this glorious Istrian sunset.
After packing the bikes into the van we’ll return to the hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes before heading to the attractive fishing town of Rovinj for the evening.
Rovinj dates back to the time of the Venetian republic and was an important trading port in the Adriatic sea. Still a working harbour today, we’ll walk along the seafront and then stroll up into the narrow cobbled alleys, full of cafés, restaurants and antique shops.
After exploring Rovinj for a while, we’ll settle down in our favourite seafront restaurant to enjoy the catch of the day, landed right outside the door of the restaurant.
This morning we’ll leave Bale, heading eastward to the island of Krk. After a couple of hours we’ll arrive at Krk island, one of 1180 Croatian islands. Krk is one of the Kvarner islands that offer a totally different landscape from the inland forests and the coastal trails we have ridden so far in Croatia.
We’ll settle into our beachfront accommodation and have lunch looking over the bay, ready for our first island ride.
You also have the option of having the afternoon off to explore Krk, or just lie on the beach reading a book and re-charge your batteries for the last two days riding in Istria.
We’ll pedal to the second highest mountain on the island and start climbing to the summit, to survey the archipelago that surrounds us; each island separated by glistening turquoise waters in the warm afternoon light.
As we push off from the top in warm orange light, we’ll enjoy a selection of flowing and, at times, very rocky trails that weave their way through one-meter-high drystone walls that protect the crops from the wind and any hungry animals.
As we blast out of the downhill trail, we peel onto a singletrack that sees us hug the coastline, past secluded bays and harbours filled with fishing boats as well as pleasure boats.
If time allows we will drop in on some local ham and cheese producers, taste, chat and take a bit of time to relax and absorb life on the islands, as they have a different perception of time here.
We’ll ride back to our beachfront hotel and get freshened up for dinner on the terrace, watching the sun set over the Adriatic.
It’s an early start today as we’re leaving Krk behind for the day and heading by ferry to Rab Island, known as the ‘Happy Island’. The ferry will take around one and a half hours, and we’ll have breakfast on deck, soaking up the views along with the morning sunlight.
Upon arrival at Rab we will swing by the island bakery to grab lunch for our backpacks, before setting off on a coastal trail that takes in the northern part of the island weaving in and out of secluded bays, with some of the only sandy beaches in Croatia.
As we start the return leg of our loop we’ll stop off at a little-known beach, your guide’s favourite, and dive in for a swim. We’ll stretch out on the sand to soak up some sun as we wait for the ferry to come back to collect us. We’ll head up on deck, grab a coffee and sail off back to Krk island in the fading summer sunlight.
To round off an incredible mountain-to-island exploration of Croatian mountain bike trails, food, people and culture, we have saved one of the best for the last.
Today we’ll be riding the ‘Moonland Trail’, for reasons that will become obvious. We’ll start the ride from Baška bay where we will take on a 400m ascent. The climb is gradual as it was built for horse and cart in the time of the Austro-Hungarians as a military road, so we can ride at a relatively easy pace.
Once we reach the plateau you’ll feel like you’ve just arrived on the moon, with bleached-white limestone rocks strewn in every direction. Before pushing on to ride the length of the plateau, we’ll take a ten-minute detour on foot to a truly breathtaking view over to the mainland and the surrounding islands, perfect time for pictures and a snack stop.
We’ll then continue along the plateau, criss-crossed by hundreds of drystone walls, built to mark land and keep animals in, but also out of necessity; it’s the simplest and most sensible place to put all of these rocks! As we pedal on towards Veli Vrh peak, we catch a panoramic view all the way to the mainland and Velibit National Park, which is punctuated by a number of islands scattered around the deep blue sea.
As we crest the saddle we’ll be rewarded by a long, winding singletrack descent that feels never ending. As we weave the bike in between large rock walls, we’ll stop to inspect the make up of the rock and find it is stuffed full of fossils, indicating that this area was once the sea floor.
The ride finishes with a sedate riverside trail that delivers us with ease to the seaside town of Baška, where we will sit on the beach front taking in the view and sampling the local seafood dishes before heading back to pack up for our return journey home tomorrow.
Tonight we will head out to a special secluded farmstead to enjoy a final celebratory dinner of a classic slow cooked meal and local homemade brandies, cheeses and prosciutto.
Sadly today we leave Croatia behind, say our farewells and transfer back to Zagreb (around 2.5 hours) for around midday.