Island life: Get the endorphins pumping with a cycling holiday on Croatia's idyllic archipelago

 

The breakthrough occurred, a modest epiphany, on the Monday of our cycling holiday.

It was the third day. We were cycling for a week on a few of the Croatian islands, the bikes and the cyclists taken by boat from one isle to the next. The holiday had begun on the Saturday, where the Romantica was waiting for us at the harbour on the mainland of Croatia at Trogir. The cycling began on the Saturday too; there was no hanging around.

We had a quick lunch on the boat as it sailed the short distance from Trogir to Split, at which point the bikes were quickly taken off it by our guides, Bruno and Thoralf, and we headed out of the centre of Split for a 19km ride towards the nearby Marjan mountain. This was described as a gentle introduction, but I was quickly exhausted, finding the moderate hill out of the city more testing than I should have done. Needless to say the views at the top were intoxicating: the sea, the nearby islands and the old town of Split underneath.

My wife and I had heard about this particular cycling excursion when we were on a short HF walking holiday on Dartmoor. HF (once known as the Holiday Fellowship) will celebrate its centenary next year. The organisation was established as a non-profit co-operative society to provide walks in spectacular scenery. It owns houses in some of the most stunning parts of the UK – two in the Lake District, one in Glencoe, many more scattered around the country – always with vast gardens looking out towards mesmerising scenery.

We meet up with friends a few times a year at different HF houses in the UK for long weekends and guided walks. HF now offers a huge range of walking and activity holidays in Europe, based on the same principles as its UK holidays, and we'd decided to take the opportunity to see Croatia from two wheels.

That evening, Bruno and Thoralf took us for a walk around Split. The cathedral and the squares were beautifully lit, like near-empty sets preparing to stage a Shakespeare play. There were 30 of us in the group, a mixture of Germans, Australians, Americans, Spanish and English. Reassuringly the ages varied from early seventies to much younger, although my complacency later turned out to be misjudged.

The following day we cycled on the mainland from Split, beginning with a gentle, flat, relatively easy ride along the valley of the Cetina river. Suddenly we turned left and began a steep climb for nearly 5km. One of the Australians in his seventies sped past me, advising me that the effort must come from the legs alone. As I was wheezing in the manner of an asthmatic elephant at the time, I suddenly realised generational gaps were meaningless.

However, there was a reward for all of us when the peak was reached, with dazzling views of mountains on both sides and a small café serving good coffee. The talk during the coffee was also inspiring. Quite a lot of our group cycled at weekends; the two in their seventies half-joked that when they got old they would avoid the mountains and cycle around the Netherlands.

On our return the boat took off for Brac island, a 40-minute journey from the mainland. The following morning I awoke feeling healthier than for a long time, even after a few glasses of the local wine at a tiny bar at the small port the night before. I was enjoying the clear air and exercise, away from the fumes of London. The world of politics, Twitter and the frustrated ambition of Westminster matter little when you are trying to cycle up a mountain.

On the Monday morning we cycled to the other side of the island to Bol, where lay a beach and our first swimming opportunity. For the first hour we had to navigate a steep hill, and halfway up the unrelenting ascent I was starting to get breathlessly irritated by the ordeal. I listen to music when I cycle or run in the UK so I put on some headphones, fantasised I was Mick Jagger in his prime and rocked upwards. At one point one of the German women overtook me. Hearing my sharp intakes of breath, she asked: "Stephen, are you singing ... or are you ill?" I told her I was singing, but in truth I felt ill.

Shortly afterwards, though, my mild epiphany took place. I got the cyclist's high, the endorphin hit normally associated with running. By the end of the climb I had even begun to like the hill – and when we arrived at Bol the coffee tasted better than ever, the swim was utterly reviving. After that, each day I awoke looking forward to the hill climbs. I never thought I would write that last sentence.

Boat and bikes are a good combination for island hopping. Our boat appeared as if from nowhere at the harbour in Bol, and Bruno and Thoralf lifted the bikes on to the vessel and into the arms of someone on the deck. We were off next to Mljet, a small island with a population of 400, where we rode around a lake to a lunch spot, swam and cycled back to the boat and on to the much bigger island of Korcula.

Bruno and Thoralf warned of a long uphill the following day, very steep for 5km and then another climb later, both more demanding than any ride so far. Thankfully they also offered what they called Plan B, a short ride along the coast then the boat to Korcula's main port. Being an Ed Balls fan, I chose Plan B.

But after my epiphany I still wanted another hill, a whiff of Plan A. Fortunately, on the next island of Hvar we had a steep climb for 10km before a joyful descent. By the end of the week I was fitter than I had been for a long time, and had caught more than a glimpse of these captivating Adriatic islands.

Steve Richards is chief political commentator for The Independent

Travel essentials

Getting there

The writer travelled as a guest of HF Holidays (0845 470 8558; hfholidays.co.uk), which offers one-week guided bike and boat holidays in Croatia from £825 per person including full board, bicycle hire and an English-speaking guide, but not flights.

Croatia Airlines (020-8745 4683; croatiaairlines.com) flies to Split from Gatwick and Heathrow; easyJet (0843 104 5000; easyJet.com) flies from Bristol, Gatwick and Stansted; Jet2 (0871 226 1737; jet2.com) flies from Manchester.

The airport is much closer to Trogir harbour, where the itinerary begins, than to Split itself. A taxi or bus takes about 10 minutes.

More information

Croatia Tourist Board: croatia.hr

Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
Voices
The Palace of Westminster is falling down, according to John Bercow
voices..says Matthew Norman
Sport
Steve Bruce and Gus Poyet clash
football
Arts and Entertainment
Jake and Dinos Chapman were motivated by revenge to make 'Bring me the Head of Franco Toselli! '
arts + ents Shapero Modern Gallery to show explicit Chapman Brothers film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain performing for 'MTV Unplugged' in New York, shortly before his death
music Brett Morgen's 'Cobain: Montage of Heck' debunks many of the myths surrounding the enigmatic singer
Sport
Brendan Rodgers
football The Liverpool manager will be the first option after Pep Guardiola
Life and Style
life
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Sport
Christian Benteke of Aston Villa celebrates scoring the winner for Aston Villa
football
Arts and Entertainment
Myanna Buring, Julian Rhind-Tutt and Russell Tovey in 'Banished'
TV Jimmy McGovern tackles 18th-century crime and punishment
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Whitehouse as Herbert
arts + ents
News
Bill O'Reilly attends The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City
media It is the second time he and the channel have clarified statements
News
people
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Restaurant Manager / Sommelier

    £16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Seasonal Placement

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Experienced Hotel Receptionists...

    Recruitment Genius: Hotel Receptionists - Poole

    £12500 - £13520 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Recruitment Genius: Lifeguards / Leisure Club Attendants - Seasonal Placement

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Qualified Lifeguards are required to join a fa...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn