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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
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: Automotive Service Advisor - Franchised Main Dealer

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This successful, family owned m...

    Recruitment Genius: Product Advisor - Automotive

    £17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to the consistent growth of...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Day In a Page

    Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
    Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

    Lost without a trace

    But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
    Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

    Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

    Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
    International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

    Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

    Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
    Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

    Confessions of a planespotter

    With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
    Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

    Russia's gulag museum

    Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
    The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

    The big fresh food con

    Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
    Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

    Virginia Ironside was my landlady

    Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
    Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

    Paris Fashion Week 2015

    The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
    8 best workout DVDs

    8 best workout DVDs

    If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
    Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

    Paul Scholes column

    I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
    Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

    Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
    Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

    Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

    The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable