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

News
peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
Voices
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
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

    Food and Beverage Cost Controller

    18,000 to 20,000 per annum: Accountancy Action: Our fantastic leisure client i...

    Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Manager

    £50 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Affiliate Marketing Manager / Affiliate Mana...

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Day In a Page

    Syria air strikes: ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings

    Robert Fisk on Syria air strikes

    ‘Peace President’ Obama had to take stronger action against Isis after beheadings
    Will Lindsay Lohan's West End debut be a turnaround moment for her career?

    Lindsay Lohan's West End debut

    Will this be a turnaround moment for her career?
    'The Crocodile Under the Bed': Judith Kerr's follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    The follow-up to 'The Tiger Who Came to Tea'

    Judith Kerr on what inspired her latest animal intruder - 'The Crocodile Under the Bed' - which has taken 46 years to get into print
    BBC Television Centre: A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past

    BBC Television Centre

    A nostalgic wander through the sets, studios and ghosts of programmes past
    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum