Touratech employee Alexander Schönborn enjoyed winding routes on-road and off-road across Southern Dalmatia. And although there is already much to discover onshore, numerous offshore islands allured to make exciting side trips.
Text: Alexander Schönborn, Photos: Elke & Alex Schönborn
The fact that I rediscovered my passion for touring a couple of years ago does not mean that I’m still a sports enduro bike rider with heart and soul. So, the destination for our holiday should allow a combination of both facets of my motorcycle passion.
Sought and found. In Primosten, in the west of the Dalmatian metropolis Split, the Krka Enduro Raid takes place every year. The perfect start for our tour across the south of Dalmatia. While my wife Elke and I travelled to Split with our Triumph Tiger, my friends were so kind to take my two-stroke engine of Austrian origin to Primosten. So, for starters I treated myself with two wonderful days of enduro bike riding while Elke enjoyed the beach, hiking tours in the mountains and the amazing little city of Primosten. On the second day, directly after the special stage, we were celebrating the finish together with friends and about 500 other enduro bike riders on the beach.
After one day of rest, we started our journey. The well-paved main road led us to Split without any unspectacular events. Our Triumph Tiger 800, being calm and smooth, was a lot of fun, despite of its heavy load. The contrast to the two-stroke engine days in Primosten could not have been bigger.
Soon after we left Split, the coastal road showed its dramatic side. The mountains are very close to the sea, the routing follows each and every bay. With our English cross-country motorcycle, we couldn’t compete with the local motorcycle riders and their sporty bikes. But that didn’t matter, as the smooth cornering - with the mountains on the left and the blue sea on the right – was a true delight.
We looked for a campsite right at the seaside close to the city of Markaska. We were lucky and found the Camp Male Ciste, a small picturesque campsite under the shade of the pine trees. In early May, it was still preseason, and so the campsite was rather empty. We could set up our tent directly by the sea with view to the island Hvar.
Right behind Podgora, we left the coast and took the road towards the interior of the country to the Biokovo Nature Park. A narrow and very winding road led across the park up to the Sveti Jure summit which is 1762 metres high, making it the highest mountain of the Biokovo mountains. Spectacular views over the Makarska Riviera take turns with beautiful, nearly high alpine valleys. The last kilometres to the summit are just hairpin bends. We were eventually rewarded with a 360 degree view over the national park, on one side up to the coast and on the other side with a clear view up to Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Back on the main street. Our next destination was Drvenik. From this small harbour town, a little car ferry hourly shuttles to Sucuraj on the Hvar island. The main road winds its way from one end of the island to the other for about 60 kilometres. During summer, downtown Hvar has turned into a popular party destination for party people from all over the world. In front of the clubs, a lot of fancy yachts are anchoring. If you like it more quiet and prefer cornering, move on a little bit further to Starigrad or Jelsa on the eastside of the island. There, it’s much more pleasant to eat out deliciously and stroll through the old town.
On our way back to the ferry to Sucuraj we took a couple of the many gravel roads leading to the numerous coves of this fourth biggest Adriatic island. Not a soul in sight and crystal clear sea – so it was almost obligatory to jump into the water.
Along with beautiful bays, high mountains and vivid cities, Hvar offers a further feature: Since 2008, the Stari Grad Plain (plain land) is on the World Heritage List of UNESCO. Since the Greek people from Paros settled here in the fourth century before Christ, this cultural site has been well-preserved until today. Today, wine and olives are still cultivated as it was done 2400 years ago. Numerous stone walls and stone shelters are still well-preserved as well as the traces of the Greek geometric system.
The next stage on the mainland led us further down the coastline. On our way to the peninsular Peljesac, we had to shortly leave the European Union only to reenter it a few kilometres further. After the Balkan War, a sea access had been given to Bosnia and Hercegovina, the so-called Neum Corridor. On its narrowest point it’s just five kilometres wide. Here we realized how easy it is to travel within the EU without border controls.
Back in Croatia, we rode from the historic city of Ston to Peljesac. With the longest well-preserved defensive wall of Europe, this small town offers a historic characteristic.
Motorcycle riding on Peljesac is a lot of fun. Nicely mountainous with great winding roads, this peninsular is a real inside tip if you want to ride until you’re dizzy. There are also many possibilities for off-road trips in the mountains. Again and again, nice views on bays with crystal clear turquoise water are a real pleasure.
In the evening, we accommodate ourselves in the campsite Antony, located in the surf resort Viganj. With a view to the opposite island Korcula, we enjoyed the excellent red wine which Peljesac is famous for.
If you hear the howling of wolves during the night after having enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine, these are no alcohol-related hallucinations. These are jackals. These canine predators had once been set loose on this island by sailors in order to get rid of the plague of snakes in the 15th century. And to this date, these animals feel really comfortable here – something we can understand very well! We stayed on Peljesac for a good while, enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, had delicious meals, often walked along the coastal path and admired the capain’s houses in Orebic. And we rode with our Tiger across the island to Korcula a couple of times. But there had to be an end to this. With Albania, there is another fascinating destination awaiting us at the Adriatic Sea.
Journey: Already the journey to the south of Croatia is diverting and offers plenty of varying landscapes. If you reach Croatia via Austria and Slovenia, you can travel across the sparsely populated Lika mountains in the centre of Croatia towards the coast. If you have just a short time budget, you have the option to ride towards Split via a well-built and mostly empty motorway. The national park Velebit near the coast is a good choice for an overnight stop-over.
Travel time: The month May is the perfect travel time for the south of Dalmatia. The weather is mostly fine, temperatures aren’t too high yet, but above all, there’s still little traffic on the streets. This is quite different during summertime.
Motorcycle Riding: If you cross the coastal mountains with your bike, you should watch out for the strong winds on the sea side. Whether it’s the Bura (fall wind from the mountains) or the Jugo (blowing from the sea) – both winds can bother you a lot if your motorcycle is heavily loaded. Most notably, the Bura occurs with hurricane force without any warning.
Accommodation/Food: In the vicinity of the mainland coast and on the islands, Croatia has a fine-mesh net of campsites. There are also many hotels of all categories. It may take a little longer to find an appropriate accommodation in less developed regions in the interior of the country.
Within the last two and a half decades, since the end of the socialism, the Croatian cuisine gained a lot with regard to variety and quality. And many wines, too, reached a top level in international terms. Along the coastline, you do not need to search long for a restaurant where you can eat well at a reasonable price.