As I slowly crawl up another incline on my bicycle, I check my mirror to see a pack of septuagenarians inching closer. In an instant, the ringing of passing bells mutes the sound of my bike chain. One by one, the group passes me, most of whom have 40 years on me, and I’m the one out of breath. I could justify my sluggish performance on my recent spike in olive oil consumption, but no one likes excuses. Inspired by the cycling of others in my group, I take a deep breath, gear-up and spin my legs a little faster. Not long after, I reach the peak feeling satisfied by the sweeping views of the Adriatic Sea and by my ability to keep on pushing. I’m in Croatia, on the island of Brac, on a cycling tour, which will take me through the islands of Brac and Hvar in the Croatian region of Dalmatia.
The tour started in the town of Split, where I met up with the rest of the tour group before ferrying to the island of Brac. I had never been on an “active” tour before, so meeting everyone and hearing their enthusiasm for cycling and about the cycling trips they had taken in the past was motivational. With all the continued introductions and chatter, the ferry trip went by quickly and soon we were at our first destination on Brac, the village of Postira. Postira is a quiet village, and the only thing more eye-catching than the boat-filled harbor are the dramatic mountain-filled landscapes.
After checking in, the group met for a safety session before a short ride to give us a glimpse of the island. I’m glad there aren’t many cars on the island of Brac because the sight of farmers harvesting their wine grapes made focusing on the road extremely difficult. After the ride, the group strolled along the harbor as the sunlight waned in distance. We were led to a family-owned restaurant, which wafted smells of garlic and spices. Inside, we sat down by candlelight and chatted until the hostess brought out the main courses–three types of peka. Peka is a method of cooking popular in Dalmatia; a protein is stewed in a vessel similar to a Dutch oven with sauce, various spices and vegetables. The dish is covered with a lid and embers are placed on top. I selected the octopus and was amazed by its texture, as it was akin to the texture of chicken.
I awoke the next morning ready to mount up again. We were headed to the town of Pucisca, a gorgeous seaside village nestled by the Adriatic Sea. What’s unique about Pucisca is its stonecutter’s school, where the main material used is limestone. The quality of limestone from Brac is so good that it was exported to the United States to be used in parts of the White House during construction. The stone cutting school looked exactly like what one might conjure images of–chunks of stone everywhere, piles of rock shavings and T-squares. What was most impressive was that the students use only manual tools.
On our last day on Brac, the group’s hard work was rewarded with a trip to the famous Zlatni Rat (Golden Horn Beach) on the island’s southern coast. The weather was perfect and, despite the water being a little chilly, it seemed to remedy everyone’s cycling ailments. What makes the beach on this island unique is that instead of sand, the beach is a mixture of varying sizes of pebbles. I found the best way to enjoy it was to lie down on the smaller pebbles near the water’s edge, and the rocks provided an acupressure release. This, in combination with the lapping waves, almost lulled me to sleep until I heard someone murmur the magic word…cappuccino! After a relaxing lunch in Bol, we boarded a ferry for our second stop of the tour, the island of Hvar.
We arrived in Havar Town, where our hotel was located, in late afternoon. The cafes lining the harbor were starting to fill with patrons, and the smells of coffee brewing began to fill the air. At sunset, everyone met in our hotel’s courtyard to walk together to an intimate cooking lesson at a nearby chef’s home. When we arrived, Chef Ante Vucetic, our host, invited us into his garden for a tour. We were led to Ante’s outdoor kitchen, and, as he explained his cooking philosophy, he also explained the evening’s menu: a tomato stew called salsa (pronounced shasha) and a delicious grilled tuna steak with spices, accompanied by potatoes and buttered green peas. The flavors were nice and simple, yet the quality of the ingredients really made the dishes shine. On top of these dishes, I used a liberal amount of some of the best salt I have ever tasted, which Ante gathered from the sea. The meal was one of my most memorable highlights, and Ante made our evening incredibly special.
The following evening everyone met near Hvar Town harbor for a farewell dinner, and, as we sat dining on seafood and delicious Croatian wine, we listened to the sounds of the peaceful Adriatic. I had been biking for roughly a week straight, but I didn’t feel sore at all. I was actually thinking about how I would miss my bicycle and the daily route reviews with our guides. Being with a group of people all driven to complete a physical challenge was something I would miss. The comradery I felt on this trip was incredible and will be a feeling that I carry with me for some time.