Published on Tuesday, April 11, 2017
It isn't easy to keep teenagers entertained (and away from their screens) on holiday, but Linsey McNeill thought she'd found a solution with a cycling tour along Croatia's coastline.
I am not fit, I'm not particularly confident on two wheels and I don't feel comfortable in lycra, however, cycling is my husband's passion and as our 15-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter get quickly bored on beach or villa holidays, I thought I'd be brave and book a family cycling holiday.
However, I was worried that I'd struggle to keep pace with the husband and teenagers and thought it highly likely that I'd be so saddle-sore after the first day that I wouldn't be able to go on, so I booked a trip with Bspoke Cycling and Walking Holidays, which provides bikes, panniers, maps and directions and, best of all, transports your bags - and stragglers - between the pre-booked hotels every day.
Knowing that Bspoke's rep Jen - and the offer of a lift - were only a phone call away was reassuring as we set off on our five-day ride from the hilltop town of Buzet.
Saddled up and ready to roll on day one, it was actually my daughter, not me, who had the first wobble as she confronted the alarmingly steep descent down Buzet's cobbled streets and round hairpin bends. The last time she'd been on a bike two years earlier she'd had a nasty fall and ended up in hospital, but her dad managed to coax her slowly down the hill and before long we were all zooming along a flat, well-tarmaced road towards Novograd.
I was a bit freaked out by the speed of passing cars, but they gave us a wide berth and eventually we ducked off the main road onto a former railway that led to Livada where we stopped at a small restaurant for a long, delicious lunch of pasta with truffles. In the afternoon, we cut through fields full of crickets and passed flocks of sleeping sheep piled under trees for shade - and ended with a thigh-burning climb up and over a hill and down into the medieval seaside town of Novograd.
Later, the kids swam in the sea while my husband and I watched with a well-deserved beer from the comfort of a beach-front bar and recharged our batteries for the following day.
Heading to Porec the next morning, we cycled through a delightful forested campsite planted with pink and white frangipan, the sweet smell mingling with the scent of pine trees, with crickets providing our sound track.
Our route hugged the coast, taking us past bathing platforms full of holidaymakers and along dirt tracks where tiny white butterflies danced between the spokes of our wheels and the odd rust-spotted Admiral landed on our helmets
My husband took charge of the map reading, but the directions could have been better. We were never lost lost, but, due to some possibly out of date instructions we did take the odd wrong turning and at one point followed a cycle track to a dead end where we glimpsed a bare bottom and naked breast through the shrubs and realised we'd stumbled across a naturist resort.
Another time we missed the turning to what we were promised was the region's 'best-kept secret' and by the time we realised our mistake we'd gone too far to turn back. I'd recommend taking a GPS as a back-up.
Our second day's ride led us to the 2000-year-old harbour city of Porec, where I think, if we'd had more time, it would have been nice to spend a couple of days relaxing by the pool of the Grand Hotel and exploring the nearby caves.
When we left for Rovinj the next day, we were one man down as my daughter had decided to take a day off from cycling 'to catch up with A-level work', which I think might have been code for 'top up my tan'. Whatever. She hopped in the van with rep Jen who whizzed her to the next hotel.
The rest of us had an excellent day's ride, whizzing down a long winding road, passed an emerald green fjord where boats bobbed in the sun - followed by a tortuous 2.5 km climb, but I'm pleased to say that although I my pace was slower than a snail's, I was still in the saddle when I reached the top!
After a well-earned drink in a cafe, we continued along a flat road through pine forests, past roadside diners where pigs were being roasted on spits, and into the beautiful seaside town of Rovinj. After we'd dropped off bikes at the hotel, we wandered along its sun-bleached cobbled streets, up past vanilla and terracotta houses to the cathedral at the summit, where we stared out at boats bobbing on the sea, before dining on lobster, calamari and Istrian ham.
Our last stop was Fazana, a Romanesque port with large, picturesque plazas open to the sea. We arrived in time to hop on a ferry to visit the nearby island of Bjuni, a seaside playground for the jet set in the time of Tito. Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were among the guests who had watched movies in the island's open air cinema, and James Joyce once stayed in a private house on the island.
I felt a sense of achievement when I watched Jen load the bikes back in her van before dropping us off at the airport. I'd cycled 30 to 40 kms a day, (almost) kept up with the teenagers and, thanks to Decathalon's padded shorts, I wasn't even a little bit saddle-sore. Result!
Bspoke Cycling and Walking Holidays, which is keen to work with travel agents, offers a range of independent cycling holidays in various European countries, plus group cycling holidays and electric bike holidays in Italy.
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