Saddle up. We’re about to go on a cruise unlike any you’ve experienced, one that combines French elegance with the gorgeous coastline and countryside of the Adriatic – seen from the seat of a bicycle.
In early June, Backroads invited us on an adventure that touched on Italy, Croatia and Montenegro. The central focus was “active adventures.” In fact, our trip was much less about the cruise than it was the exploration. Don’t get me wrong: Our ship was lovely and comfortable, and so pleasurable that I would love to return for a full cruise experience. As it was on this trip, however, Ponant’s Le Lyrial served as our floating hotel that took us from place to place so that we could explore via bikes and hikes.
Most days we cycled from 24 miles to 50 miles, rolling through beautiful Croatian countryside. Those of us who were avid cyclists pedaled on Backroads-provided Titanium bikes, customized for riders according to their specs. Those who were less avid cyclists rode electric-assist bicycles, which made for easy ascents uphill. They pedaled when they wanted and pushed a lever for a boost up hills.
Backroads offers cycling and hiking adventures on both Ponant and AmaWaterways. We’ve done both. The verdict? There’s no better way to experience destinations.
To get a feel for our trip, check out the video below.
Could anyone do this trip? Most anyone. Our group ranged from people in their 30s to people in their 70s. Worried about your strength? Hills were no problem for those on electric-assist bikes. What about those of us with only our legs and lungs to propel us up? We pedaled, and for those who weren’t so sure about their ability to do the longest and steepest ascents, Backroads offered shuttles to the hilltops. Our longest climb was just over four miles, through sloped hills planted in lavender. Skies were overcast but the setting was lovely. I pedaled, as did most of the others. The views around each bend were stunning, rewards for our effort. And at the top? Lunch.
After a week of cycling Croatia, I’m convinced there is no better way to experience this beautiful destination than with Backroads and Ponant. Why? For starters, while we had time to explore the ports of call, Hvar, Dubrovnik and Split among them, we spent most of our time in the hinterlands, on backroads mostly absent of traffic, pedaling at just the right pace to appreciate the olive groves, orchards and vineyards that were partitioned by low stone walls erected centuries ago. We breathed in the scent of wildflowers and lavender, and were taught enough Croatian each day to greet passersby and farmers in their fields. The experience was immersive and invigorating.
We enjoyed lunches mostly at family farms and at homes, courtesy of Backroads. I particularly enjoyed pedaling 20-plus miles before lunch and being greeted at a home or a konoba (a traditional Croatian restaurant) with a small glass of homemade grappa, followed by delicious meals made using ingredients from the farm and garden. It all had the feel of authenticity and intimacy. We weren’t some big tour group showing up at a staged venue, but rather a small group who had earned the lunches that had been prepared with pride by the families who hosted us.
Our rides were punctuated by a day of hiking when our ship docked in Kotor, Montenegro. For some, the hike through lush forests along trails flanked by wildflowers was the highlight of the trip. Certainly, the views of Kotor in the bay far below us were so picturesque that we found ourselves snapping photos at nearly every switchback. Check out the video below to get a feel for the hike.
We felt as though we could cycle and hike at our own pace, with support along the way. The bikes featured Wahoo GPS devices that routed us to our destinations. Along the way, Backroads support vans were strategically positioned for water breaks or to load up with snacks. Our Backroads team leaders and their support staff were attentive, accommodating and fun. Without them there would be no Backroads.
I would not want to do the same trip relying on hotels and transport. Le Lyrial served as our home base. No packing and unpacking luggage. It was such a delight to return to the ship each day. I’ll be writing more about the ship experience next week.
In closing, let’s turn to a person who surely must be one of Backroads’ most competent and enjoyable tour leaders. Anja Sorsak hails from neighboring Slovenia, and she, along with her team, exemplifies what makes the Backroads experience so special. We’ll close with her words, which she shared with me on our last night. The setting is Rovinj, Croatia. And that was the only time we saw Anja not in her biking or hiking clothes! As they say in Croatian, do sljedeceg puta, or until next time.
Interested in learning more? Visit Backroads for more information.