Croatia, the traditional summer holiday destination for tens of thousands of Czechs, became the venue for another bikepacking adventure for myself and a couple of mates. The Istria we discovered on our trip couldn't be more different than that of packed beaches, cheap ice cream and car boots full of food brought from home I remembered from the 1990s. The northern part of the region is a sparsely populated land of immense natural beauty embroidered by hundreds of kilometres of unpaved roads – a dream for every bike adventurer.
We didn't choose the demanding terrains of Istria's north by coincidence. The rough limestone roads prevailing there were to be a testing ground for the Scout – our brand new gravel model. And there was another important kit to put through its paces: a set of bags custom made for the Scout by the Ukrainian brand 7Roads.
We started our journey on the Parenzana trail. It runs along a former narrow-gauge railway line that used to connect Italy, Slovenia and Croatia in the early parts of the 20th century. Starting in Trieste and ending in Poreča (Parenzo in Italian, hence the name) it went through Portorož, Buje and Motovun on the 123km of its total distance. Decommissioned as early as 1935 and left to the forces of nature to overcome it, many of its parts were eventually cleared and turned into cycle tracks and tourist walking paths in the last 20 years. Riding along the route is nothing but spectacular, not only for the amazing views it offers but also for the many reminders of its railway past in the form of viaducts, bridges and tunnels. We picked the segment between the town of Buje and the medieval village of Motovun which is known as the truffle capital of Croatia.
As we wanted to continue in the westerly direction towards the Učka nature park, we came off the Parenzana trail at the foot of Motovun's fortifications but not before eating a hearty meal of truffles and pasta called Fuži. Then we dropped down to the Mirna river and continued against its flow through the small town of Buzet and then on to our first bivouac stop near the Copot waterfall.
Učka nature park is a monolithic limestone massif rising directly from the waters of the Rijeka bay. The route along its ridge took us through mixed forests interspersed with countless white rock formations. The area was well worth exploring but the BEWARE OF BEARS signs combined with a dearth of accommodation as a consequence of the covid pandemic forced us to descend to the town of Lupoglav down in the valley. From there we continued by train to the southern tip of Istria but that's another story…
We rode 130km and climbed 2,500m during the two amazing days we spent in the northern part of Istria. The stunning views intensified by the amazing shades of red and yellow of the autumnal leaves leave a visual memory we are sure to carry for a good while. At least until next time we come here when we hope to scale Vojak, the highest peak of the region at 1,401masl.
Nother Istria by Tom & Croatian part of Parenzana trail
text: Tom Hnida & Janek Jaros
photos: Tom Hnida