Split to Makarska by bike. And why Croatia has made me fall in love with biking again

This post won’t interest many readers. But if you’ve ever thought about riding your bike along the beautiful coastline between Split and Makarska then you might find it valuable (I could find absolutely nothing on this ride on the internet).

Last summer we shipped all our belongings from Canada to Croatia, including my 35 year old bike. Since then I’d been looking forward to doing a long distance bike ride. When I mentioned going to Makarska to my friend Vedran he jumped on board with the idea.

Makarska is 65 km down the coast from Split. We really didn’t know how long the ride would take to Makarska but figured on 4 hours*

*We don’t pretend to be professional cyclists. I have an old racing bike which I’ve modified for city riding over the years, while Vedran has a mountain bike. Neither of us is Lance Armstrong.

We started off at 6:30 in the morning, following Split’s coastline past Znjan beach and onto Sentaliste Pape Ivana Pavla II. This road continues along the shoreline before turning inland and up a steep hill. It becomes Put Builova and, passing the Hotel Zagreb, continues steeply uphill. Put Builova eventually flattens out and intersects the highway. Note however: about 100 meters before the junction with the highway is Put Orišca. If you turn right here and follow this small street you’ll save yourself a lot of stress and grief over the next 1.5 km (at the bottom of this post I’ve included a map).

We didn’t know about this alternative way at the time however and got on the highway with our bikes. Even at 7 am in the morning there was traffic. Four lanes of fast moving traffic that included trucks and buses. It is a particularly dangerous stretch of highway because you’ll get cars aggressively crossing lanes to access some of the large convenience stores on the side of the road. And of course there’s no shoulder on the side of the road. Not ideal for bikes.

But once you get to the municipality of Stobreč, the road becomes a two lane road (one going each way) and the traffic becomes less aggressive. You’re now on the coastal road. Following it will lead you down the coast of Croatia.

Once you’ve passed the municipality of Podstrana the road gets quiet and the views better. You’ll go through some small towns but the riding is easy here and for most of the route you’ll be riding right next to the shoreline.

It was around 8:30 am (two hours since leaving Split) that we arrived in Omis. Omis is 26km from Split. I’ve previously written about Omis and how it’s one of my favorite towns. We stopped here and had a coffee in the main square.

Below: detailed map with towns and municipalities between Split and Makarska


The geography gets more dramatic after Omis
, with the mountains coming right up to the coast. It also means that the ride gets more rugged. There are more uphills (and downhills), you’ll go through a couple of tunnels, you’ll also find yourself cycling on cliffs high above the sea below.

Below: on the coastal road, the town of Omis behind us.

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The highlight of the entire ride in my opinion is the coastal indentation right after the town of Pisak – from there you have views looking down the coast with the Biokovo massif looming above, some of its highest peaks hidden by mist.

Above: Views between Pisak and Brela.

The remaining 20 km to Makarska is almost equally as scenic, the route marked with great views of mountains and coast. There are plenty of ups and downs, but the last 5 kilometers is mostly downhill which is a relief (we both understand now why professional bikers wear shorts that are well padded). 

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Have a look at this short video. I didn’t know what music to use. “How did you feel riding the bike?” asked Lissette. When I told her she knew the perfect song:

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It took us 4 ½ hours to get from Split to Makarska (without stops we could have done it in slightly under 4 hours).

Croatia is honestly not a big country and everyone seems to have family everywhere. We had barely parked our bikes in Makarska when Vedran started hollering at a man crossing the street. That’s how I got to meet Neno.

Below: Vedran and Neno. Neno is a cousin of a cousin.

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We were sitting there having a beer when Neno asks “Why don’t you stay in Makarska for the night? I have an empty apartment”.

Vedran and I looked at each other. It would save us from riding back the same day and we could explore Makarska.

So we said “Yes” and spent the afternoon sightseeing in Makarska.

Below: Posing like a couple of monkeys.

See my Makarska post here.

It was a fantastic afternoon.  

And Neno’s apartment was great – a large 2 bedroom apartment right in the center with a big balcony. 

We woke up at 5:30 the next morning. At 6:30 we were on our bikes heading back to Split.

By 11:30 we were back in Split.

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How much did I love this experience?

I loved it so much that I’m considering a 1 to 2 month solo biking trip through Croatia and some neighboring countries next spring. I’ll write more on that at some point. 

Vedran said it best: “Riding in nature with views and being able to see every step and stop where you want. It’s fantastic”. 

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Some practical info

– we did this ride in mid-October and the traffic for most of the route was minimal (once you’ve passed Podstrana). In the summer however, this coastal route gets very busy and there are a lot of tourists unfamiliar with the road. So maybe not a good idea at that time.
– There’s no shoulder on the road, most of the time we were riding the white line on the edge. Most motorists were respectful and gave us a wide berth but we had a few along the way that came a bit too close for comfort.
– The most dangerous part was the highway from Split to the municipality of Stobreč. I strongly advise you avoid this section. Instead take the route I indicate on the map below. It takes you along a very small back road through the outskirts of Split, passing little farms and gardens on the way. It’s hilly (especially coming from Stobreč) but it’s scenic and safe.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Thanks Frank. I really enjoyed this and look forward to more bike posts in the future.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks John! Yes, thinking of doing the islands and working my way down to Dubrovnik…and then the coast to Kotor and continuing on to Lake Ohrid. But I have to plan it all, the Balkans not very bike friendly.

  2. Sounds like an ambitious ride, but those views are spectacular.

  3. Nice writeup. At the moment, I don’t have Croatia in my itinerary for my round the world bicycle trip. It all depends on how valuable my British passport will be, in Europe, by then!
    Stephen recently posted…Back on the bike for Fight MND!My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Thanks Stephen! I’ll have to read up on your blog, I think riding something I’d like to do more of in the future.

  4. wow. a coastal bike ride! i was going to make jokes about how itd be great except for the bike, but actually as long as it wasnt too hot i think i would enjoy it!
    Andrew Boland recently posted…Small Places – Djenne, MaliMy Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      It was mid-Oct and probably about 20C which was perfect biking weather. I think you would have enjoyed it Andy.

  5. Wow! Good for you, Frank! An ambitious ride. We came up that road last October, but I was glad we were in a large bus. Biking on that white line on the edge of the road makes me very nervous…

    Good video, too!

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Yes, that’s the only downside Paul. Cycling would be perfect if there was a bit of shoulder on the road.
      But as you saw, the views are fantastic.

  6. This coastal road looks stunning..perfect for a bike ride. A lucky encouter there with the cousin of a cousin Neno who had you covered with a nice bed for the night?…brilliant. I hope you will get to do your cycling road trip next year, it will certanly be epic 🙂
    Gilda Baxter recently posted…Mauritius: Climbing Le Morne Brabant Mountain Independently.My Profile

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      Croatians seem to have relatives everywhere and they always open their doors to each other. That’s my experience anyway. It was very generous.
      Doing research on it already Gilda and seeing if it’s feasible. Would love to do a long road trip.

  7. Thanks for sharing the bike ride Frank. It brings back memories of our first year as nomads travelling around the US with our 10 year old hybrid bikes in tow. We sold the bikes prior to the international nomad adventure. We miss the bikes. This is one of the good things about you getting to expat and slow travel. You can bring/buy/ship your bike, yoga mat, and other creature comfort items that add value to your travel experiences.

    • Frank (bbqboy) says:

      That must have been a lot of fun Dennis, lots of great places to cycle in the US. Yes, it’s one of the things I’ve missed travelling full time the last 3 years.
      Europe has lots of great cycling and I’m really interested in doing more long distance routes in the future. Croatia is kind of new to it all. I know Istria is well set up for biking but mainland Dalmatia isn’t. And the islands I hear are good but getting between them on your bike is a challenge (catamarans don’t allow bikes). I’ve been researching how to go from island to island, working my way from Split to Dubrovnik but still trying to figure out if it can be done…I DID find out that there is a bike trail from Dubrovnik to Mostar however, on what used to be an old train route.

  8. Definitely stunning views along the way. I would drive :-). I hope you get to do the ride. Croatians sound like Nigerians :-).

  9. wow beautiful pictures. thank you for your post

  10. Loved the video and Lissette picked out the perfect song! The scenery is indeed stunning but I can see where riding that thin white line and sharing the road with cars and trucks might get to be a little too close for comfort at times. Looks like your “classic” bike is in pretty good shape and it sounds like you are too!
    Anita recently posted…Birdwatching 101: The Hoopla About Hoopoes, A Birdwalk, and A Three-Hour TourMy Profile

  11. Really nice article to read thanks for sharing

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