Gone Bike About

Villach (Austria) – Tarvisio (Italy) – Bled – Ljubljana – Postojna (Slovenia) – Rijeka – Krk Island – Cres Island – Lošinj Island – Pazin – Poreč (Croatia) – Piran (Slovenia) – Trieste (Italy) – Sešana – Soča Valley – Predel Pass (Slovenia) – Tarvisio (Italy) – Villach (Austria)  


A rough idea of the route we took
After a long, dark winter and eager to catch spring, rather than wait in hopeful anticipation of its arrival, we decided to head south. Our 8 1/2-hour train ride was bleak and foreboding with snow storms and sub zero temperatures through the Alps into Villach, Austria, near the Italian and Slovenian borders. Dreaming of sun-kissed beaches and cocktails by the pool, we wondered if we should have gone even farther south!


Our first cycling day was one of those where we had breakfast in Austria, lunch in Italy and dinner in Slovenia… in an attempt to avoid the 14 % inclines on the Wurzenpass.

Lunch in the snow


Julian Alps
Despite our untrained legs, we did manage to pedal 90km into Bled that day, along the magnificent Julian Alps.


Late March was still seriously pre-season for this neck of the woods. After successfully encountering a handy bike path through quiet mountain villages we hit a one-meter snow wall… and it was back to the main road, where the traffic was quiet enough. Campgrounds were closed, but private rooms were cosy with reasonable low-season rates.

End of bike lane


Happy frogs!
Frogs in Slovenia have it sorted! They can cross the road at any time… not like in Switzerland, where their road crossings are confined to evenings!


View en route

We arrived to glorious sunshine in Bled, where its picturesque island in the lake, with a snowy mountain backdrop, gave a real holiday feel. 



Slovenian above/Italian below
slovenski morati obstati nedoločni zaimek od največ zakoten ter zamotan European jezik.

For an extra exotic taste, not understanding a word of the local lingo really gives the feeling of being somewhere! Slovenian! Yes! Well, take any random English word, knock out a few strategic vowels, add a j or two in the most obscure places, liberally sprinkle an s, z or c with a little v on top and you’re not far from a word that could mean horseradish or nuclear physics for that matter! To make life easier, most Slovenians excel in English, German or Italian. 


It was a pleasant day trip without luggage up to Bohinj, which brought us from spring straight into a bleak winter and back again to sunny Bled. 

Lake Bohinj


Portaloos by the roadside
One of the many things that Slovenia has sorted is their rest spots complete with picnic tables, trash containers and regularly cleaned portaloos.
Unfortunately, we got very wet on the way to Ljubljana, but what was more frustrating was the constant appearance of no-cycling signs at every other junction. The bike path seemed to always lead back to the forbidden motorway stretch. Finally, we ignored the signs and went on the merry-go-round with the racing traffic. If you look at the sign closely, you will find that it refers to bicycles with headlamps only!

So where can we cycle?



A sad rim
In the midst of all this chaos, Kurt suddenly heard a rhythmic click in his rear wheel. The rim had cracked. From Ljubljana we packed the lot on a bus out of town to our hosts Gorazd and Maya in Vrhnika. 



Both intrepid cyclists, Gorazd and Maya were the perfect hosts displaying true Slovenian hospitality and inspiring us for future trips. 

Gorazd and Maya



The triple bridge, Ljubljana
Ljubljana was deserted and grey in the pouring rain, but we can imagine that Slovenia’s capital city would be a grand spot for a weekend break. 

Kurt in Ljubljana!

Monday morning bright and early Gorazd’s friendly bike mechanic kindly replaced the rim, without charging for his hour’s labour, justifying his gesture with: It’s not nice with this happens on the road!

At Andrej Potrebuje s.p.



The stalagmite Brillant
(2nd from the R)
With puddles in our boots, we made it in time for the last tour of the day at Postojna caves. Discovered in the 17th century, these incredible limestone caves are so vast, a train shuttles tourists through a 2km stretch of tastefully lit stalagmites and stalactites, before alighting and walking an hour round-trip through this
cavernous wonderland. Spectacular in a word.


Road disappearing in the floods

By then it was really time for sun-kissed Adriatic waters and fish on the plate, rather than webbed feet in our boots! As we descended into Rijeka, magnolia, fruit blossoms, tulips and daffodils brightened up the palette and Croatia seemed a whole month ahead. Full-blown spring, as requested! (More on Slovenia later in this chapter.) 

Spring is in the air!






We celebrated our arrival with a walk along the promenade in Kostrena before tucking into a delicious 1kg fish in a fine restaurant, overlooking the Adriatic and the distant lights of Rijeka. 

Kostrena, Croatia


Bridge to Krk Island

A horrendous 30km on the main coastal road, with speeding traffic and very little bike culture, led us to the bridge over to Krk Island.  

Alas, the bridge was insufficient to calm the traffic. It did thin out, but just got faster as a consequence. We wondered how many cyclists had been killed before the “Beware-of-Cyclists” sign was erected.



Out of training!

A lot of unnecessary luggage!

Again, we were pre-season for the campgrounds. However, with spacious en-suite rooms with balcony at 20 Euros a night, we couldn’t complain. We had a lazy time here strolling to the neighbouring fishing villages, which were sleepily preparing for the summer rush and we enjoyed a few curries cooked with our new petroleum stove.

Where to next?

The ferry to Cres was the business. It brought us to a real island with a slow pace, where traffic was confined to 5-minute bursts after the ferry’s arrival.

The ferry to Cres Island


Kurt’s controversial shirt
This message appears here for those of you who were close enough, but too fast to read it!
On Cres the Croatian holiday really started. Picturesque towns, olive groves, fishing boats in well-protected harbours and peaceful cycling! Lovely!!!

The colourful town of Cres


Walking through the olive groves

Millenias of stone picking left a few square meters of agricultural ground… just enough to feed a few sheep and plant a couple of olive trees. You have to admire the determination of generations of farmers! 


Cres town

It was a very pleasant 60km cycle, past cherry blossoms and with great coastal views, down to Veli Lošinj.  

Loads of blossoms


The road to Veli Lošinj

Lošinj Island
The very end of Lošinj Island has a neat cement path in and out of gorgeous little coves.

Meanwhile, the main drag meanders through a thick pine forest, where the resident cuckoo cuckoos to his heart’s content!

To the sound of the cuckoo!


Views from Northern Cres Island


Istrian village w/Venetian tower
From Cres Island we took another ferry over to the Istrian peninsula. There we enjoyed quiet country roads, small medieval towns and beautiful sunshine.

Quiet country roads

Just a short comment on the Croatian language. Follow the instuctions for Slovenian above… and you’ll come up with a word that could mean anything from tidal mud flats to saddle sores!

Croatian language sign


The cows seem to have it sorted in Croatia!




Route of Health and Friendship

Continuing along the western coast, we hit Slovenia again. Just across the border we discovered the Route of Health and Friendship, a bike trail built on the former narrow-guage railway called the Parenzana, which used to connect Trieste and Poreč. Grand cycling!

A short detour along the coast brought us to Piran. This delightful town, with fortified walls and a network of narrow streets and alleys has figured out how to cater for the young and trendy. Comfy sofas on the plaza are the perfect place to pose while enjoying an afternoon gelato or latte. (Even more Slovenia later in this chapter.)



Getting lost in Piran

View from City walls


Sofas on the plaza!




Not a happy cyclist!
Back on the railway-track bike path, we knew we had hit the Italian border when the trail disappeared under a thicket of blackberry briars and stagnant rainwater!  

Approaching the city of Trieste on bikes is not the easiest of tasks, as all roads lead to the motorway. We climbed a lot of unnecessary hills on our round-about entry to this city of 300,000 inhabitants.  As a hint, for anyone following in our footsteps, there is a ferry, (that accommodates bikes) from Muggia right into Trieste!


We rocked up to Piazza dell ’Unita D’Italia and amazed at the majestic palaces flanking the square. Trieste has a pleasant blend of Austro-Hungarian, Venetian and medieval architecture, with the odd Roman ruin recalling its colourful history.



Canale Grande

Roman Theatre



Dinner was dining at its best in a little Trattoria, where we gorged on the most delicious antipasti and seafood linguini. Thumbs up yet again for Italian cuisine.


James Joyce taught English here


We may have missed the cute entrance into Trieste, but we ain’t stupid! Kurt, in his tremendously appreciated wisdom, came up with a whopper. A tram/cable car was an elegant exit up to Opicina, 300 masl for all of 4 Euros, and not a bead of sweat!

Cable car to Opicina


Quiet trails

On a bike trail again, this time we knew we had crossed the Slovenian border again, when the gravel turned to beautiful smooth tarmac!

SLOVENIA (yet again!)

It was a very short 12 km day to Sešana, where Marko, our Slovenian tank from Argentinean days was our host. Needless to say it was all bike talk with Marko and Nejz, both veteran touring cyclists themselves.

Marko, Nejz & Darina


Dušan and Sonja

Marko and his parents were delightful hosts and we left 2kgs heavier, thanks to Sonja’s delicious home cooking. We’re convinced after trying a few of her specialities that the Italian Mamas learned their tricks in Slovenia!


Heading back up north again, we cycled though beautiful karst countryside, with rolling hills, vineyards and colourful blossoms.

Rolling hills and vineyards


Soča River

Emerging from Nova Gorica we had the stunning turquoise Soča River by our side right up to the Julian Alps.


Cycling wonderland
Our first pass of the year was the Predel at 1156 masl, followed by a long downhill into Tarvisio in Italy.

Headed for the mountains!


Predel pass




Lago del Predil
On the Italian side, the descent was bleak and fresh with fabulous views down to the semi-frozen Lago del Predil.
The towns of Cave del Predil and Rio Freddo were like deserted ghost towns, despite their wonderful setting. It really looked as if the last person had turned out the lights 20 years ago! So we rolled on down to Tarvisio.

Perfect location, but dead!


In Tarvisio we stayed at Albergo Regina a real Fawlty Towers effort that would put Basil and Manuel to shame. No one seemed to know who the host or hostess was, and the benvenuto (NOT!) supplied by the hostile one and a half kilo Rotweilers was not far removed from that of the stern knitters at the entrance, who gladly accepted our money! On a positive note, Austria was just 7km away!

This corner of Italy, at least on Easter weekend, is a sorry sight! Even the sign on the border was hanging on for dear life!

The border


Springtime in Austria
Austria looked a whole lot greener this time round and it was in Villach again that we caught the train back to St. Gallen.

Slovenian flag

Croatian flag


All in all, our 3-week trip to springtime was a thoroughly enjoyable and diverse tonic. These two relatively new countries from ex-Yugoslavia have certainly something for everyone, and the quiet off-season is probably a clever time to explore this territory.

We left St. Gallen in the depts of snow, with little or no sign of life, and arrived back to a bright blooming spring, with terraces full of animated conversation and laughs. Leaving winter could well become a habit!