Šolta to Korčula: Island-hopping in the sun

Tuesday, 4 August, 2015. (53.2 km) In the morning, we rode down to the ferry port and confirmed what we learned in Dubrovnik. The former Yugoslav national ferry line, now called Jadrolinja, simply will not take bicycles on its high-speed ferries. The hydrofoils are big, so bicycles would not be a problem, and they go to more places, more often than the car ferries.

IMG_20150804_140816The ferry to Šolta left us in Rogač, where we saw little more than a tourist office, a bar, and a tree-lined road leading up a wooded hill. We climbed a series of switchbacks until we reach the ridge of the island. There, the tree cover faded away and we rode straight north past ancient farm villages to the town of Maslinica.

Already I could feel my lungs thriving on the clean, salt air. It seemed almost as fresh as being out at sea. Maslinica had the charm of a smaller Portofino without the pastel buildings. IMG_20150804_113804To my surprise, we even found a five-star resort on the edge of downtown, across the port from the promenade with the restaurants.

Finding our rooms proved challenging. We took what turned out to be the long way around town on some impossible roads (both for incline and pavement) until we ended up on the promontory on the opposite side of where we entered town. We quickly learned that there is a multi-use path (bikes and pedestrians) connecting that side with downtown, so we never had to climb back out.

IMG_20150804_151652Our host family lived life off the grid. How Cheryl found them amazes me now, because they showed up on Google, but not the usual listing sites like booking.com or TripAdvisor. The couple normally hosted the same European families all summer; we provided some spicy variety as newcomers and as North Americans. They insisted that we join them for snacks before we went out. All very pleasant and homey. After we settled in, IMG_20150804_145736we rode across the island to the town of Stomorska. The road ended at a “beach” that was really a coast of large rocks. We could sun on the rocks like seals and swim in water so clear that the bottom could be seen at any depth. Of all our mid-day swims, I think that one will remain best in my memory. When got back to Maslinica, we made our way into town by foot, where we enjoyed an excellent seafood dinner. Our room did not have air conditioning, but I learned why so few places did: no one needed it. Maslinica would be one of the few places about which I could say that this summer.

5 August (85 km). Early up and back to Split, one of the few times all summer that we had to back-track, but there was only the one ferry off Šolta. We rode south from Split along the coast road to Makarska, which gives its name to a riviera of cliffs and beaches. None of them was convenient to the road, so we rode into Makarska without our customary swim that day. 2015-MakarskaThe boardwalk was alive with partying tourists. We walked among them for a while after supper, then retired to our apartment, mercifully a few blocks away from the waterfront.

We only covered 40 km on Thursday, but the ride will always stay with me, both for the beauty of the island of Braç and for the height of the ridge that we had to climb before dropping into the town of Bol (450 m). We landed on the east end, at Sumetar. As I rode, I admired the imposing shapes of Hvar on my left, and the coastal range on my right. 2105-08-06 Bol BeachCheryl had told me that Bol has arguably one of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the Mediterranean, a spit sticking out into crystal water. We rode straight there, bags and all, for our swim, before returning to Bol to check into our apartment.

Although it did not show on the map, we found a ferry that went directly from Bol to the city of Hvar, so we did not have to ride across the island of Hvar on Friday. Our apartment hid in a steep neighborhood of winding streets above the city, but we still had plenty of time to explore the town, which was packed with tourists.

IMG_20150808_171217On Saturday, we took a small boat out to Palmizana, on the island of Palinski. It is the largest of the Pakleni Island group off Hvar. Palinski belongs to the Menenghello family, who have turned it into a nature preserve and a trendy art-culture venue. We walked the length of the island, and swam in two of its coves.

IMG_20150809_160842Cheryl had shown me what she had already experienced, but there was another island on her bucket list, so we planned for her to cross it off. Sunday, we hired a launch to go to Vis, a military outpost from Venetian times through the Cold War, only recently open to visitors. Arriving as early as we could, we settled into our apartment overlooking Vis on the east end, and rode clockwise around the island (47 km). We had a swim on the south side, then discovered why we should have travelled counterclockwise around the island. IMG_20150809_101719The afternoon sun reflected off a granite cliff on the west side, oppressing us as we rode to Komiža, once a pirate haven, now a fishing port. After recovering, we faced a 360-m climb through the pass back to Vis. I highly recommend doing that challenging part in the morning, while the sun is in the east and south, then enjoying the gentle drop on the south side back to Vis.

IMG_20150809_165155A beautiful sunrise bathed our apartment building as we rolled down the hill to catch the boat back to Hvar. The launch awaited us, and soon we were climbing out of Hvar city on Highway 116. We rode the length of the island (85 km), using the bicycle map provided by the Hvar tourist office, and climbing to 360 m between Hvar and Stari Grad. In contrast to the scenic ride as far as Jelsa, the road along most of the ridge east of that did not seem very interesting — until I could see the coastal range again. As on most of the islands, we found light and friendly traffic. We caught the ferry leaving Sućuraj in plenty of time to settle in our apartment in Dvrenik.

IMG_20150811_113616The coastal town of Dvrenik served us as a waypoint between ferries. The next day, we boarded the ferry for Trapanj on the peninsula that lay between us and our last island: Korčula. On the road to Orebic from Trapanj, I met a pleasant Milanese cyclist, who rides a challenging solo tour for two weeks every summer, while his family spends the traditional holiday at the sea or in the mountains. Clearly, those two weeks make his whole year as an engineer in a 9-5 day job worth it. He spends the second two weeks of the holiday with his family, and he devotes one day each weekend during the year to a climb somewhere in the Alps near his home. He had an altimeter on his wrist, so he could tell me exactly how high we climbed out of Trapanj: 331 metres. IMG_20150812_174418We parted ways at the crossroads, where he headed east to the mainland and his family, and I turned south to catch up with Cheryl, who had left me behind hours earlier. With the kind of scenery around us, I knew that she would be stopping often for photographs, but she still had to wait for me. We rode into Orebic together.

IMG_20150812_115627You can see Korčula from Orebic, so the ferry felt like a local bus. The old town teemed with tourists, but Cheryl found us a hostel over a pizzeria in the cathedral square. Schlepping our bikes up the stair-roads to the center of the historic center made me not want to touch them again, but the next day, we found the easier route out the main gate, and rode to end of the road on the north shore, to the isolated beach at Vaja Bay. As we swam in the clear waters, I wondered at the physical challenges so many people will go through to find an isolated beach. It was crowded by the time we got ready to leave. Yet there was no developed trail to the beach from the nearest dirt road 500 m away in the woods. The easier path had been washed out, making me wonder how long this beach would be accessible from the land at all.

IMG_20150812_202910Korčula sits near the top of the list for romantic charm, good food, and scenery. I wish that we could have spent more than two days there. But we had achieved our objective, and had hopped to the end of the island chain. More excitement lay ahead, as we headed south to new towns and new countries.

Until next week,

Smooth roads and tailwinds,

Jonathan

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