Why this route?
As I had nearly 3 weeks between my old and my new job, I was thinking how I could use this time. Well obviously I decided to do a bikepacking trip. Going south - but where? As I rode to Spain last year, Greece was a simple choice. Especially because I have been really curious to get to know at least a few Ex-Yugoslavian countries.
As some of you might know me a bit already, you probably noticed, that I love little adventure. That’s why my whole route planning, consisted of marking a few dots on komoot and that was basically it. Afterwards I would say, it’s possible, but if you like the more convenient way, I would suggest to plan your route a bit more detailed.
What do you bring for 3 weeks of bikepacking?
As this wasn’t a race or any kind of fast attempt, I opted for a light touring setup, with bikepacking bags. But I had the full touring equipment with me. You know, to be able to cook and camp.
This bikepacking trip, also gave me the opportunity to test some new equipment, like bags from Cyclite, clothing from Albion cycling, my new Arc8 Gravelbike , my tent and some other new stuff which I might need for further touring projects. I will write some extra reviews about them.
How did it go?
Austria. Day 1-3
As expected at the end of February it was still really cold, windy and wet. I chose to first go west and then ride the Alpe Adria Path to Italy, also because I had a place to sleep in Villach. As I did know most parts of this stretch I was still quite familiar with most parts. Unfortunately most of this route is paved, as riding gravel was nearly impossible due to the snow. I knew I had to do approximately 7-8 hours a day to be in Athens on time. For me personally that’s relatively easily doable, but considering the cold temperatures, the early time of the year and a bike that had around 25kg it wasn’t always that easy. Long story short the first 2 days till Villach, were quite unspectacular. Starting day 3, things got more interesting, because I didn’t really know the route. After riding nearly 8 hours I arrived in Trieste, it was already dark and I had no clue where to stay. Talking to people on the streets most of the time is way more helpful, than asking google. After catching a guy called Igor on his way home from work by bike, he gave me a few advises and his number. Originally he was from Croatia, but works in Trieste. Thanks again a this point Igor, he was my main source for information for the upcoming days.
Italy, Slovenia, Croatia. Day 4-8
After some struggles to find a room for the night, I managed to grab some pizza and beer and had a good nights rest. Day 4 started with an amazing gravel climb out of Triest and finally to the border of Slovenia. Passing the border was luckily no issue and so I continued over the mountains in the northern part of Istria. Stunning views and solitude for a few hours - I loved it. Riding through Rijeka though was just stressful and annoying, especially as the weather turned worse. Must have been around three o’clock, when the sky got darker and it started to rain. I pushed through it till it got dark landed in a small village on the coastal road in the region of Senj. Again I asked a guy in front of a kiosk, if he might know where I could sleep that night. It took him easily 15min and 10 calls later he organized an apartment. Sleeping was nearly impossible that night because the famous Bura wind would hold on for at least 2 days. Unfortunately bad weather and the Bura storm go hand in hand most of the time. As I am living in Lower Austria, I am used to riding in strong crosswinds, but that was a total new level. First it was still rideable, but after climbing up the mountains from the coast, it got worse and worse. As I found out later nearly all roads around were blocked, for bikes and bigger cars, due to the storm. Well, better listen to locals 😉. You know, Igor and the woman from the apartment told me, that it might be a bad idea to ride. After 3 crashes up this mountain due to bursts around 140km/h. I stopped a car from an electricity company, luckily they had to check something on the top of that hill. They gave me a ride for around 30km until they weren’t allowed to go further, because of some territorial issues. The guy who drove, was worried big time and wished me luck. Still 15km remained to the next bigger village, where there might be some place to sleep. I think it took me more than 3 hours to get there. Most of the part I had to walk. Just imagine you are pushing your bike against crosswind bursts so strong, that only the rail guards safe you from getting thrown off the cliffs. My complete lower leg was swollen just from holding on to the rail guards. As I finally arrived in that village, the storm eased a bit, so riding at least some parts was possible. I decided to continue for 40km. Again not the best idea. Nearly crashed as a burst turned me 90 degrees straight into the rail guards. Saved that one again. As this day was risky enough, I booked a room for 2 days. A good decision, as the next day was exactly the same. After a complete restday, I was more than hyped to make up the lost kilometres. So the plan was to ride nearly 200km a day for at least 5 days. It turned out, the next 3 days were the most scenic ones. Weather was still chilly, but much better. Because I already knew the coast around Zadar, I spontaneously decided for a route more inland, straight to the coast around Makarska. Well, Makarska welcomed me with another storm and snow.
Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro
Luckily it got better the next days, I had been riding a good pace from the coast of Croatia, through a short stretch of Bosnia, to Montenegro were I spent a night in the Bay of Kotor. So worth visiting! Riding around the bay the following day was incredible. I crashed in a downhill on a downhill to the city of Bar, because of dusty and oily roads. Luckily I came away with a few scratches and bruises - nothing too bad.
On that day I reached Albania around the evening hours. Some people later told me that the northern part of this country is really poor. Yeah you could definitely see and feel, that. Because of my excellent preparation (sarcasm) I didn’t even think about that Albania has a different currency. Naive me. I thought I’ll just pay via credit card, unfortunately some of the shops didn’t even know what I meant with “could I pay with card, please?”. What blew my mind was how kind and helpful these people are, despite their poorness. A shop owner just offered me water and a croissant for free. I stayed that night in Lezhë. After that stressful and overwhelming day, I was really happy to have a safe place to stay. As I headed more south to the coast, life got a bit more familiar. You could see that they are benefiting from tourists, at least they are trying to build an image, that’s more attractive to tourists. The further I got south, the more I had that feeling. It has already been dark, as I entered a small village on the coast. I stumbled across a small restaurant on the seaside. Because of the nice waiters I stayed for dinner and got offered an apartment for the night 🙌🏻. Day 11 started with nearly 1000 meters ascent, to the top of the Llogara Pass. Freezing temperatures, snow on the top and rain for the next 3 hours didn’t make it enjoyable. But the views were still incredible.
Somehow I managed to ride till greece on that day and found a super nice wild camping spot next to the sea, with a view to Corfu. It rained the whole night, that’s why I started a bit later the next day, trying to dry my tent a bit and use the one forecasted hour of sun. Just after one hour in, it started pouring rain for the rest of the day. Due to the bad weather, as you can imagine it wasn’t the nicest day, but the route was pretty nice. After riding for more than 6 hours in really wet conditions I had no other choice, than searching for a hotel. Finally I had a good weather forecast for the last two days. I really enjoyed a bit of sun and warmer temperatures. And ultimately arrived after 14 days in Athens. What a ride 🙌🏻.
More detailed impressions.
I met a few other cyclists along my way.
In Albania a pair from Switzerland. Who are planning to ride from Athens to Scandinavia. We had a nice chat and wished each other a good ride.
Then further in the south of Albania I met Robin, who is working remote along his way. He is also planning to ride to Scandinavia.
And a pair from France, which has been riding all over Europe and Asia for the last 5 years. We had an awesome chat - just eye opening how less it takes to be happy and full filled.
If someone is planning something similar, first I would recommend to not do it in the winter months. Well, unless you like riding in these kind of conditions and want to avoid meeting tourists.
I think that the route I took is only safe to ride, if you do it in winter. Otherwise riding the coastal road, especially in Croatia is just too high of a risk due to traffic.