Greece to Croatia.
It was about time I write something down. Last post on this BLOG was published in March this year; and now it’s already November. Now, don’t think we’ve been slacking; we’ve been working full time throughout whole riding season here in Europe. We did tours in Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, we did tours in Sardinia and Corsica; and we did the Alps&Dolomites again. But in this BLOG post, we won’t be covering any of these. As a pilot tour in 2017, we did a ‘Greece 2 Croatia’ e.g. ‘G2C’ ride from (well- it’s not too big of a riddle) Greece (Athens) to Croatia (Zagreb). And I’d like to show you all (and remind our dear guests) how it went!
Basics first (as always)- the tour itself
The tour was configured in a very smart way (almost as if I didn’t do that work) so it doesn’t ‘interfere’ with our Best Seller tour of the region- The No Borders tour. We have riders doing the ‘No Borders’ tour every year, so the idea was to create a tour through the Balkans peninsula- using different roads, riding different countries, seeing different sights etc.; making this ‘G2C’ tour like an add-on to the ‘No Borders’ tour; but in a more ‘adventurous’ spirit.
Countries we rode through are: Greece, Albania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia and finally Croatia. The tour can also be set vice-versa (starting from Croatia and ending in Greece e.g. ‘C2G’) while the track basically stays the same.
A question that will pop in your mind is: why don’t you just re-route the tour so it covers the best of all countries including Croatia, Bosnia and Montenegro, so we don’t have to ride ‘the same’ region again? Well, because it would take 27-30 days to see it all. Having in mind the number of vacation days/overall budget/personal timeframes etc., we feel like it’s best to split it into two separate ones.
A bit more
As itinerary avoids the regions/roads we do along the ‘No Borders’ tour, we skipped the Adriatic coast and most of Bosnian and Montenegrin highlights. ‘Been there, done that’ some said; and for the others- that’s a darn good reason to come back, trust us!
So what was left? Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia, Serbia and Greece. Does this even sound fun enough? We hear you.
Riding wise. Speeds/lean angles are not nearly the same as along our ‘Tuscany-Sardinia-Corsica’ tour, nor as ‘No Borders’, so the general pace was at a ‘touring’ setting. There are a number of beautiful riding stretches with amazing views; but only a few offer superb asphalt quality that could get us going. Though, most of them could offer a goat or a cow in a curve… For that matter, it’s not about fast(er) aggressive riding; it’s about a very mild riding pace, with emphasis on touring and seeing different cultures/countries of the Balkans peninsula. And of course, nice technical riding too (switchbacks, narrow roads, a LOT of mountains…). Some countries we rode through are still very poor (although ‘numbers’ are getting better every year) so to anyone interested in this ride, it’s also good to mention that a 3/4/5 star hotel (in the ‘middle of no where’), is not like an equally rated hotel somewhere else in Europe. But, we felt welcomed everywhere we stayed at, and well taken care of in any restaurant we used. Finding that is unfortunately becoming a tough job in Western Europe. And… that’s exactly one of the biggest ‘pros’ this region offers; a warm welcoming, honest people. Not to mention home made food, real tomatoes and the best Greek salads in the world! And trust us (again)- it’s not nearly the same as a Greek salad in the US
Now with all that being said, I believe it’s about time to show some photos. And tell the stories.
Greece to Croatia: day one
It was June 9 afternoon when all riders officially met in our first hotel; but some unofficially met few days earlier at our hotel’s bar. Never heard that one before Best so far was two of the riders (never met, but shared a few photos over e-mails before the tour- no details, please) met in a sightseeing bus in Athens. What are the chances; only about 4 million people a year visit Athens these days. We all sat down and did some paperwork before proceeding to our first group dinner. We were lucky to be riding with some past guests; but unlucky enough the majority of the riders were Aussies.. Imagine that! Kidding aside, we had an amazing group of people from all over: Aussies, Canucks, Americans and Kiwis. Well- moussakas, salads, tzatzikis and ouzos- here we come!
All riders arrived a day or two earlier, which is something I always recommend. Shake off the jet-leg, deal with (potential luggage problems, see the city and have some rest before the start. All good stuff.
In Athens, you want to see the Acropolis (Parthenon or Temple of Athena the Virgin) for sure. Then ancient Agora (marketplace and the centre of everyday life in ancient Athens), National Archaeological Museum, Acropolis Museum, Panathenaic Stadium etc. Good idea is to hop on a sightseeing bus, get the feeling of the city and afterwards explore on your own depending to your preferences.
First riding day was (luckily) Sunday; so leaving the town that usually ‘boasts’ with very ‘interesting’ traffic (read that ‘chaos’ e.g. ‘madness’), was a piece of cake. In no time, we were riding open roads towards Delphi, one of the most important historical sights/attractions in Greece (talking about historical sights in Greece, we should start a new BLOG post or maybe a new website). It’s hard to ‘see it all’ specially when we also want to do some riding; so along this tour we visited some of the most famous ones, but also a few less known too. Anyway, Oracle of Delphi (religious sanctuary sacred to the god Apollo) dates back from Bronze age (1500BC), but was used for religious purposes since 800BC. It was considered as the centre of the world and being a sanctuary, many came to get ‘some’ answers. Questions were very different but so were the interpretations of answers. Very interesting fact is that the site was (re)discovered only in late 19th century; as it was buried under a newer city built on top! All in all, it’s a unique and a ‘must’ place to see when in Greece.
After sightseeing, we continued 20mi/30km more and reached our destination for the day- Galaxidi, a nice small town by the sea. Of course, swimming was the best choice here, right after a beer.
Following morning we continued along the coast; with one goal- let’s reach some mountains. Believe it or not, although most of us on the mention of the name ‘Greece’ immediately think of islands, sea and coast- Greece is in fact approximately 80% mountainous which always sounds good to us riders. Let’s do some curves! And so it was.
50km before the hotel, we decided to split the group and while first riders got to the hotel comfortable and dry, us being in the 2nd group had a very ‘interesting’ ride. Thunder, rain, washed off rocks, low temps and finally mud- were our playground. Though, we did enjoy some nice views too; and had a great muddy race to our hotel! Dinner was organized in a local restaurant where we were the only guests; while almost the whole family served us (happened few more times on this tour).
Day 4 started nicely; but as we were riding to higher elevations, it become cold, foggy and slippery = read that perfect adventure riding conditions! If only our guests knew I had no idea where I was J kidding! Let’s just say no one felt sleepy; at elevations close to 2000 meters above sea level (6560ft) weather can be very harsh. Getting back down at the other side brought sun, and we were all very happy again!
Dinner, a specialty again!
Greece to Croatia: Tzoumerka region
Today we had a lovely day riding to Tzoumerka mountains in Epirus; with a few picture stops, a bit of pushing the bike in reverse up a hill (or so I heard), we had a fulfilling day and made it to famous Meteora monasteries in Kalampaka, Greece.
The monastery of Kipina (13th century) is well hidden and built into a rock; many riders pass by it not even noticing.
Meteora (UNESCO World Heritage Site) is one of the most important complexes of Greek Orthodox monasteries. 24 monasteries were built between 11th and 16th century; with only 6 active today (five male and one female monastery). Impressive to see live!
As we had a short ride today, we visited a couple of monasteries before the ride; got back to our hotel, changed and moved on. We reached very famous Zagorohoria region where we stayed for two nights (the only ‘rest day’ on the tour). After a nice dinner and party that evening, some of us actually did get to ride the following (rest) day- we rode many twisties of Zagori, visited Mikro and Megalo Papigo; took a look of fantastic Vikos Gorge and stopped by a few famous stone bridges. Most of the area is a part of North Pindus National Park which is also listed under UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. An amazing region to spend a few days in Greece; mountains wise.
It was time to leave Greece behind and move on to a new country. We said goodbye to tzatziki, gyros and souvlaki; and entered Republic of Macedonia. Known for Alexander the Great, being home for one of the oldest and deepest lakes in Europe, it was a perfect addition to this tour. We spend a night in Ohrid where we explored the town; got lost and finally found the way to our restaurant (and back). Ohrid is a very lively small town at the coast of Ohrid lake. It was middle June so it wasn’t too crowded (being the busiest in July and August); though compared to our last two nights stay, where we were the only citizens of a village in Zagoria Greece, there was whole lotta people in Ohrid!
Ohrid (Macedonia) to Prizren (Kosovo) was an ‘interesting’ ride. After riding through Mavrovo National Park, I got a call from Mario, our van driver that he is already at the border (with some more riders) but they can’t get through due to some paperwork needed (note to self and others- make sure all riders have only original documents with them, not copies; or at least not black&white copies as colour ones are equal to original ones according to border officers). Luckily we managed to sort that out, but just as I sat on my bike at the border crossing, I found my front tire flat (right there at the border). Very nice welcome, Kosovo! Did I mentioned it started to rain? Woohoo!
Luckily, the rain stopped as we changed the bikes and got our Kosovo insurance (the only country on our route that don’t acknowledge our (international) insurance). What’s international about that? J Anyway, we continued our way to Prizren across Sar mountain. On the top of the pass, only about 5 Celsius and wet. And getting dark. Did I mention Adventure riding? We got to our hotel safe and sound; parked our bikes in a miniature basement (yikes) and hungry, ordered a lot of food for dinner. Just another day on the tour
Prizren (Kosovo) to Shkoder (Albania). Albania is a very developing country (finally they are starting to work on tourism; which has some positive and negative sides of course) in all terms. In last five or so years, they have been paving (and repaving) many roads through the country; which is very good for on-road tours; and for general tourism as more road travelers will be attracted there. Our goal was to reach Fierze and embark on a ferry ride to Koman, which we managed to do. We could have taken the road, but that ferry ride across lake Komani is known as one of the nicest ferry rides of South Europe; and surely it was pretty scenic. Even more as we had some dried sausages, onions and a knife with us I should have taken my gas-stove to actually grill some sausages on the way; well it could be an idea for next time!
Riding the backroads through Albania was quite nice, at least till the ferry. After the ferry, road turned into a mix of gravel and asphalt dated to 1800s (:)) with random potholes to spice it up. Took us about an hour for 30kms; but everyone was really delighted by the scenery along the way. We got to Skadar in the afternoon; and proceeded to our restaurant for dinner which was also a museum and probably, the nicest building in Skadar.
We had a long day today and we split into two groups. First one followed Mario with the van and 2nd one stayed with me. The difference was a leg through Albania for which I wasn’t sure if it was paved or not- so riders that felt comfortable on gravel rode with me. Turned out the whole stretch except maybe ¼ mile was paved so we enjoyed the best riding on the tour along the freshly put asphalt in Albania. Who would say the best riding on the tour will be in Albania Riders blasted their way through the curves and hairpins; while I stayed at the back hoping to take some pics.
Short stretch through Montenegro got us to Serbia where we ended our day in Mokra Gora- a picturesque village known for a couple of sights: ‘Sarganska osmica’- narrow-gauge railway once used to connect Belgrade (Serbia) and Sarajevo (Bosnia), nowadays serves only as a tourist attraction. 2nd sight would be ‘Drvengrad’- a ‘wooden town’ that Serbian movie director Kusturica built for one of his movies. Additionally, I found a really good Rakija ® producer down in the village, so we bought ‘a few’ bottles of Šljivovica ® while there. Woohoo! Needless to say, we had a pleasant evening and a great home-made dinner right there. No one took pictures I suppose?
Most of riders took the scenic ‘Sarganska osmica’ train ride; and afterwards we continued to our destination in the Vlasic mountain. As we entered Bosnia, we stopped for ‘cevapi’ lunch at one of the most famous places in Bosnia; and got to our hotel just in time before dark. Unfortunately, that day was too short to spend a few hours in Sarajevo; but that’s where we spend a full non-riding day on our ‘No Borders’ motorcycle tour (so next time guys!). Wow, we realized we have only one more day before we’re in Zagreb, Croatia!
Greece to Croatia: last riding day
Bosnia to Croatia. Beautiful morning; blue skies. We rode through the Vrbas canyon, through Banja Luka (thermometer showing 34 Celsius/93F) to the border of Croatia. We stopped on a petrol station approximately 70kms (40mi) before Zagreb to refuel. Then we stopped again just half a mile after. No, no one had to pee. No, bikes don’t run on diesel What a feeling! Well, most important is that all of us made it to Zagreb safe and sound; while bikes we won’t count. Not to forget; Zagreb said hi to us with a very pleasing shower- after riding on 30+ temps (90F+) for a while, it was actually what we all needed, plus no one had to shower before proceeding to our restaurant for dinner
And that’s it! Another tour successfully finished; another bunch of happy people! Guys, it was a pleasure riding with you; and I would do it all again anytime!
@ Aussies: I still don’t get Vegemite. Sorry!
@ T&B: Please accept my apologies (btw., ‘apology’ is originally a Greek word that made its way to English language) for weird routing on your GPS and taking you to some ‘interesting’ gravel/dirt roads. I would never have done it unless I knew that’s exactly what you want!
@Canadians: Great ride; would be happy to see you in Balkans/Europe again! I (almost) promise no more suspicious narrow downhills after loosing you. I mean, what are the chances?
@ Americano: Hope you’re getting closer to that 1.000,000,00th mile on a BMW motorcycle, keep me updated! Also, hopefully you’re using The selphie stick?
@ interested readers: Thank you for reading, hopefully you got inspired to ride in Europe with us! We tend to loose people, have diesel put in our bikes, have a flat tire every once in a while; and sometimes we even have a beer after the ride.
But that’s all a part of our BIG PLAN to keep it all fun! Right
Ride safe all!