Ap­petite For Dis­cov­ery

Cy­clist spends a day on the Croa­t­ian penin­sula of Is­tria, rel­ish­ing empty me­an­der­ing roads, chal­leng­ing ter­rain and glo­ri­ous food

Cyclist - - Contents - Words SU­SAN­NAH OS­BORNE Pho­tog­ra­phy RICHIE HOPSON

On the Croa­t­ian penin­sula of Is­tria, Cy­clist en­joys a ride where the only thing more chal­leng­ing than the ter­rain is the amount of food we face

Is a 14-year-old I au­di­tioned for a part in our school play, The An­cient Mariner. I failed to land the lead role, and in the end was cast as a lowly piece of sea­weed. My re­mit was to im­i­tate a piece of sea kelp by wav­ing strands of blue and brown polyester in front of my green, painted face. It was the clos­est I’ve been to feel­ing like I was part of the ocean’s flora and fauna, un­til now.

We’re late in ar­riv­ing at our table at Batelina restau­rant in Bag­nole, a vil­lage on the west coast of the Is­trian penin­sula, and we don’t want to up­set the chef, given that he’s cur­rently be­head­ing a fish with a four-inch blade. His hulk­ing, tat­tooed bi­ceps could star in Rambo Last Blood, should Stal­lone’s fifth in­stal­ment ever reach our screens.

Thank­fully the chef, David Skoko, is not an an­gry man. He’s ac­tu­ally a rather jolly soul, and is also the host of Croa­tia’s ver­sion of Masterchef. But what’s more re­mark­able is that he works in a 5ft square kitchen along­side his mother and mother-in-law (that’s the re­ally im­pres­sive bit) cook­ing the fish from his fa­ther’s early-morn­ing catch.

The fam­ily restau­rant is one of the best in the coun­try and, as David knows we’ve got a big ride ahead to­mor­row, he’s in­tent on us eat­ing ev­ery­thing on the menu. ‘You need lots of food for cy­cling,’ he says in his bassy tones. Laugh­ing throat­ily, he slaps two plates of ex­quis­ite sea bass sashimi on the table. Eight cour­ses later I feel like I’m about to grow fins…

Blow­ing in the wind

I wake the next morn­ing, check for aquatic ap­pendages then im­me­di­ately won­der what’s for break­fast (fish, it seems, doesn’t fill you up for long). Croa­tia, like France, has an ob­ses­sion with UHT milk, so it’s thick black cof­fee all round. Af­ter two cups my ner­vous sys­tem is fully fired up and I’m ready to start the ride.

My guide, Ivan, reck­ons we’ll com­plete the 130km route in time for lunch, but given that it’s al­ready 9am and there’s a howl­ing head­wind to con­tend with, I’m doubt­ful. The wind is called the Bora, and in Fe­bru­ary 2012 it was so strong it ripped trees out of the earth and blew the roofs off houses. On the is­land of Pag, fur­ther

The wind is called the Bora, and in Fe­bru­ary 2012 it was so strong it ripped trees out of the earth

Right: Cy­clist makes a fly­ing start in an at­tempt to com­plete the ride by lunchtime – but strong head­winds and steep in­clines have other ideas

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