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