Tuscany gets a lot of press and attention as a cycling paradise, and rightly so. It has a special something that makes people go back year after year. But it's hardly off the beaten track. There's another cycling haven that you should know about – one that the masses haven't found yet. It's the Croatian province of Istria.
The peninsula is shaped like a heart and was once a part of Italy. However, it went to Yugoslavia following World War Two, and to Croatia more recently. It's located just south of the far-eastern Italian city of Trieste and the sliver of coast Slovenia possesses. While now firmly a part of Croatia, Italian is still the first or second language depending on where you are in Istria.
The coast is like many European beach havens: busy and often unpleasant. But ride inland a kilometre or two and everything changes. The wide, car-laden roads that were clogged with tourists turn into drystone lanes perfectly suited to cycling. The flat coast quickly rolls into a hilly inland region.
The northern part of Istria provides ample opportunities for bike riding. Numerous climbs wind out of the Mirna valley, ascending to beautiful hilltop towns that overlook the river and Adriatic.
But the true magic lies just north of the Mirna, in the relentless undulations that spill into Slovenia. Up, down, left and right you see ancient towns, forgotten villages, vacant roads… This is the good stuff.
If you need any more convincing, the world's largest white truffle (about the size of a football) was unearthed near the Istrian town of Buje in 1999. And each year, people flock from all over Europe to harvest the wild asparagus that grows in the area.
What's on offer
– A little bit of everything: moderate mountains (15-30 minute climbs), hills, flat roads and few cars to worry about.
– Incredible food, great people, unique atmosphere.
– Peace and quiet, and a feeling that you've left the beaten path, if only by a little bit.
– Truffles! World famous and rightly so.
Why it's best
Rural Istria is a unique place. It's a step back in time, and a welcome one at that. It's quiet, remote without being a pain to get to, and a wonderful place to ride a bike.
How to get there
Trieste (Ronchi dei Legionari international airport) is the easiest transportation hub. From there you're about 40km from Istria.
There are many possibilities in the area, but we're big fans of the hilltop village of Momjan, near Buje in the north. Just a kilometer and small climb above the village is the Agroturizam San Mauro.
If you need help with your bike, you'll be crossing the border to get to Piran or Portoroz, in Slovenia. It's better to make sure your bike is in working order before your trip.