Monday, March 27, 2023 | Ramadan 4, 1444 H
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From Italy to Croatia on Two Wheels

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A bike ride from Trieste, Italy, through Slovenia, to the ancient city of Pula, Croatia, starts from the Adriatic coast’s 90-degree bend on the sea’s northern coast and rolls down its eastern shore to the tip of the Istria peninsula. The 150-mile leisurely journey brims with ancient traditions, sublime food and perched-village photo ops. History here is measured in millenniums and empires: Roman, Byzantine, Venetian, Napoleonic, Austro-Hungarian.


The ride follows two routes: the EuroVelo 8 and the Parenzana Cycle Trail. The trails overlap for much of the itinerary before separating and then reuniting on Croatia’s Istrian coast. The six-stage ride covers between 22 and 30 easy-to-moderate miles per day, with occasional challenging ascents. Cyclists pedal enough to see loads of culture while earning their seafood, pasta and wine — but not so much that they’ll be exhausted.

You’ll start in Trieste by hopping on the 4,700-mile EuroVelo 8 (EV8), which extends from Cádiz, Spain, to Cyprus. The EV8 is part of the EuroVelo network, which began 25 years ago with 12 routes crisscrossing the continent. Today, the network connects 42 countries on 17 routes, covering more than 50,000 miles. The most recent trail, running from Austria to Hungary, was added in 2020.

“The fact that more people are taking up cycling is great for all of us,” EuroVelo’s director, Ed Lancaster, recently told me. “Cycling supports local economies,” he said, noting that it also “reduces tourism’s environmental footprint.”

South of Trieste, in Muggia, Italy, the EV8 overlaps with the Parenzana Trail through Slovenia. The routes diverge in Croatia, where you’ll take the Parenzana, which follows the path of the former Parenzana railroad. Built by the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1902, the train connected 33 stations over 76 miles from Trieste to the Croatian town of Poreč, on the Istrian coast. Today it provides a cycling corridor through communities known for truffles, olive oil and wine.

Both the EV8 and the Parenzana roll across multiple surfaces: bike paths removed from traffic; roads and byways, often with little traffic; and gravel trails through vineyards and forests.

Among the reasons I suggest this ride: The stages are short, signage is regular and the path is packed with villages and services. On a recent trip, I stayed at bike-friendly hotels and guesthouses, and set off each morning around 8 am, giving myself plenty of time to explore.

Day 1: Trieste to Piran, Slovenia

30 miles on mostly flat, occasionally rolling, paths

After arriving in Trieste from Ljubljana, where I live, I started my journey with a two-cup morning in the home of the Illy coffee company and, arguably, Italy’s coffee capital. The first stop was the Illy Ponterosso cafe at the mouth of Canal Grande, whose outdoor tables overlook the canal flowing into the Gulf of Trieste. As I sipped an espresso, I inspected my gravel bike (a hybrid with road-bicycle geometry and off-road sturdiness). It was loaded with bags for clothes, tools, maps and notebooks. Behind me, the statue of James Joyce, who lived and wrote in Trieste, seemed to prod me to my next cup on the Piazza Unità d’Italia, said to be Europe’s largest sea-facing square, where I sat at the Caffe degli Specchi amid Hapsburgian architectural pomp. By the time I finished my coffee, I was ready to hit the trail.

From the piazza, I jumped directly onto the EuroVelo 8 and rode for nearly 9 miles of two-lane roads and bike paths to the fishing village of Muggia, where the Parenzana Trail begins and the two routes merge. I crossed into Slovenia, which immediately lived up to its reputation for cycle-based travel. For most of the country, the asphalt path — often running parallel to traffic as it passes towns and runs through occasional stretches of forests — is flat, dedicated to bicyclists.

My first stop — at a pekarna (bakery) for a chocolate croissant — was in Koper. Slovenia’s only shipping port feels industrial until you reach its medieval, Venetian Republic-era centre. I pushed my bike across cobbled streets leading to Tito Square, home to the 13th-century Praetorian Palace and the 177-foot City Tower, with views down the coast.

The path hugged the shore to Izola, with its laid-back marina filled with sailboats and fishing skiffs, and climbed into the forested countryside. Soon I entered the first of several old stone tunnels along the Parenzana Trail. On the other side of the 600-yard Valeta Tunnel, the trail descended into farms and vineyards.

The seaside resort of Portorož came into view and, beyond it, Piran, another town with ancient roots and Venetian landmarks. Here I took a local bike path from Portorož to Piran, which sat on the tip of a finger-shaped peninsula pointing at Italy. — NYT

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