The name Karlovac will sound vaguely familiar to anyone that has spent any time in Croatia for it is where the beer Karlovačko is brewed. Reason enough to start a cycle here. Whilst the town is not on most tourists radar the surrounding area offers great cycling opportunities with quite farm roads, good climbs and unique history.
Although road cycling has a long way to go in Croatia to match some of its European neighbours it is pleasing to know that Karlovac itself is a very cycle-friendly city that even has a bike share scheme to help you explore the region and
Getting out of Karlovac at the start of the route is easy as the roads are generally quiet and there are plenty of options to cycle of good quality cycle through the parks. The route here takes you from the starting point at the main square, Trg bana Josipa Jelacica, and heads south through the wonderful City Park leading to a small bridge across the Korana river. Eventually the route rejoins the main road and takes you in a south easterly direction.
After around 13km you take a right off the main road and onto the typical farm roads that meander through this region of Croatia. On these roads you will rarely see any traffic but you may have to contend with slightly worse road conditions. You may also have the misfortune of having to contend with curious dogs which make for excellent sprint training. This is farming country and the dogs are either strays or allowed to roam free; a passing cyclist in full Lycra makes an interesting diversion for them. There is a lot of advice out there about how best to deal with such situations with the most sensible suggesting that you dismount from the bike and then put the bike between you and the dog whilst slowly walking away. This makes you look big and more importantly human. When I have been cycling in this area I typically out-sprint the chasing dog (in some cases dogs) but this may not be an option for everyone, particularly if you happen to be on a climb.
The faded grandeur of Rovijn, an excellent base for exploring Istria by bike.
Not a place you would expect to find a bike share scheme but the cycle path network in Karlovac is pleasantly surprising
This route will see you do around 1127m of climbing throughout the day with the majority of that coming around the midway point as you ascend Petrova Gora or Peter's Mountain. Having cycled on these roads many times in the region though, there never seems to be a flat stretch of road. Instead it undulates past the farms and so this will take a toll on the legs.
Dotted throughout the landscape you will also find numerous Catholic shrines. A good place perhaps to say a prayer to keep the dogs away and for your legs to hold out on the climbs.
As you pass through Utinia the farm road suddenly goes from lovely smooth tarmac to gravel but the surface is still fine for a road bike. It is a beautiful part of the route through the forest and keeps you away from the busier roads.
The tarmac returns around 4km later near Utinja Vrelo taking you all the way to Vojisnica. From here you will take a right on the main road (Number 6) towards the village of Vojnic but the traffic will be light and the drivers are generally courteous.
There are few cafes and shops in Vojnic if you feel like stopping for a break. This is a sleepy village and you will certainly be looked at with a mixture of suspicion and intrigue as most people cycling in this region are elderly farmers going about their business. Due to its location and the recent history of Croatia there is a large Serbian population in Vojnic.
At the junction at Vojnic, take a left and from here the route starts to climb towards Petrova Gora and specifically the climb to Veliki Petrovac, the highest peak in the area. It is also the site of The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, or more simply Petrova Gora Monument. More on this later but first you have to cycle up there.
The first half of the route is a drag uphill for around 7.5km that takes you to a restaurant called Muljava. From here the proper climbing to the top of the hill starts.
The official Strava segment for the climb can be seen below. It is around 5.22km in length with an average gradient of 4%. What it lacks in gradient it more than makes up for at the top of the climb.
The monument first makes an appearance through the trees as you reach the top of the climb...
The Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija, or more simply Petrova Gora Monument in all its faded granduer
I have written extensively about the experience of cycling to this unique monument in a blog post that you can read about below and it is certainly worth the effort of the climb to see it for yourself. The monument was commissioned to celebrate the uprising and resistance movement in the area during World War Two. Ethnic Serbs and ethnic Croatians fought together against Nazi-fascism and occupation. In fact in the surrounding forests you can also find remnants of the Partisan Hospital that was active during the whole war.
There is not space here to cover the tortuous path of Croatian history but once you experience the otherworldly feeling standing at this monument you will be compelled to read up on it.
The monument is now is a state of total disrepair having been neglected in 1991 and then finally put out of its misery in 1995. Locals continue to rob it of the stainless steel panels.
You will probably be the only people at the monument and the whole area has an oppressive and eerie atmosphere that makes it worth the effort to feel it for yourself. Once you have soaked up the atmosphere the descent down is technical and thrilling. At the foot of the climb is a restaurant called Lovacki dom Muljava which serves excellent crepes and coffee to replenish your energy for the return trip back to Karlovac.
The route retraces its steps all the way back to Vojnic since there is not an appropriate cycle route down the other side of the mountain. At Vojnic though the route continues on the main road for around 7km before once again diverting onto quiet farm roads.
After 86km at the village of Belajske Poljice you could take a detour of 4km one way to the right along Logorište ulica to the Croatian War of Independence Museum. You have to back-track slightly on the main road to get to the entrance of the museum and I would recommend using the pavement for this very short section. This is an interesting and somber museum that reflects on Croatia’s turbulent recent history. If you have been cycling with your eyes open on this route then you will have noticed many buildings scarred from the War of Independence.
A worthwhile detour to the Independence War Museum on the outskirts of Karlovac
The roads get a little busier as you approach Karlovac once more but overall they are quiet roads that divert you away from the main highways. The route finishes with a testing climb up to Dubovac Castle in the old town of Karlovac that has great views down to the city below. The renaissance style castle was likely built in the 15th century but of particular interest to the hungry cyclist is the restaurant (Kastel Bistro) within the castle. Great food and great setting in the courtyard.
Follow the route back into the centre of Karlovac along cycle lanes and grab a Karlovačko beer in the city, preferably somewhere along one of the four rivers that flow through the city.
Let us know what you think of this particular route or if you would like any more information about cycling in Croatia.