Croatia 2018 - When Can We Go Back?!
By: Elise Crane
Our inaugural OWR trip was a blast and we’re still basking in the afterglow. The countdown begins for the Marco Polo Triathlon Festival 2019! Mark your calendars for the last weekend of April 2019 and stay tuned here for dates!
We had a great group for this first trip. Everyone meshed well, took full advantage of the activities, and finished the triathlon strong! Here’s a day-by-day snapshot to get you excited for next year. The schedule will stay mostly the same with a few tweaks here and there.
We arrived in Dubrovnik, where Andy picked us all up in a passenger van and drove us to the gorgeous Hotel Moré, perched above a small inlet of the luminescent Adriatic Sea. All our rooms had balconies overlooking the ocean and the hotel featured a cave bar/restaurant with easy access to the water as well as a rooftop pool for some less-salty relaxation. I visited the hotel’s spa and was deeply grateful that the masseuse was herself a triathlete; in the deepest tissue massage I've ever had, she got my blood flowing again after the transatlantic flight!
After a dip in the Adriatic to test the water temperature (verdict: chilly but not icy!), we had an introduction to Croatia’s seafood and olive-oil culinary culture at Pantarul. We drank plenty of wine, had some amazing fresh tuna steaks, and ate about 10 loaves of delicious fresh bread. We were joined by Mariana, a Dubrovnik native, to give us an orientation and provide some historical nuggets. It’s amazing to think this hotspot was war-torn only 23 years ago. Talk about resilience.
We walked back to our hotel by moonlight along a lovely promenade and fell into bed, gearing up for an early morning and departure to Korčula.
Andy navigated the 9-passenger van through Dubrovnik's narrow roads so we could take a quick jogging tour of the old town and get our bearings. Dubrovnik has become a tourist mecca complete with a daily influx of cruise ships and after a short run, we were ready to head to the islands for a bit more peace and quiet.
Our first stop after leaving Dubronik was the small sea-side hamlet of Hodilje, near the ancient walled city of Ston, where we were treated to an oyster and wine-soaked lunch on a private island. I'm not much of an oyster connoisseur but these were so juicy and huge and had been in the water about 10 minutes before hitting our lips. That was coupled with home-made fig and elderflower brandy – we could’ve stayed on that tiny island the whole trip!
We then did a short hike along the top of Ston's ancient city wall before enjoying another wine and cheese tasting at one of the area's nicest vineyards. Milos Winery has taken an indigenous grape, Plavac Mali, and done wonders with it. Warm and loose, we boarded the ferry to Korčula and got settled in our apartments.
Each OWR trip includes a service project - in Korčula, we partnered with the local SCUBA club to do a clean-up of Korčula Bay, precisely where the swim portion of the tri was held the next day. The un-SCUBA-certified among us snorkeled instead, but were still able to collect plenty of plastic and glass debris in the shallows. The group was thankful for our help, as was the community – we even made the local newspaper! A salty British expat couple in their 60s lent us all the equipment; they opened their dive shop nearly 20 years after deciding there had to be more to life than working in municipal government. They’re living the good life!
The SCUBA club then treated us to a multi-course lunch, complete with toasts and much discussion of the American political landscape.
We finished off the day with a private sunset cruise on a pristine French-made Tofinou sailboat chartered from Korčula's landmark hotel, Lesic Dmitri. While we didn't have much wind, there wasn't a cloud in the sky and we happily floated around the bay drinking champagne and gearing up for race day.
Since the race started a bit later than we are used to, we were able to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, pick up our rental bikes (more on those below), stretch, and walk our gear to the transition area. It was such a luxury being only a 3-minute walk from the race start! So much easier to be able to go back and grab things we might have forgotten and use our own bathroom rather than a porta-potty. We cheered on our one group member who opted for the sprint-distance tri (he finished third in his category! Incredible for his first tri) before starting the Olympic-distance tri at noon. It was quite warm and without a cloud in the sky and the course was gorgeous; most importantly, everyone crossed the finish line. The bike course was particularly beautiful, with a good combination of hilly and some fast, flat stretches. We all plunged ourselves into the Adriatic after finishing the race to cool off and soothe our aching muscles. Nature’s version of an ice bath! (but not that cold, we promise)
What helped made the bike portion so enjoyable, our rented racing bikes were even better than promised, or honestly, planned. The correct sizes were delivered with the correct pedal configuration and in plenty of time to get minor adjustments done before the race. The bike shop also provided helmets, though most of us brought our own, and flat kits (which luckily no one ended up needing). We also brought our own bike shoes, except for the one group member who did the sprint distance and opted to stick to platform pedals and regular sneakers. The gears shifted perfectly and everything was nicely tuned. The only other destination triathlon I’ve done was on an island off the coast of Colombia and I opted to take my own bike rather than look into rental options. Having experienced both routes, I’d highly recommend the rental when the quality is as good as it was in Croatia. Saving myself the hassle of lugging around a bulky bike case, plus having to pay for an oversized checked bag, was well worth the mild uncertainty over what to expect. It all worked out and I wished I could have taken the rental bike home with me!
The hours immediately following the race were some of the most content I've ever known. We gathered up our gear from the transition zone, braved the 3-minute walk back to our apartment, and sipped rosé and beer on our balcony. That evening our fearless local partner, Damir, took us on a short nature walk through the unexplored interior of Korčula island before our evening feast. Despite some initial protests, the hike was worth every slightly-sore step. We reached our dinner destination just as the sun set and the full moon rose above us, casting into silhouette a picturesque Mediterranean landscape: cypress trees and stone walls strewn across the countryside. Truly peaceful.
Our dinner at the country-house-turned-organic farm-to-table boutique eatery Eko Skoj was unforgettable. The family-run establishment specializes in olive oil from their own groves; their varieties infused with herbs make even the top-shelf options at Whole Foods seem like cooking oil. We had worked up quite an appetite and soaked up the first three tasting pours with homemade sunflower and flax seed bread in about three minutes. Luckily the lovely people at Eko Skoj had plenty of reinforcements; we plowed our way through various types of bread, homemade fish paté with capers from the garden, a delightful salad, handmade pasta with locally-caught squid, and an embarrassingly huge assortment of dessert. A hearty dose of wine and homemade brandy infused with herbs and fruits made the perfect cap to a long and eventful day. We had to roll our way into the cab waiting to take us back to our apartments, where we collapsed into bed. Hedonism seems best after intense exertion and we hit just the right balance that day – I’d like to think we earned it!
We had breakfast on the terrace of the same fancy hotel that chartered the sunset sail before meeting up with the race director so he could present us with medals and small bottles of Eko Skoj olive oil (the perfect souvenir, as we learned at dinner the night before!). The Split Triathlon Club did a wonderful job organizing the race and had plenty of smiles to share; having seen some pretty shoddily organized races, I was quite impressed. Building strong relationships with race organizers and local partners is a foundational tenet of Open World Racing and what sets us apart from other groups that just parachute in and out. I’d understood this in theory but this trip really drove home the point. It’s an entirely different experience when you’re made to feel like a local.
Damir took us for a 4-hour ocean kayaking trip, peppered by swim stops and with a lunch of fish grilled before our eyes at a private cabana. It was a perfect way to soak in the island’s beauty and wind down toward the end of our trip.
With much wine yet to drink in our apartments, we opted to have the group over for a final dinner of take-out pizza and salad on our balcony. But we also rallied to sample some cocktails made with locally-grown herbs at Korčula's Food and Wine Festival, which conveniently coincides with the triathlon festival. These people get it: athletes also love to eat and drink. Perfect for Open World Racing!
Soft rain began to fall just as we left our apartments to catch an early ferry back to the mainland. Andy drove the van like a pro and everyone made their flights. Mission accomplished.
Are you excited yet for next year yet? If you don’t want to wait that long, you can join us in Poland October 12-18, 2018, to participate in Krakow’s 5th annual Royal Half-Marathon and enjoy some of the best adventures, food, and scenery Poland has to offer. Be sure you’re signed up for our newsletter for the latest updates and we hope to see you on an OWR trip soon!