We were recently contacted by David Lavery who runs VeloCroatia.com – a website dedicated to road cycling in Croatia. His website details the best road cycling routes, featuring a number of very detailed routes in several areas of the country. However, if any of the routes don’t quite fit the bill, he can create a custom road cycling route for you!
Below, David shares with us his experiences of cycling in the Petrova Gora region (in inland Croatia, about 100km south of Zagreb), cycling up to the peak and taking a look at the fascinating, abandoned monument (David explains more about what it is) there.
Cycling in Petrova Gora
Croatia is a country that is just waiting to be explored by road cyclists. I am lucky to have family in Croatia and when I am not drinking gemišt or eating great food then I am exploring the country on my bike.
During a recent holiday, my legs were feeling good and I wanted to test them on a climb; my search was simple; what was the highest peak in the area. The answer was Petrova Gora and as luck would have it, one side of it was paved and it was only around nine miles away from the farm I was living in near the village of Vojnic.
As I researched the climb, my intrigue deepened when I read that atop of the climb was a monument (Monument to the Uprising of the People of Kordun and Banija) that was epic in its size and by the looks of the pictures crumbling under the weight of its history.
A road cyclist in full lycra is still a novelty in this quiet part of rural Croatia so it was hardly surprising that the bustling café’s stopped drinking coffee to judge me as I passed on the way to the mountain. I did wonder why they were so busy on a weekday mid-morning but then anyone with even a passing knowledge of the coffee culture in Croatia should not be surprised.
A few of the villagers tending to their land on the side of the road gave me a wave as I passed and it wasn’t long before I was starting to climb on the lower slopes of Petrova Gora. Passed the restaurant (Lovački dom Muljava) which marks the bottom of the climb proper I could feel the road really start to kick up. I found a nice gear and tried to maintain a good rhythm despite the rapidly increasing temperatures. Not something you are accustomed to when most of your cycling is done in Scotland.
It was one of those climbs where you could not see the top because of the trees and the mind starts to play tricks. At times you are convinced that the top is just around the next corner and at times you are fairly confident that in fact the climb will never end. The only sign of life on the climb was the indistinct chatter of animals in the woods surrounding me. Apart from that it was just me and my pain as I tried to push hard up the climb.
I pushed on, the thought of ice cream and crepes when I got back to the bottom helping to distract from the heavy legs. It was just then, lost in my thoughts, I turned a corner and saw something completely alien out of the corner of my eye. It didn’t fit in with the landscape at all, jutting at oblong angles from the top of the hill. Around another corner and it was gone, obscured once more by the trees, the landscape again making more sense.
As I approached closer and closer to the top, part by part the monument started to reveal itself until finally I was standing at the bottom of it, trying to catch my breath from the climb and trying to make sense of what I was looking at.
What it was and what it is now are very different. It used to be a monument to commemorate the uprising by the people of the area against the fascist Ustasa and the Independent State of Croatia, a Nazi puppet-state, during World War Two. It was finally completed in 1981 during the heady days of the socialist Yugoslavia but the contemporary history of Croatia is nothing if not turbulent and in its struggle for independence during the 1990s the monument was neglected, wilfully forgotten and pillaged for parts.
A sobering and an unnerving experience as it was a ghost town around the monument. Such was the ambition of the monument, there was even a café built in its shadow that feels like it had been abandoned in a hurry. The atmosphere was so heavy and eerie that I was half-expecting someone to pop up from behind the bar, offer me a drink and then audition for a part in The Shining.
The façade of the monument is crumbling to reveal a hollow shell of twisted steel. There must be some houses in the local village ablaze with shiny stainless steel panels. The closer you get to the foot of the monument, up the ramp and once grand passageway you are left in no doubt that it is now unloved.
I cycled around the site for a while absorbing the strange atmosphere. I really cannot do justice to the sense of isolation and yet the feeling that you are not alone.
Back at the farm and looking to fill my stomach I decided to take a walk up the hill to get some plums from the trees and whilst up there I looked over to the north. Just in the distance I could see the monument rising defiantly above the rolling landscape.
Road cycling in Croatia is just waiting to be discovered and at VeloCroatia.com our mission is to inspire readers to explore this amazing and diverse country on two wheels.
Thank you very much to David for sharing with us his experience of cycling in the Petrova Gora region, and for helping promote road cycling in Croatia!