Getting fit in Croatia

Getting fit in Croatia

Forget booze-fuelled festivals and sweaty night clubs. Croatia’s attracting a different kind of tourist: those focused on fitness and health with a dose of sea and sun thrown in for good measure, says Danae Mercer

Forget booze-fuelled festivals and sweaty night clubs. Croatia’s attracting a different kind of tourist: those focused on fitness and health with a dose of sea and sun thrown in for good measure, says Danae Mercer

For the fitness-focused traveller, Croatia’s offering more activities than ever.

Obonjan
Obonjan

This year, there’s an entire island festival dedicated in part to wellness: Obonjan. When it debuted in 2016, this five-week island-wide event made a considerable splash. It focused on independent travel, providing a summer-long fusion of music, entertainment, workshops, art, comedy, food and wellbeing.

Now Obonjan is returning for twice as long, spanning from the end of June to 3 September. The health and wellness aspect features even stronger than before, with an extended range of fitness classes (including group yoga and pilates) as well as a dedicated wellness centre. As for the numbers Obonjan hopes to attract? An easy 600 guests a week. “There’s a feeling we’re all creating something special,” says Dan Blackledge, the co-founder of Obonjan.

It’s not just Obonjan that’s attracting the upmarket fitness fan to Croatia. The island’s ever-expanding numbers of yoga retreats and active sailing cruises are doing that too.

Over on Croatia’s Vis island, Milda Urbonaite runs Summersalt Yoga, a company she founded three years ago. “We were actually one of the first ones in the area offering some kind of retreat that combined the interest in yoga with the location in Croatia,” she says. Today retreats are hosted in ultra-modern villas or historic 300-year-old houses.

“Our goal for the next year is to expand the programme too. It’s about guests who want something more than just yoga or a relaxing holiday, so [we’re looking at] workshops and other things,” Urbonaite adds.

Croatia is attracting the cycling crowd
Croatia is attracting the cycling crowd

For travellers who want more than just the mainland or a single island, sailboats are serving up a fitness offering. Yoga Sailing Holidays focuses on (as the name suggests) yoga and sailing, mixing in meditation sessions and freshly cooked meals.

Sail Croatia draws in travellers with its ‘Cycle Croatia Cruises’.

Sail Croatia
Sail Croatia

These week-long trips are epic and challenging. Local cycle guides lead daily rides up and over some of the most stunning parts of the pristine Adriatic Coast. Various routes are offered: the Split southern route spans Split, Milna, Bol, Hvar, Korcula, Mijet, Peljesac, Makarska and Ormis; while the Split Coastal route stretches from Split up to Zadar, out to Dugiotok, then back inland to Zlarin.

At the end of the Split southern route, guests will have cycled 189km.

The distances and days aren’t exactly easy. Croatia’s islands are steep and hilly, with considerable climbs to stunning, scenic peaks. Yet the result of brutal upward stretches are some of the most beautiful views in all of Croatia: endless blue ocean, grapes hanging on the vine, untouched national parks, rolling hills of lavender or pine, and no one else — save other cyclists — in sight.

Stops en-route for local grappa at cyclist-filled taverns help bond the group. At night, guests gather on the top deck to enjoy freshly cooked meals (not included, although three-course carb-filled lunches and breakfasts are) as the boat bobs in the harbour.

Split
Split

It’s easy to see that things like Sail Croatia attract a traveller who wouldn’t have necessarily been drawn to the region’s ‘party hard, go glam’ side. On the boat, guests range from mid-20s to mid-50s.

All are active, friendly and social. Almost all are in bed early, ready for the bright 8am starts before the sun gets too high. Some come from Canada, others Australia. A love for cycling — and arduous days exploring untouched bits of Croatia’s coast — unites them.

At Summersalt Yoga, the crowd is a bit younger and decidedly more female, yet again it’s a group focused on wellness and relaxation.

These offerings aren’t even the half of it. There are swimming camps in Dalmatia, tennis schools in Umag, adventure sporting in Split, and hotel-based detox centres dotted throughout. Yet they all point to one thing: Croatia’s appeal might just be changing.

Nightclubs and boozy musical festivals may never leave, nor will the ultra-upmarket appeal of places like Hvar; but for fitness travellers who prefer sun, sea and sweat, there’s more draw than ever before.

Gemma Greenwood
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Gemma Greenwood
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