Overland to Obonjan

19.01.17 Take a more glamorous route to the island and swerve the tedium of airport delays and transfers. Ed Gillespie shows you how…

So your imagination has been captured by the prospect of an escape to the little island hideaway in Croatia. You can almost smell the pine trees under the hot sun, feel the limpid blue waters lapping at your toes. Music wafts, drinks fizz. Talks provoke, minds wander, bodies bend, stretch, relax and of course dance. Spirits soar, souls restore and at night a star-peppered canopy of interplanetary wonder drapes the dark night sky. Splendid isolation and solitude and warm gregarious community. The promise of all of the things you love.
Obonjan softly calls you with the temptation of romantic adventures in the Adriatic.

But somehow the typical journey there doesn’t quite fit with the experience. There’s a lot to be said for the relative rapidity (when you’re not delayed) of a two and a half hour flight from London to Split. Though with travel to the airport (let’s say an hour or so), check-in times (at least two hours), the bus journey from Split to Sibenik (where the boats to Obonjan depart – another couple of hours) we’re still talking a whole day of travel. And not of the most glamorous kind, unless the pinnacle of your aspiration is to be found in the Duty Free lounge? So how about this for a proposition – overland to Obonjan?

I would say this of course as I am a somewhat infamous non-flyer/slow traveller! In 2007/8 I circumnavigated the world without getting on a plane, writing a regular column for the Guardian and a book about my travels – ‘Only Planet – a flight-free adventure around the world’. And being this way inclined when I was invited to become a founding member of the Obonjan community I leapt at the chance for a pan-European odyssey to get there. It’s actually a lot easier and more pleasurable than you might think.

I left London in the morning in the now time-honoured tradition that is the Eurostar. Arriving in Paris around midday I took a leisurely wander in the summer sunshine down to the Canal St Martin where Audrey Tatou skimmed stones in ‘Amelie’ (a 15 minute stroll to stretch your legs) before enjoying a delicious al fresco lunch in a pavement bistro. Already in holiday mode it was only a short (7 or 8 minutes) back to Paris’s Gare de L’Est station and my next train to Munich in Germany. As global rail guru Mark Smith founder of Seat 61 says ‘Never travel without a good book and a corkscrew’ and suitably equipped the TGV journey at 200mph almost, but not quite literally, flew by.

I got to Munich at 10pm with just enough time to grab a beer and commune with the other drinkers outside the Hauptbahnhof on a steamy hot city night, before jumping aboard the sleeper train at 23.36 that would wend its way through Austria and Slovenia whilst I slept to Zagreb. I woke to the serene beauty of the Slovenian Alps at dawn, the mirrored placidity of the river perfectly reflecting the church tower and trees of a mountain village.

I was in Zagreb around 8.30am after breakfast, and made the most of a day in Croatia’s small but perfectly formed capital, visiting the cathedral and the famous Dolac farmer’s market (to stock up on a few treats for Obonjan) in the historic centre, and taking in the National Museum of Modern Art. Having worked up an appetite I then had a delicious ‘Strukli’ – a hearty baked cheese and dough dish with vibrant green pumpkin seed pesto and a frosty Ozujsko beer and felt I had properly arrived!

After 15.21 I was back on the train to Sibenik, a stunning journey on a single track line that ascends through mountains, along steep rocky escarpments, through thick forests and with amazing views of lakes and vineyards as the sun set deep red over the darkening horizon.

A final quick change at the sleepy Perkovic station, exchanging experimental linguistic pleasantries with the station staff, the sound of cicadas ringing in the darkness I got to Sibenik at 21.24. I bimbled down to the seafront for a final mainland beer and then boarded the water taxi out to Obonjan, loving the sensation of the warm sea breeze as we navigated our way through the archipelago by night.

Welcomed by the gently twinkling lights and alluring sounds of beats and laughter from the harbour side bar was a glorious feeling. I’d left London around thirty six hours previously, but had enjoyed a truly ‘jet-set’ journey of culture, heritage and cuisine, vino and vistas. The magic had built slowly and seductively en route, the rewarding journey crowned by the pleasure of arrival. By staying grounded I actually felt more grounded and truly ready for the wonderful days to come.

So why not try the slower, low carbon, allure of overland travel for your trip this summer? The holiday really can begin the moment you leave home. There are quicker ways to get to Obonjan. But none better. And as the late great Mahatma Gandhi said ‘There is more to life than increasing its speed’.

Ed Gillespie is a Founding Member of the Obonjan Community and Co-Founder of We Are Futerra. You can follow him on Twitter here

For more information on your own overland adventure to Obonjan check out the following links:

Seat61 outlines the ‘How to get to Croatia’ by train challenge HERE

You can book your tickets from London to Zagreb (3 months in advance) via Loco2. And you can book local tickets Zagreb: Sibenik on arrival.