As the outdoor-oriented lifestyle became a trend, mountain biking started booming, attracting not only enthusiastic youth but also the well-educated and affluent middle-aged population. That does not only make mountain bikers good guests but also means that their expectations are very high.
With numerous destinations developing purpose-built infrastructure, the existing road infrastructure alone is not attractive enough to draw mountain bikers to a certain destination. Even though there are many mountain biking destinations in the summer (mainly in the Alps), there is only a handful of destinations in Europe that could enable biking during the winter.
In 2016, we have been approached by Valamar, the leading tourism company in Croatia by revenues, capacities, and the number of destinations. Valamar has been supporting and sponsoring cycling events since 2007, and in 2015 it started to strategically focus on cycling tourism by establishing 9 bike-friendly hotels with dedicated service standards and developing the niche brand Valamar Loves Bike. At that time Valamar was starting its largest investment project (80 mil. €) in the Valamar Girandella Resort in Rabac. Thas was the largest investment in Croatian tourism so far. Along with the investment in hotel capacities (54.000 m2, 800 rooms, 2700 beds, 13 swimming pools), the project has also focused on the development of surroundings, beach, sport, and entertainment infrastructure, completely transforming the perception and value of the entire destination. Part of the investment plan was also the development of mountain biking-specific infrastructure and amenities.
The decision to pioneer the development of purpose-built mountain biking infrastructure in the wider Adriatic area was strategic. Rabac, the biggest tourist destination on the eastern side of the Istrian Peninsula, Croatia, has a diverse landscape, amazing panoramic views, and a network of existing paths that can be adapted for mountain bikers. In addition, Rabac also has a mild Mediterranean climate which also enables cycling during winter months and helps to manage seasonality; not to mention superb accommodation and accompanying facilities in the Valamar Girandella Resort. These are all the facts that led to the development of mountain biking tourism products in Rabac.
Our project in Rabac started as a small-scale project in the form of a skills park that would serve as an addition to the existing cycling offer of the destination (composed of tours on asphalt and gravel roads). However, after the analysis of all the attributes and the potential the wider region of Rabac has to offer for the development of cycling and especially for mountain biking tourism, the initial plan was largely extended. None of this would happen without the enthusiasm of the management team in Valamar Girandella Resort and their in-depth knowledge of cycling tourism products. We have only rarely seen that kind of professionalism and support in our over 10-year-long involvement in the development of mountain biking tourism around the world. As one of the managers explained, destinations and hospitality professionals in the Adriatic region that don’t take into account mountain biking tourism are not behaving responsibly.
We have approached the development of Bike Park Rabac with an in-depth analysis of the destination’s main attributes, current tourism flows, requirements, and expectations. The analysis served as a basis for the selection of segments of cyclists whose expectations the destination could fulfill to the largest extent. In addition, the local authorities and stakeholders (Municipality of Labin, Croatian Forestry, and the City of Rabac-Labin tourist board) have been involved to provide a sustainable and realistic strategy. Only then we have prepared development plans and divided them into three main phases. In the first phase that was realized in 2017, we have focused on the mountain biking infrastructure in the proximity of the Girandella Resort, which is suitable for the widest range of visitors and enables a safe development of biking skills. Most of the trail infrastructure in the first phase was machine-built due to the rocky terrain. It is also important to mention that the development did not focus only on the trail infrastructure, but also on accompanying infrastructure and services such as the Bike Center with a bike shop, workshop, bike rental, guiding, and other amenities.
The second phase that was realized in 2018 followed two main goals. The first goal was to implement cycling infrastructure for toddlers and families which coincided with the opening of the new family-oriented hotel – Maro Suites. This resulted in the construction of a circular family trail and a small asphalt pump track where kids can develop basic cycling skills. The second goal was to extend the infrastructure, implemented in the first phase, to also attract more avid and experienced mountain bikers. The development of purpose-built mountain biking infrastructure on the hills above the Girandella Resort has led to the rapid rise of visiting mountain bikers, along with the renewal of the Bike Center. In addition, Specialized, one of the leading bicycle manufacturers, decided to use Rabac as their hub for the introduction of new bike models to dealers and journalists from all over Europe.
Like we did in the second phase, we have also focused on the adaptation of obsolete paths, expansion of the existing machine-built family trail, and the development of hand-built trails in the wider area of the Girandella Resort in the third phase that took place in 2019. Again, Specialized returned in 2019 to present its line of bikes for the new season. This was the first time that they have returned twice to the same location. Bike Park Rabac also received the internal award of Valamar for one of the most successful projects in 2019.
In 2020, we have continued with the expansion on the nearby Standar hill. From Standar to the Girandella Resort, the newly developed trails provide 474 m of elevation drop. Bike Park Rabac now boasts 14 trails in an overall length of more than 25 kilometers, a skills park, and 2 pump tracks. Consequently, the park confirms its role as the leading mountain biking destination in the wider Adriatic region. In the future, the trail system is about to be further expanded, while the development of an adventure center with a restaurant, zip lines, and an adventure park is predicted atop Standar. Along with the development of infrastructure, Valamar with its partners also took care of amenities and specialized services such as shuttles, a renovated Bike Center with a workshop and shop, guided tours, etc.
Unique infrastructure in this region immediately attracted mountain bikers from the wider region already in the first phase. As the trails are freely accessible to everyone, the benefits of the park are not limited to Valamar and its properties but are also available to other tourist operators, private accommodations, and residents. Further developments now attract even more mountain bikers and other outdoor guests from the neighboring countries, the German-speaking area as well as Scandinavia and the UK, as these target segments prefer active holidays over the traditional sea, sand, and sun tourism. While exact statistics are not available, the number of bikers in the destination tells everything. This is especially evident in the pre-and postseasons when mountain bikers represent almost 30 % of all guests.
Rabac also became the winter hub for training of several professional and recreational teams, including Manual Fumic, one of the world’s most famous XC riders from Germany (Cannondale Factory Team) who also became the Valamar Ambassador and host of several training camps that attract participants from all over Europe. Mountain biking events also continue their tradition in Rabac. Terra Magica, a demanding marathon race, already has legendary status in the wider region, while new races such as Helter Skelter focus on a wider spectrum of participants. However, what is most encouraging is that the number of local residents hooked on mountain biking is rapidly increasing and consequently forming the local mountain biking culture/scene.
With the development of a purpose-built trail system, the Bike Center Rabac as a year-round destination was the first to offer a high-quality mountain biking experience for cross-country, all-mountain, and enduro riders in the wider Adriatic region with a specific focus on family facilities.
We at Alliance have a full range of services and international expertise to support the development of mountain biking tourism and the implementation of purpose-built infrastructure. Contact us to find out how we can help you to take advantage of this rapidly growing market segment.