Whether it’s a few days pootling along the Normandy coast or an epic 1,800km ride from Canterbury to Rome, our readers’ continental bike trips will inspire you
Winning tip: Passau, Germany, to Vienna
For a one-week first cycle tour, I’d recommend flying to Linz then catching the train over the German border to Passau, a beautiful city where the rivers Inn, Danube and Ils meet. Rent bikes from Matthias Drasch at Fahrrad-Klinik and pedal off along traffic-free paths beside the Danube. Esterbauer publishes a guide in English for this classic route: maps are excellent, with accommodation listings and places of interest along the way, like Melk and the Austrian vine and fruit growing areas. Fahrrad-Klinik has an arrangement with a hotel on outskirts of Vienna where you leave the bikes. Spend a day or so in Vienna before catching the train back to Linz and flying home.
Via Francigena: the pilgrim route from Canterbury to Rome
In AD990 Archbishop Sigeric walked the 1,800km from Canterbury to Rome to collect his pallium (his “stole” of office) from the pope. On the return journey he helpfully recorded his overnight stops – all 80 of them – which form the basis of today’s Via Francigena. Much less well-known than other pilgrimages, like the Camino de Santiago, this route is still taken by more than 1,000 people each year. Cycling it over 20 days is perfectly feasible – I did it in June this year – but be aware it involves crossing the Alps (the 2,469-metre Saint Bernard Pass) and the Apennines (the Passo della Cisa at 1,041 metres). Pilgrim accommodation (€10 a night on average) is sparse in France but much more common in Italy.
Cycling the River Loire, France
We did the first section of the EuroVelo 6 route from Orleans to Nantes. We took our bikes over on the car and parked in Nantes using the ZenPark app. We then took a train to Orleans – it has a special bicycle carriage – and started our ride back to Nantes. The route is well-signposted and uses a mix of dedicated cycle paths and minor roads. It works its way along the river and the scenery is stunning. The route is flat but there are worthwhile diversions inland – involving moderate hills – to visit chateaux. There is plenty of good accommodation (B&Bs, small hotels) along the route: we pre-booked it all online. Nantes is a great place to finish as it has Les Machines de L’Île and the amazing giant mechanical elephant. We covered about 400km over two weeks.
Romantic Road, southern Germany
This is a wonderful 440km cycle ride through peaceful countryside and the beautiful walled medieval towns of Nördlingen and Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The route also passes through the larger town of Augsburg. Towards the end of the ride, with the Alps in the distance, there is the amazing scene of Neuschwanstein castle in its mountain. The Europabus coach service offers transport for cyclists and their bikes (reservations advisable), as well as offering short packages for cycling tours. It is, however, easy to organise yourself, as most German train stations have bike hire places, and it is easy to get to the start and from the finish by train.
Beautiful (almost) traffic-free ride to Berlin
Get the ferry to the Hook of Holland or Rotterdam and pick up the Eurovelo 2 cycle trail, also called the Capitals Route. It takes you across the Netherlands and Germany to Berlin (then on to Moscow if you wish). The route is so well-signposted that you rarely have to look at the map (except to find a campsite or hostel, which are handily marked on the route book, which can be ordered from the website for a donation), and it feels a bit like a treasure hunt looking out for the next signpost. You are taken along small, well-paved paths through forests and rambling countryside, with delicious food and beer and friendly people along the way. It’s long enough to be a real challenge (it took me two weeks) but also flat and smooth enough to not feel overwhelming.
The sublime road to the Croatian coast
The beauty of cycle touring is that you see amazing things while you are in motion. Watching a landscape shift as you pedal round it is a fantastic feeling, and occasionally you stumble upon a path that makes your heart thump. For me, that was the D25 road from Gospić to Karlobag, in Croatia. It takes you from the leafy interior along 24km of gradual climbing up through a mountain pass. Yes, it is gruelling but, if you stick to bottom gear, put your head down and ride it out, you will be rewarded.
After a few hours of solid uphill, the enclosed pass suddenly opens out and you enjoy a calf stretch as you free wheel through the village of Baške Oštarije. You are at the top of the mountain ridge. The road goes into a tunnel and on the other side is an entirely new world. I could see a dozen rocky islands in the glistening Adriatic Sea – the first sea I had seen for 60 days of cycling. To see so far and so unexpectedly, I thought I had jumped into Google Earth.
The remainder of the journey was a 1,000-metre descent, full of hairpin bends you only see on car adverts. The main danger was keeping an eye on the road while such an incredible view was in front of me. This journey kept me buzzing for days and is the best afternoon of cycling I have ever had.
Ride the Amalfi coast
Our family cycling holiday around the Amalfi coast was a great way to enjoy the amazing scenery and gave us the flexibility to stop and see loads of beautiful spots both on the coast and in the hills and forests. In fact, most tourists were stuck in cars in traffic jams as we rode past them. For €30 a day we rented excellent bikes from cyclingamalfi.com – they have a choice of trekkers or e-bikes including locks, helmets, kits and panniers and give advice on routes, too.
The Giro d’Italia
At the age of 50, I realised my dream of completing a leg of the famous Giro d’Italia cycle race last spring when I biked from Milan to Sanremo. I hired a bike from Bici Rossignoli in Milan. The 200-mile trip did take me four days at 70 miles a day, stopping off at excellent youth hostels in Genoa then in Finale Ligure on the coast. Coming back, I took advantage of Trenitalia’s take your bike onboard service from €3.50 a day.
Through French countryside to Paris
It may not be a long distance for some but the 127 miles from Dieppe to Paris provide a beautiful few days’ cycling. The most famous route is the Avenue Verte, but the best route has been pioneered by Donald Hirsch.
The early miles of the route meander through little French villages, over rolling downs and past fields of wheat and corn. The roads are quiet, and there are just enough hills to keep it interesting but not exhausting. Donald’s website contains links to cycle-friendly accommodation.
As you near Paris, unlike the Avenue Verte, this route takes you through a series of royal hunting forests to avoid the traffic. After 120 miles of villages, fields, and hunting forests, you enter Parc St Cloud. It’s an area of woodland just after Versailles, traffic-free, long and straight, and bordered by tall trees. Then, you see that the road opens out to a paved area, fountains, and something beyond.
Donald’s route takes you to the left, so you never see what’s at the end of the road. But it’s worth cycling on to investigate. You find yourself on a cliff, with all of Paris stretched out in front of you. It will leave you breathless from the view, not the exertion.
Baie de Somme, Picardie, France
If you’re looking for an introduction to cycle touring (or your partner isn’t as keen as you) the 100-mile Baie de Somme route is the perfect way to explore this underrated region. The cycling is easy throughout and a self-guided route with Belle France (£895pp half-board) is easy to follow with comprehensive maps and notes. We took our own bikes, though bike hire (or even e-bikes) can be included.