Where to go on a cycling vacation
MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR TIME
The world is your oyster when it comes to choosing where to go on a cycling vacation, so it is tricky to pick out the pearls. The advantage is that almost every country in the world has been discovered by cycling vacation experts already. They have worked their way up and down the mountain trails of Montenegro, along the wadis of Jordan, through the backwaters villages of Kerala or from cove to cove in Catalonia, finding you all the best bits. Some of the best cycling to be had is, of course, where riding a bike has always been part of the culture. Such as in Cuba, China or Vietnam. Here, you will always be given a cyclist’s welcome and you will rarely cycle alone.
The famous regional pride is hardly surprising when you take in the wealth of natural Catalan beauty on offer to cyclists. From the snowy Pyrenean peaks to sun-soaked Mediterranean coves, there is also a volcanic park and plethora of cycling trails. These traverse wild deserted coasts and dainty turquoise coves, medieval villages or the inland Aiguamolls Nature Reserve.
Central American countries are slowly waking up to cycling opportunities for visitors. Such as the cycling vacation that takes you from Granada in Nicaragua to Panama City, taking in Costa Rica on the way. Because it would be rude not to really. And at many spots along the way, you get to discover rainforests with wildlife and birdwatching a plenty.
The Coast to Coast cycle route is a circuit of discovery indeed, traversing varied landscapes of rainforest, volcanic and coast. Head south along the Pacific from San Jose, climb up to the Cerro de la Muerte Pass, and down through plantation filled valleys to the, oh yes, the Caribbean. So, if the cycling doesn’t take your breath away, the scenery certainly will.
Although most famous for its coastline, there are extraordinary cycling vacations to be had in Croatia even just an hour inland. Such as the sixteen emerald green lakes of Plitvice or the Velebit National Park where the wide trails are perfect for mountain biking. You can cycle the coast too, of course, hopping and pedalling the islands. Such as Vis. Which is, of course, just bliss.
The island’s diverse landscapes – from the Caribbean coast to the Sierra Maestra Mountains, the tobacco plantations to the streets of heady Havana – mean you will be pedaling through the past and the present, the urban and the wild. Follow in Fidel’s revolutionary footsteps, or take a cultural route, stopping in local bars and music venues. You’ll certainly earn your mojitos on a Cuba cycling vacation.
You don’t have to do the Tour de France to have a tour de force cycling vacation. France has a host of ‘Voie Vertes’ designed for bikes only, and a fine network of long distant cycling routes. Gems include the coastal cycle from Saint-Malo to Mont-Saint-Michel. Or pedal through the vineyards of Burgundy, Alsace or Beaujolais. And of course the Dordogne is always divine.
With all that amazing food it’s just as well Italy’s cycling menu is equally rich, to work it all off. For starters, Tuscany’s rolling hills around Lucca to Liguria’s beautiful Cinque Terre coastline. Main course, Puglia, following both the Adriatic and Ionian coasts. Or Umbria, packed with Roman ruins and divine hilltop villages. And how can you resist Sardinia for desert?
From the wooded hills of the north to the stark mountains south of Madaba and the plains of the Jordan Valley, there is a wide diversity of terrain in Jordan ideal for cycling. The mountain biking is still embryonic, but with good guides you will find the still unmarked goat tracks and farmers’ paths that MTB’ers go mad for.
One of the finest ways to discover Kerala. Within a few hours out of Cochin you can be cycling through spice and coconut plantations, along the banks of the River Periyar with birds and butterflies that you can only have dreamed of, following you along the route. Cycle through small villages, staying at homestays along the way. And relax those cycling muscles en route with a traditional Ayurvedic massage.
Montenegro’s coastline is something else, with cycling taking you along some of the most stunning coves and clifftop views that the Mediterranean has to offer. Including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Bay of Kotor. It’s not all coastal cycling here though, with opportunities to bike around the shoreline of Lake Skadar, the biggest in the Balkans, or up into the Budva Mountains for some challenging climbs.
Portugal offers freewheeling perfection. The Alentejo mixes fertile plains, shady oak forests and coastal delights, while Sintra's lush undulations are scattered with UNESCO architectural gems demanding picture stops. The Algarve hinterland offers gentle hills dotted with ancient villages like Moorish beauty Silves. But if you want hills, head to the Serra da Estrela, where wineries flank the ancient university town Coimbra.
Seeing South Africa from a saddle is something else. The Capetown circuit is not to be missed, with highlights including Langeberge Mountains , Bontebok National Park and the Great Karoo Desert. Quench your thirst with vineyards everywhere too. To push yourself a bit more, head to the Drakensburg Mountains, the highest in South Africa, passing through wonders such as the Blyde River Canyon, and on into Kruger National Park.
Cycling just seems like the right thing to do in Sri Lanka. It feels less invasive, somehow, arriving at its many sacred sites, such as Anuradhapura or Sigirya, on a bike. Popular routes include the tropical backroads that wind their way through tea plantations around Ella, or saunter along the coastal wetlands of Bundala National Park, with cool off sessions on Sri Lankan beaches such as Mirissa.
Cyclists who don’t like to stray too far from water will love pedaling around Sweden. Stockholm, already very bike friendly, makes a great starting point. From here, head into Sörmland where you can disappear for days around wooded lakes and through seaside towns such as Mariefred and Trosa. But you can’t miss Sweden’s archipelago, with island hopping across a handful of its 24,000 glorious islands.
The coastal cycle from Hue to Nha Trang is slow travel at its most sublime, from the historic monuments of Hoi An and Hue to the relaxing beaches of Whale Island. You can combine a cycling vacation here with visits to hill tribe villages, some kayaking on the lakes of Ba Be National Park, scuba diving or snorkeling and visiting cultural icons such as My Son, the ancient centre of Cham civilization.
Our cycling vacation highlights
RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL'S SUPPLIERS RECOMMEND
Melanie McAnaw from our cycling vacation provider, Headwater:
"Lake Constance is a superb option for those who are new to this kind of vacation - flat cycling routes, interest packed routes, with loads of options to shorten or lengthen the routes using the train or boats."
Andrew Appleyard, from our leading cycling vacation supplier, Exodus, is the man to ask where to go on a cycling vacation:
We actually have a cycling trip that goes across Tanzania. It’s a great different way to see Africa. It’s completely different. Lots of people worry about cycling across game parks with the various wildlife, but the only thing I’ve seen is some footage of a topi being chased by a lion and knocking the cyclist off his bike! A lion will not see someone with a soft shelled hat, padded shorts and two wheels as something that’s appetising. But cycling across the Serengeti is underrated.
Andrew Straw, founder of our cycling vacation supplier, Saddle Skedaddle, gives great pointers on where to go on a cycling vacation:
"Every country has amazing cycling and it’s tricky to decide where is best. Sometimes ticking of a few cols in the Alps floats my boat and other times gently rolling along and not seeing a soul all day is just as important. But for me it’s the scenery and local interactions that drive me to explore destinations. The Lake District of Chile and Argentina always takes my breath away and the snowcapped volcano still takes me by surprise. Combine this with chatting to the locals in a bar …usually over a Malbec and usually about football is always fun. Places like Guilin in China are full of contradictions. One day you’ll somehow find yourself teaching in a local school and the next minute be accompanied on the road by an ancient cyclist whose age belies his speed and who has slightly fewer teeth in his mouth than on his crank."