The Complete Guide To Europe By Bicycle

Nothing beats a cycling holiday for freewheeling fun
By Anthony Lambert

The Independent
Published: 03 June 2006

WHAT’S SO GREAT ABOUT CYCLING?

Tired of returning home from holiday to a month of dieting? Ever felt
you never really got to know the region you were in? Time you took to
two wheels. Cycling is perfectfor exploring the countryside and cities:
you can cover good distances, but you never feel unable to stop and
look at something, as is so often the case when you’re in a car. Not
until you’ve cycled through peaceful countryside do you realise how
many natural sounds you miss inside a car. And you can also feel you
are doing your bit for the planet.

AM I FIT ENOUGH?

You will be amazed how quickly your abilities will increase. Regular
cyclists have a fitness level equal to that of a person 10 years
younger, and cycling just 20 miles a week halves your risk of heart
disease.

CAN I BEGIN IN BRITAIN?

Yes, thanks to the 10,000-mile-plus National Cycle Network. Stretching
from Land’s End to John O’Groats, the numbered and sometimes named
routes are a mix of off-road tracks, quiet lanes, closed railway lines
and canal towpaths.

Newly opened in 2006 is the 230-mile Kingfisher Trail through
Fermanagh, Leitrim, Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal, followed this month by
the 113-mile L�n Cambria Trail from Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth, and
from 19 July the 169-mile Hadrian’s Cycleway from the Irish to the
North Seas.

The Forestry Commission (www.forestry.gov.uk) also has more than 1,600
miles of cycling routes, with occasional restrictions. The network of
canal towpaths is usually open to cyclists. The aqueducts at Dundas and
Avoncliff on the Kennet and Avon Canal are part of a 40-mile circuit
from Bristol using the Sustrans route between Bristol and Bath and
taking in the extraordinary series of 29 locks at Caen Hill in Devizes.
Part of the Taff Trail on the 55-mile section from Cardiff to Brecon
follows the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal between Merthyr Tydfil and
Brecon Canal Basin.

I NEED SOME GOOD ADVICE

Two weeks from today, National Bike Week begins. This is the country’s
“celebration of cycling” (17-25 June) with more than 1,500 local events
(www.bikeweek.org.uk) such as free bike MOTs, charity rides, and
encouragement to Bike2Work.

For holiday cycling, several websites advise on matching equipment to
the kind of cycling you want to do. The CTC (0870 873 0060;
www.ctc.org.uk), the UK’s national cycling organisation, has a “Getting
Started” section on its website. Bike shops usually provide advice, but
don’t buy a mountain bike unless you are planning to go off-road
frequently. A hybrid is the best compromise of gears and tyres – fast
enough on tarmac but able to cope with towpaths.

WHERE ARE THE BEST ROUTES?

Ideas for day or weekend tours abound in the Ordnance Survey Cycle
Tours series, which covers Britain by county or around principal cities
(�8.99). For longer rides on the NCN, Sustrans publishes laminated
maps with route information, accommodation and public transport (from
�2.99). Cycling in the UK (�14.99), the NCN’s official guide,
contains information on 148 of the best signed routes and 43 family day
rides – see Sustrans (www.sustransshop.co.uk) and Stanfords (020-7836
1321; www.stanfords.co.uk).

Smaller, free guides are available from regional tourist offices or
regional development agencies, such as “Cycle North East England”,
published by One NorthEast and Sustrans (08701 601778). Visit *
*Wales’s (08701 211 253; www.cycling.visitwales.com) “Cycling Wales”
brochure contains 59 route ideas. Visit Scotland (0845 22 55 121;
www.visitscotland.com) produces “Cycle Scotland”, with 147 tours.

If you want all your cycling gear to be provided, Country Lanes
(www.countrylanes.co.uk) operates day trips (and longer breaks) from
its hire centres at Beaulieu (0845 370 0668) and Brockenhurst (01590
622627) in the New Forest, Windermere (01539 444544) and Newby Bridge
(0845 370 0778) in the Lake District and Dalesbridge (0845 370 0558) in
the Yorkshire Dales.

I WANT TO CYCLE ON THE RIGHT

A long weekend in Normandy is organised by Sherpa (020- 8577 2717;
www.sherpaexpeditions.co.uk), with luggage transported. Headwater
(www.headwater.com; 01606 720033) arranges four-night trips in Brittany
with two nights in a 16th-century chateau. Belle France (0870 405 4056;
www.bellefrance.co.uk) covers 17 regions.

AND FURTHER AFIELD?

About a dozen companies organise week-long or longer packages which
usually include bike hire, accommodation, most meals, luggage transfer,
a guide for groups or emergency back-up if you’re cycling
independently. Quiet, well-maintained routes are used, and maps and
notes are provided for independent cyclists. Daily mileages seldom
exceed 30.

Headwater (see above) also offers tours in Italy, Spain, Mallorca,
Cyprus and Austria, as well as nine regions of France. A local
representative is on hand for any problems as well as transporting your
luggage between hotels.

LB Freedom Tours (01442 263377; www.lbfreedomtours.com) specialises in
Alpine tours of Switzerland, Italy and France and in holidays on
Sardinia, Sicily and Cyprus. Sherpa Expeditions (020-8577 2717;
www.sherpa-walking-holidays.co.uk/cycling) offers self-guided tours in
nine countries. Inntravel (01653 617086; www.inntravel.co.uk) offers
hotels with excellent food and week-long tours in Portugal, Spain,
Italy and France.

CAN SOMEONE LEAD THE WAY?

Explore (0870 333 4001; www.explore.co.uk/cycle), which organises
easy-going to moderate itineraries in 21 countries, provides tour
leaders for groups of up to 16, with luggage transported. The Chain
Gang (01392 662262; www.thechaingang.co.uk) focuses on good food and
small hotels, and constantly refines its itineraries, with a limit of
12 per group.

An Aussie who fell in love with Poland leads eight-day tours with a
maximum of 10 people through Lower Silesia, calling at 12th-century
castles, monasteries and spas. Luggage is transported, and Cycling
Poland (01536 738038; www.cyclingpoland.com) even has a mobile catering
van to fortify participants.

I WANT TO GO IT ALONE

Most national tourist offices have brochures and website sections
devoted to cycling. “Discovering Germany by Bike” suggests 150 cycle
routes, based around the 40,000km network of 200 signposted
long-distance paths (020-7317 0908; www.germany-tourism.de). The
Switzerland Tourism website describes the nine long-distance and many
other cycle routes (00800 100 200 30; www.myswitzerland.com).

The easiest way to get your bike abroad is to cycle to a port and ride
on to a ferry. Bikes are usually carried free and get priority boarding
and disembarkation.

Coaches operated by European Bike Express (01642 713710;
www.bike-express.co.uk) collect bikes and riders at 15 places between
Stokesley and Dover, and drop off at 12 points on their Mediterranean
route, with return fares from �169.

I’M NOT WILD ABOUT HILLS

Then try the cyclists’ paradise of the Low Countries and Denmark, where
flat terrain is combined with excellent facilities for cyclists. An
independent Freewheel Holidays (01636 815636;
www.freewheelholidays.com) seven-night tour of the Funen Isles between
Jutland and Sealand, starting in Odense, barely reaches 15 feet above
sea level.

The other good way to avoid hills is to use a “railway path”, where old
tracks have been converted into cycle paths with, naturally, the
gentlest of gradients. The Spanish Railways Foundation is busy
converting into cycle routes known as Vias Verdes (www.viasverdes.com)
some of the country’s 4,500 miles of abandoned railways.

CAN I GO DOWNHILL MORE THAN UP?

Yes. Of course you have to cheat and there is no better country in
which to do it than Switzerland: the terrain speaks for itself, but the
Swiss Travel System (00800 100 200 30; www.swisstravelsystem.co.uk) of
integrated trains and postbuses makes it easy to let them do the
climbing. Freewheel Holidays (01636 815636; www.freewheelholidays.com)
offers a seven-night package in the Valais from Obergestein to
Martigny, taking advantage of gentle descents along the Rh�ne Valley.

I WANT TO GO HOME ALL COVERED IN MUD

Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; www.skedaddle.co.uk) offers lots of
mountain-biking weekends all over Britain and longer tours in France,
Switzerland, Spain, mainland Italy, Sardinia, Portugal, Greece, Croatia
and Iceland.

WHERE TO CATCH THE ACTION IN THE TOUR DE FRANCE 2006

Hundreds of cyclists and thousands of spectators will descend on
Strasbourg on 1 July for the start of the Tour de France, the race that
captivates the world for 23 days each July. The Tour has been running
annually (except when interrupted by war) since 1903. Here are six
places to watch the action.

STRASBOURG. Be here between 1 and 3 July to watch the Tour’s prologue
and first stage.

SAINT-GREGOIRE. Five days later, the race enters this Breton village.

BORDEAUX. On 11 July the riders set off from this coastal town to Dax,
exactly 100 miles away.

PAU. On 12 July, the race passes through Cambo-les-Bains and Pau.

LE CREUSOT. The second and final time trial takes place in southern
Burgundy, spanning 34 miles from Le Creusot to Montceau-les-Mines on 22
July.

PARIS. The crowds will be 10-deep in the Champs-Elys�es to see the
winner pedal to victory on 23 July.

See www.letour.fr for a route map.

FAQ & Useful Info

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