You can cycle along the whole of the 67km Belgium coastline safely and easily, from the French border to the Dutch. I prefered the more wild stretch between De Panne (bordering France) and the midway point of Ostend. De Panne has a beautiful beach and is surrounded by forest, nature reserves and wonderful stretches of sand dunes. One thing the Belgians do very well are cycle paths, and you can be undisturbed by cars for quite long stretches. There are also a lot of landmarks dotted along the coast connected to the first and second world war which are fascinating.
The food is great, the weather can be awful but there are lots of good B&B's and campsites. It's easy going riding, so it's not for the hardcore but possible to do some or most of it in a long weekend if you give yourself time to do some sightseeing or get off the main track and explore the surrounding countryside.
Ostend is worth a stay and can be quite lively. The North Sea coast is stunning at any time of year and the sand dunes are wonderful so you may just want to carry on in to France or Holland!
You can fly or get the ferry to Ostend and hire bikes there. Also you can travel on to any Belgian station for free on a Eurostar ticket within 24 hours of arrival. Bike hire is plentiful, but you could also carry on from France or Holland if you were doing a cycle trip there.
This is a stunning area with a beautiful landscape of valleys, farmland and forests set against a backdrop of the snowcapped mountains of the Pyrenees. The area is perfect for cycling with a wonderful sunny climate, plenty of off-road tracks, excellent roads that take you through medieval villages, and drivers who respect cyclists.
Cycle the 7k route round beautiful Lake Banyoles, where Olympic triathletes train, and have a four-course lunch overlooking the lake, or ride across country over the Cap de Creus to see Dali's coastal home near Cadaquez (about 3 and a half hours from Banyoles) and enjoy tapas on the beach before returning.
Hardy cyclists can take the challenging route to Mare de Del Mont - a 19k ride with a 1,000metre climb. Contact Fiona and Gareth at their triathlon centre near Banyoles, in the heart of Catalonia, for cycle hire, coaching, accompanied rides, accommodation and to arrange collection from Girona airport.
One of best things about Valencia is the empty riverbed of the Turia, which has been turned into an 8km-long, twisting park through the middle of the city, with a lagoon, gardens and playing fields plus the amazing City of Arts and Sciences, an architectural wonderland.
You can cycle from the old town and through cycle paths in the park and on to the revamped port, seeing everything in half a day. Hire bikes (including tandems) at Cycletour, next to the fab Gulliver’s playground in the park, or in town at the excellent Orange bikes.
Orange Bikes Santa Teresa 8, Valencia (0034 96 391 7551, orangebikes.net).
Calais gets a bad press, but ride off the ferry and turn right and you are on the Côte d’Opale, one of the most dramatic coastlines in northern France. And inland, just 20-30km from Calais, you are in idyllic, pastoral countryside where there is hardly a car on the road. This is fantastic cycling country, far more relaxed than on our side of the Channel — they really respect bikes here. As cyclists count as foot passengers on a ferry, this is by far the cheapest way to get to France by bike . . . or any other mode of transport come to that.
I've just cycled this tour in Norway which is well sign-posted and beautiful to travel.
You shouldn't expect Norway to be an easy cycling country though. I went through snow, fog, rain, wind and the brightest sunshine within 10 days. And the roads tend to climb very steeply. Norwegian camping sites are mostly good and the Norwegians themselves are very nice and helpful. And the scenery is great! I surely will go back and do some more cycling there!
A really good web resource I’ve been using to expand my repertoire of riding is a website called www.bikely.com. It’s a global community site for logging routes and sharing them with others. I’ve been using it for everything from holidays to training rides.
You can draw your proposed route on the map and it’ll work out distance, height gains and you can even export it to Google Earth for a pre ride fly through. Great fun for planning your own Tour De France in the lunch hour with some really good local knowledge on a lot of the routes.
Simon Hursthouse, a former cycling journalist now resident in the north of Hungary, rents out a holiday cottage with bikes to hire and also organises cycle trips. The countryside is suitable for all grades of experience - from beginners to the highly-trained - and the roads are empty. The arrangements include home-grown vegetables and cheese from some village gardens. Very highly recommended!
This Natural Park is superb in spring. Good weather, no cars and good roads. Accommodation easy and staggeringly cheap to find on line.
The Vias Verdes are "green routes" through Spain. Former railway lines, the gravel tracks are traffic-free and suitable for cycling and walking. They provide a beautiful alternative to on-road cycling, ideal if you have young kids in tow.
Routes are pretty flat or at least nicely graded, even in hilly areas, because they were originally designed for trains. The network is not huge at present but there are plenty of 2-3 day excursions to be enjoyed on the existing Vias. This is a really fun way to explore Spain!
www.viasverdes.es - only in Spanish, I'm afraid, but the map etc. is easy enough to follow and the routes are generally well-signed once you are there
This website for the Czech company TopBicycle is useful for anyone who wants to go cycling in Slovakia. It has details of bike tours with details of sights to see en route.
Cycling is massively popular in Slovakia and the stunning countryside is criss-crossed with a 5,400km network of cycle routes, all well-marked with destinations and distances. One route follows the Danube river from Bratislava to Sturovo, from where you can peddle into Hungary, if you like. There's another great route that follows the Small Carpathian Wine Trail so you can try all the great Slovak wines and not worry who's the designated driver!
Slovak Cycle Club, Namestie Slobody 6, 921 01 Piestany
Tel/fax: 033 7740 548
Gentle countryside, prevailing south-west wind, lots of cycle paths in the Netherlands and bike-aware motorists when you need to use the roads. Follow paths signed in red from the port across to Enschede or Almelo, then choose your own route in Germany using ADFC cycle maps or download maps with tried & tested routes at www.radweit.de. Dutchflyer tickets from London to the Hook of Holland for only £25 o/w incl bike!
Friday - trains to Inverness with bike on board.
Saturday - head west and into Glen Affric - one of the longest and most beautiful. Narrow lanes, east side of Strathglass, lead to forest track to single track with fantastic scenery. Youth hostel at Allt Beithe in remote spot at head of glen.
Sunday - west past Camban, some bike pushing needed, and Allt Granda Falls followed by long descent along Gleann Lichd to west coast at Morvich. Road to Skye, over bridge and down Sleat peninsula. Fabulous views of Knoydart for free. Youth Hostel at Armadale.
Monday - first ferry to Mallaig and train, via scenic West Highland line to Fort William, Glasgow and back home in time for work Tuesday.
Mountain bikes needed but the route has everything - beautiful forest, lochs, mountains and coast combined with scenic train journeys and great hostels.
Youth Hostels at Inverness, Glen Affic and Armadale.
Trains at Glasgow, Inverness, Mallaig and Fort William.
Flying into Geneva, I spent the next ten days on a grand tour of the lake.
After one night in Geneva I hired a touring bike and set off with my tent round the Swiss side of the lake with stops at Nyon, Montreux and Lausanne.
Had some amazing lunches by the ports and decided to get a boat back to Geneva. Then found a company doing tours on the French side of the lake, even up into the Alps, which is still amazing even without the snow.
Tucked away down country lanes between Concarneau and Pont-Aven. A really lovely beach - ideal for children with soft sand, sloping gently into the sea. A small Ile off-shore and small dunes and rocks for exploration and adventure.
A number of excellent campsites - the one where we camped was linked to the beach by a path through a field of poppies. Good place for the first French camping trip with a young family.
Raguenes Plage, Nevez, Brittany
This cocktail bar takes some hunting out (up some narrow stairs from an inconspicuous door on the street) but when you get up there it's a real find. Delicious cocktails served by really friendly, unpretentious staff. It gets quite busy at the weekends but there's usually more space (and often a DJ) in the two bars at the back - they're for members only but you can call in advance for free entry or sign up online for free membership. Try the Marylebone mojito - it's out of this world.
135 Western Road (beside Waitrose)
Tel: 01273 720059
Nearest station: Brighton
When I was in Rethymno, Crete in 2001 I was told about a hostel in a village called Plakias that I should go visit. I went down to Plakias and ended up staying for weeks, and returned several times over the next few years. There is great snorkeling and hiking within walking distance of the hostel. This is one of the best hostels I've been to in many years of travelling.
Great company for hiring bikes in Spain or Portugal. They are located in Lisbon, but will ship bikes anywhere in Spain or Portugal to your hotel, and will collect from there or elsewhere.
All bikes are of a good standard, and relatively new. And Didier, the owner, is as helpful as you can imagine! They also organise tours.
If you look at the map, you'll find that the very south of Brittany is a bit harder to get to than the rest - maybe this is why Brits tend not to go there.
If you'd like to camp on a site where everyone is speaking French, and join in communal meals and activities feeling that you're really involved in local culture, head for the coastline around and to the north of La Baule.
We found this area by searching campsite reviews, and finding a review expressing horror at people who insisted on talking late into the night 'in French'.
And you can get there on the train quicker than you can drive - stations at La Baule Escoublac, Les Pins & Pornichet.
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