Being married to a teacher means we are obliged to holiday during peak periods. Driving over to France is one way to avoid expensive flight and car hire charges. This summer we’ve booked an outbound ferry and inbound Eurotunnel for less than £100 (no extra charge for carrying bikes on the car). Inspired by the extensive network of Voies Vertes cycle trails, we’ve booked two self-catering gite apartments directly with the owners – the first on the Voie Verte des Hautes-Vosges; the second on the Voie Verte Trans-Ardennes. We’ll take our own bikes and explore the local area for free via the cycling and walking trails. In our experience, French self-catering properties are more competitively-priced than in the UK. The same goes for chambres d’hôtes – we’ve booked a couple of one-night stopovers (44 and 60 euros respectively, including breakfast). Alas, a guarantee of warm, sunny weather appears to be priceless!
Cycle from Cherbourg to Cap de la Hague. Take your bikes on the ferry and not your car. Leave the car in a safe residential area of Portsmouth cycle to the terminal. It will cost about £50 return. In Cherbourg turn right and there is a cycle path all the way from the town centre to Querqueville then quiet country lanes. Really beautiful countryside and great beaches. Stay at a cheap B&B in Auderville, if the weather is rubbish go to the very heavily subsidised leisure centre/pool in Beaumont. Great sea food at Goury the only downside is the nuclear re-processing plant but they do pay for the leisure centre!
Google map: bit.ly/17Llpjs
Follow a section of 'La Loire à Vélo' cycle route for a cheap, rewarding trip through the Unesco listed valley of the Loire. Take in the awe inspiring chateaux dotted along (and sometimes in) the river, and revel in the peace and pace of life on two wheels. The Loire valley is rich in heritage, nature and produce, but it is not an expensive region: refuelling on the finest Touraine goats cheeses accompanied by Angers plums and a bottle of Loire wine won't break the picnic budget; small family inns, campsites and restaurants cluster along the route for good value stopovers; cycle hire is reasonably priced and if you feel like skipping a section you can take your bike on the local trains for free. Rolling along between villages of dazzling white stone, among vineyards, orchards and endless riverscapes is ample entertainment at very little cost, and there's plenty to see and do in the area for saddle sore days too.
www.cycling-loire.com/ has all the info you need to plan your trip, including interactive route maps, downloadable brochures and accommodation listed by price.
Just a short train ride from Lisbon’s Cais do Sodre station is Cascais where sun lovers can enjoy the beach but for those seeking something more energetic pick up one of the free bikes for hire at the BiCas scheme located close to the station. You will need to show ID card or passport before heading off on the dedicated 16k cycle path out of town and down the coast. Perhaps purchase a picnic first, store it in the handy bike basket and stop off at Guincho beach, beloved of surfers. On the way back make a short and worthwhile detour to Museum Casa Historias das Paula Rego, Avenida de Republica 300, where entry is free. Here you will dazzled by the largest collection of paintings, drawings and etchings from the vivid imagination of Paula Rego, Portugal’s finest living artist.
Take a train or drive the hour or so west of Florence to the beautiful compact city of Lucca. It is virtually car free so perfect for wandering! Climb the Torre Guinigi which has oak trees growing at the top. Hire bikes from piazza Santa Maria del Borgo and join the popular afternoon Lucchesi 'passegiata' around the city's wide ramparts, enjoying views of the botanic gardens and plenty of private gardens too as you cycle around. Enjoy a rich hot chocolate in the Piazza dell' Anfiteatro. The cool narrow streets surrounding the central piazzas of Lucca have a wealth of individual shops selling fashion, food and ice cream, many of them seemingly unchanged over the centuries.
If the fancy takes you make a detour on the way back to the 'Parco di Pinocchio' in Collodi which is an eccentric but somehow endearing homage to the wooden puppet and its author, with garden sculptures of the key characters in the story.
AXS offers bicycle tours, rentals and sales in Marrakech and the Atlas Mountains. The tours range from easy to expert and offer both on and off road options. It's run by Americans and Moroccans and all the guides speak great English. The bicyces are top of the line Giant bikes and differ depending on what tour option you take. This was the highlight of my trip to Marrakech - definitely the best way to see the city and an easy day trip into the Atlas mountains, which are very beautiful.
The 'Pedalata dei Castelli' is a non-competitive cycle ride that takes in medieval castles and picturesque villages that are largely undiscovered by non-Italians, against a backdrop of the stunning Apennines in Northern Tuscany.
There are two stops at castles along the way where you get to taste the best local delicacies and be entertained by reenactments of medieval sword fights. At the end there is a slap-up Slow Food or, as it is known locally, Zero Km lunch.
Full support is provided for cyclists and all types of bike are available for hire, including electric bikes, making it very accessible. Advice on accommodation is available.
Non-cycling partners and families need not miss out, as there is also a guided tour (in Italian, but it doesn't really matter if you can't understand Italian as you get to have a good look round) that includes the local food tastings, as well as the opportunity to join the cyclists for lunch.
It is a fabulous combination of the best local food, combined with sightseeing and cycling. Last year's event was great fun with nearly 300 cyclists participating despite poor weather.
Stroll or cycle the traffic free paths of this gently rolling 22km coastal stretch between Pembrey Country Park and the National Wetland Centre, Wales. Transformed from its industrial past, Llanelli’s steel works are now a wildfowl packed lake surrounded by sculpture dotted parkland. Carmarthenshire Woods and a giant earth sculpture replace a coal fired power station. Salt marshes and dunes provide a wildlife haven.
Bikes can be hired from The Discovery Centre at Llanelli (Merlin Cycle Tours), from where you can head in either direction, refuel in the café or grab an ice cream.
Discovery Centre/North Dock, Llanelli SA15 2LF
Google map: bit.ly/10TmB11
Perched on the Worcestershire/Shropshire border, less than an hour from central Birmingham, is the Wyre Forest. One of England's largest remaining ancient woodlands, it's beautiful in spring with bluebells, daffodils and celandines in the clearings and the smell of wild garlic wafting in the air. There are trails for all abilities leading you through the bright oak forest. If you're lucky you'll catch a glimpse of fallow deer or kingfishers along the brook. If you want something more adrenalin-packed than walking or mountain biking through the forest, there is always 'Go Ape'. And round it all off with a cuppa and slab of cake on the sofas by the fire in the Forest Cafe.
Callow Hill, Bewdley, Worcestershire, DY14 9XQ
Google map: bit.ly/12y2Wrk
Three miles west of Bewdley on the A456. Follow brown Forestry Commission signs from Kidderminster, to arrive at the Visitor Centre.
Parking charge: £3 for all day.
The nearest train station is Kidderminster. Bus routes 192/292 operate between Birmingham and Ludlow.
Walk on ancient pilgrim paths in the high Apennines, swim in mountain gorges, see behind closed doors of castles, churches and palazzi … just some of the things we’ve done over the last six summers with the help of Farfalle in Cammino, a responsible tourism group in Lunigiana. This area is ‘undiscovered Tuscany’, the land of a million stars and a hundred castles, of small towns and villages in valleys which lead from the mountains to the sea. Life stays close to the rhythm of the year - what's on, what's available to eat, depends on the weather and the season. The Farfalle Guides are local, knowledgeable, young and enthusiastic, keen to share the delights of the area with English speakers. Stay in local ‘agritourismi’ or rent a villa. On Easter Saturday we’ll be on the first-ever Three Castles Electric Bike Tour – 25 kilometres power-assisted pedalling, with of course with a stop for lunch to sample local specialities. The Farfalle’s 2013 programme also includes a new one-week self-guided e-bike gastro-tour over the mountains from Parma to Lucca.
More about Lunigiana and the Apennines:
Farfalle in Cammino:
Simona Polli: +39 338 5238983
Parcobike and the Parma-Lucca tour:
Pierangelo Caponi +39 333 6502210
Google map: bit.ly/14nxjkl
Hire a bicycle and cycle east along Oriental Parade, past the airport on the west side, cutting down to Lyall bay then on round to Owhiro Bay. Here the tarmac road ends but if you have a mountain bike you can proceed along the coast towards the Red Rocks seal colony.
Start from Oriental Parade on the Wellington waterfront.
Google map: bit.ly/13SPgXB
We did a house swap to Bernartice in Southern Bohemia. The roads are fantastic for cycling and our hosts had left us two good bikes. We set off cycling to Zvikov (round trip 20 miles), unsure of what we would find at journey's end. We were stunned by the beauty of Zvitov, set as it is at the confluence of the Vlatava and the Otava, a magnificent gorge and has a beautiful 15th century castle. You can do boat trips from the little jetty. Very understated.
Google map: bit.ly/ZcGwX9
Less than 100 miles apart, these South Moravian towns are linked by good cycling routes, vineyards around the River Morava, the heady smell of flowering lime trees, buildings of Baroque splendour, palaces and gardens, and market square cafes. In Kromeriz the highlight was Radnice restaurant serving a degustation menu with samples of local wine. In Mikulov, the Hotel Templ provided a comfortable room and excellent food, and was a good base for a day’s circular cycle route exploring the former Liechtenstein palaces of Valtice and Lednice, and the former Jewish area of Mikulov itself.
I can’t recommend the city of Krakow highly enough. One of the most enjoyable and informative ways to get acquainted with this beautiful city is take a four hour cycle tour with “the cool tour company”. Our group of four were lucky enough to have a guide to ourselves for the afternoon and he personalised the tour to suit our interests. Matheus was incredibly knowledgeable about his city, taking us round the old town, along the river Vistula, and into Kazimierz - the Jewish district. You don’t have to be fit to do the tour as you make frequent stops, and over lunch Matheus was able to answer any question we put him about the history of Krakow. We enjoyed cycling so much that on another day we hired bikes ourselves and cycled out of the city, along the river and through leafy suburbs to the Koscuiszki mound, a man-made memorial to an 18th century Polish patriot, which commands great views of the city. The company does other trips on foot and further afield which also come highly recommended.
Poland’s Hel Peninsula was once mistaken for the Caribbean in my holiday photos – and you can send postcards saying you’re on holiday in Hel – but it gets very crowded in high season, so the Pomeranian/Kashubian coast to the west offers a quieter alternative with the same fantastic beaches. Łeba is a highlight; you can hire bikes cheaply for a forest ride through the Słowiński National Park to an amazing moving sand dune. Ustka is a lively seaside town with a particularly good bakery (Piekarnia-Ciastkarnia Eugeniusz Brzóska, ul. Marynarki Polskiej 40, 76-270 Ustka) and an excellent café specialising in stuffed dumplings which never taste quite as good outside Poland (Stara Pierogarnia, ul. Darłowska 10A, 76-270 Ustka. Tel: 00 48 59 307 03 03 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org). We went there three days in a row. The skansen (open air museum) of Kashubian culture at Wdzydze Kiszewskie is also well worth a day trip (www.muzeum-wdzydze.gda.pl), as is the more famous one at Szymbark, which boasts the world’s longest table and a house which has been built upside down, as well as a range of traditional food options and its own brewery. (www.na-kaszuby.pl/Ciekawe_miejsca/Szymbark.html).
Piekarnia-Ciastkarnia Eugeniusz Brzóska, ul. Marynarki Polskiej 40, 76-270 Ustka
Stara Pierogarnia, ul. Darłowska 10A, 76-270 Ustka. Tel: 00 48 59 307 03 03 Email: email@example.com
Last year my husband and I went on a self-guided cycling tour through the company Donauradfreunde. It started and finished in Salzburg and followed the Tauernradweg for about 200 miles. We were a bit nervous as we had never done a cycling trip before but despite being surrounded by stunning mountainous scenery, the route itself was surprisingly flat. It was also almost entirely on very well-maintained cycle paths, away from the traffic and our luggage was transported for us from hotel to hotel. The bikes were waiting for us at our first hotel and looked as if they were almost brand new. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and would do it again like a shot!
If you’re heading to Mallorca for a spring cycling trip, be sure to make Son Brull a beer or food stop on your way back from a ride. Set in the hillside not far from Port de Pollenca, Son Brull is a restored 18th century monastery which has been sensitively converted into a boutique hotel and spa. Cycling up the imposing driveway you find yourself outside a stone courtyard which leads through to the infinity pool and terrace. It is a fantastic spot to end the day in a rather beautiful setting.
Exmouth is wonderful for cycling for all levels and certainly family friendly. Cycle paths include along Exmouth's two mile sandy beach with sand dunes and red cliffs at the end. Or follow the ever-changing Exe Estuary cycle path that goes from Exmouth all the way to Exeter. The scenery is stunning and passes through beautiful Devon villages (with some lovely watering holes on route!) you can even take your bikes on a boat (from Exmouth or Topsham) to the cycle paths on the other side or visit Turf Lock, which can only be reached by bike, foot or boat! Or try the bicycle path along a disused railway line through woods from Exmouth to Budleigh Salterton where there is another wonderful beach to visit. You can hire bikes at Bikelands, a funky family run boutique bicycle shop in the centre of Exmouth. Their bikes are gorgeous colours with wicker baskets and adorned with flowers. They have options for all the family and lots of tips on routes.
Smack bang on the National Cycle Route 1, Ivy Grange Farm Yurts is the perfect place to start your cycling season off by exploring the bike-friendly Suffolk countryside. You can take your own bike or borrow one from the owners, select your Sustrans map and choose your route - the popular Brewery Tour, including St Peter's; the beaches at Southwold and Walberswick; or the market town of Beccles, the self-styled Gateway to the Broads. It's perfect for families, novice or expert cyclists. And when you get back to base, you can relax at your beautifully finished yurt, refresh yourself in the solar-thermal woodland shower and watch the sun go down by your campfire.
Cycle away the winter cobwebs in the Brecon Beacons!
Park in the village of Talybont on Usk, where you can start and finish at the White Hart or Star pubs. One has a bunkhouse and the other a B&B and restaurant open through the winter; both have great beers and good food.
Cross the canal by the footbridge then cycle north on the Taff trail which begins with a long climb alongside the Talybont reservoir. you will see the high peaks ahead of you to the left. You then pass through Talybont on Usk and Taf Fechan forests, before crossing a B-road leading to a fantastic climb up stone tracks to the Cwm Cynwyn pass as the base of Cribyn at an altitude of nearly 2000ft. On a clear day the views are stupendous and you may surprise a few walkers, fell-runners and sheep.
The descent is very technical with huge boulders and terrifying drops coming down the other side before the surface improves to a fast tarmac descent into LLanfrynach, where there's a pub for a well-earned pint, before following the roads back to Talybont.
Talybont on Usk village:
White Hart Inn:
Talybont-on-Usk, Brecon, Powys LD3 7JD
Talybont-on-Usk, Brecon, Powys LD3 7YX
Google map: bit.ly/UILn0F
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