There are two things that have been a part of my life from my earliest memories: cycling and travel. When I first felt the freedom of riding without training wheels, I’d see how fast I could go down the big hill, hair flying in the wind. My family traveled a lot and I loved the adventure of seeing new places and learning about the people who lived there. As a teen, I began to seriously cycle and ride long distances. I also took my first trip to Europe, alas, without my bike. I was studying abroad and found that same sense of freedom; training wheels thrown to the curb, hair flying in the wind. For me, both interests have developed into full-blown passions over the years.
This week, while I was watching the Tour de France cyclist whiz by the beautiful scenery of France, it occurred to me that this summer or fall is a great time to take a cycling trip to Europe. If you need an excuse, the exchange rates are stronger than they have been in a couple of years and the weather is generally warm and dry. But the best reason is that biking gives you an opportunity to get off the main roads, interact with the local community, and really get a true feel for the region.
The first reaction for most people is, “But I’m not Lance Armstrong!” The good news is that most moderately active people and even children are fit enough to enjoy an organized cycling tour. Routes average 25 – 30 miles, or four to five hours of pedaling per day, and a guide rides among small groups of riders. Everyone is welcome to ride at their own pace, stopping as they wish to shop, eat, or just drink in the view. Various meet up points are established and the daily ride ends at your hotel for the night. Support vehicles carry luggage, purchases, extra equipment, and will even give a lift to tired riders. And for those who want to push beyond, optional routes and extensions are always available to get in more mileage each day. Different regions are rated easy/moderate/challenging, with descriptions of terrain and mileage so you can choose according to your ability.
There are multiple companies that offer scheduled tours throughout Europe. Three premier cycle tour operators that I can recommend are Backroads, Duvine Adventures, and Butterfield and Robinson. All of their cycle tours include:
- use of top-quality bicycles
- helmets (or you can bring your own)
- route planning & travel logistics
- a ride-along guide
- support vehicle and mechanical support
- nightly accommodations
- most meals
Each company also has special features that set it apart. Backroads offers three different categories of accommodations: Premier Inns, which are Relais & Châteaux and Small Luxury Hotels of the World; Casual Inns, which are comfortable and informal without sacrificing quality standards; and Family Camping, where tents and meals are prepared by the tour leaders and luggage is delivered to your plush sleeping bag with thick pad. Duvine Adventures is all about sampling from the local vintners, so all wine tastings and wine at meals are included. Duvine also has some self-guided tours that allows you to cycle independently, but provides daily support of route maps, luggage transfers, accommodations, and meals. Butterfield and Robinson includes wine with meals and all gratuities, so you don’t have to touch your wallet. They also provide an opportunity for a couple to dine away from the group for a romantic meal.
Europe has so many hidden gems to discover and a cycle tour is just the way to find them at your own pace. In the rolling hills of Tuscany you’ll be treated to amazing art and history. In the Loire Valley of France you’ll find luxurious château and elegant wines. Ride in the bike-friendly, totally flat Netherlands that has more bikes than people, or try the Hardanger Mountains of Norway for some serious climbing (or serious downhill!). Cycling tours are wonderful for anyone – couples, singles, or families, who want to travel slowly and soak up the surroundings. For me it is the ultimate merge of two of my favorite things. If you are ready to give it a try, please get in touch and I’d love to help you plan a great cycling tour in Europe.