by Paul Bloomfield, The Daily Telegraph, February 8, 2017
When Karl Drais invented his “velocipede” in 1817, it’s a safe bet he wasn’t thinking about the holiday market. He surely didn’t imagine coasting through billowing lavender fields in Provence, past gilded pagodas in Burma, or between vine-striped hills in South Africa. Yet two centuries and a pair of pedals later, cycling offers arguably the most immersive and enjoyable way of exploring.
On a bike holiday there’s no car window to block those exquisite floral scents; no engine noise to drown out the chants of monks or the clamour of penguins; no fumes to mask the aromas of steaming noodle soup or simmering paella. And as a bonus, when travelling under your own steam there’s always an excuse to tuck in at any and every food stall or pit stop you encounter. It’s always a talking point, too: meeting the locals is never easier than when you’re pulling up on a bike. In short, cycling trips are invigorating, enlightening and just plain fun.
Fortunately, you need neither the calves of Bradley Wiggins nor the grit of Laura Kenny to experience the world on two wheels. The latest generation of guided tours, many featuring only gentle gradients and modest daily distances, come with ample support, efficient luggage transfers and in some cases unabashed luxury.
Our pick of 10 of the best new trips for this year tick these boxes. All are organised and guided by experienced riders, with delightful food and accommodation en route; most are achievable by the average Sunday ambler; and each offers a new perspective on an enticing destination, from the wonders on our doorstep in Britain, through the valleys and vineyards of Europe, to the mountains and ancient marvels of Asia and Africa.
Celebrate the bicentenary of the birth of the bike with a cycling holiday. Viva las revolutions!
1. River roaming, Czech Republic and Germany
Two things you’re certain to find along a German river: castles and cycle paths. So it is along the Elbe and its tributary the Vltava, across the border in the Czech Republic. The eight-day Cycling along the River Elbe tour from Chapters Experience Holidays, a new offshoot of Ramblers, doesn’t stray far from this formula. After a day exploring Prague – not least its mighty city-within-a-castle-within-a-city – you’ll tootle along reassuringly level riverside paths through Bohemian vineyards, past ruined bastions, Renaissance palaces and the quirky rock formations of Saxon Switzerland, bedding down in quaint towns such as Litomerice and Decin. Final stop is Dresden, the “Jewel Box” capital of Saxony, studded with rococo and baroque gems.
From £1,325, including flights, half-board accommodation and bike hire. Three departures in June and July 2017. Chapters Experience Holidays (01707 246666; chaptersholidays.co.uk ).
2. Winelands and whales, South Africa
With empty roads, coastal drama and the vast skies of the Karoo region, South Africa’s Western Cape just begs to be explored by bike. Add in some rather toothsome sauvignons and chardonnays, the grandeur of Table Mountain, sparky Cape Town and the penguins of Boulders Beach and you’ve 12 memorable days in the saddle. KE Adventure’s Cape Town and the Winelands tour meanders among the vineyards of Stellenbosch before tackling the (low) passes of the semi-desert Karoo, leaving time for whale-watching at Hermanus. With distances nudging 70km this isn’t for complete beginners, but gradients are gentle and it’s comfortably achievable for regular riders.
From £2,145, including flights, accommodation, some meals and bike hire. Departures in January, April, September, October and December 2017. KE Adventure (01768 773966; keadventure.com ).
3. Best of British Isles
It was a Scot who gave the world the pedal bike: Kirkpatrick Macmillan, who in 1839 attached foot-levers and cranks to Drais’s embryonic two-wheeler. His grave in wee Keir Mill provides a suitable finale for Wilderness Scotland’s 12-day Five Countries Tour through some of the British Isles’ most memorable landscapes. Traverse the Yorkshire Dales – including stretches of 2014’s Tour de France route – and Lancashire’s Forest of Bowland, Snowdonia and Anglesey, hopping from Holyhead to Dublin and the haunting Wicklow Mountains. Turn your handlebars north to coastal Donegal and the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim, then cross to Scotland to roam the empty roads of Dumfries and Galloway. Fine hotels and guesthouses offset some challenging climbs and longish days.
From £2,695, including accommodation and some meals. Bike hire and transport to/from start and end of tour excluded. Departures May 15, June 19 and September 11. Wilderness Scotland (01479 420020; wildernessscotland.com ).
4. Back roads of Burma
Myanmar boasts a handful of unmissables: the gilded uber-bling of Yangon’s Shwedagon Paya pagoda, the vast stupa-studded plain of Bagan, the floating villages of Inle Lake. But the real jewels of this long-secluded south-east Asian nation are, against the odds, its warm, welcoming people. And the best way to meet the locals? On a bike. Intrepid’s 13-day Cycle Myanmar tour takes in those big hitters but adds legs between out-of-the-way towns and villages, past the teakwood U Bein bridge and through lofty palm groves – watch for toddy producers clambering up to tap the swaying palms for sap.
From £1,825, including b&b accommodation, internal flights and bike hire. Excludes international flights and most meals. Eight departures in March. October, November and December 2017. Intrepid Travel (0808 274 5111; intrepidtravel.com ).
5. Finland in winter
Snow’s no obstacle to cycling – at least, if you’ve got the right kit. On Exodus’s eight-day Fat Biking in Finland your steed is equipped with chunky tyres to steer through the sub-Arctic tundra. Based in a comfortable renovated logger’s lodge in Oulanka National Park, with two nights in a remote wilderness cabin near the Russian border, you’ll head out each day through taiga forest, watching for elk and reindeer browsing mosses and lichen. Distances are modest – no more than 25km each day – and you’ll keep frostbite at bay with hearty traditional cuisine and, naturally, nightly saunas. With minimal light pollution, you’ve a good chance of enjoying the celestial spectacle of the Northern Lights, too.
From £1,399, including flights, accommodation, most meals and fat-bike rental. Five departures in February and March 2017. Exodus (020 8772 3937; exodus.co.uk ).
6. Bikes and barges in Provence, France
The Romans knew a good thing when they conquered it. So did a septet of 14th-century popes. And it’s not hard to see why: the patch of Provence around the lower Rhône river is delectable, from the flamingo-pinked wetlands of the Camargue to the medieval marvels of Avignon, with views across to cyclists’ nemesis Mont Ventoux. Saddle Skedaddle’s eight-day Aigues-Mortes to Avignon holiday explores the Camargue Natural Park, pretty villages of Les Alpilles, the magnificent Roman Pont du Gard, the palaces of Avignon and the pontiff-endorsed vineyards at Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The pace is relaxed, with moderate mileages and floating accommodation aboard a converted traditional barge tracking the route upstream.
From £1,070, including accommodation, all meals and bike hire. Flights excluded. Thirteen departures between April and October. Saddle Skedaddle (0191 265 1110; skedaddle.co.uk ).
7. Temples and tigers of Nepal
Tackling the roof of the world doesn’t have to be daunting. Mountain Kingdom’s 10-day Classic Cycling Tour of Nepal is no cakewalk, sure – but with ample time to dawdle on climbs and thrill to long freewheeling descents, not to mention a support vehicle to hop in should energy wane, it’s graded a mere “moderate”. There’s nothing moderate about the scenery, though: beyond the medieval temples of Kathmandu and World Heritage-listed Bhaktapur, stays in hilltop resorts of Nagarkot, Dhulikhel and Namo Buddha provide epic Himalayan panoramas of peaks including Everest. The final haul across the low Terai region is rewarded with the chance to spot rhino, crocodiles and possibly tiger in Chitwan National Park.
From £2,620, including flights, accommodation and most meals. Bike hire excluded. Departures March 3 and November 17 2017. Mountain Kingdoms (01453 844400; mountainkingdoms.com ).
8. Seville to Porto
Borders generally ebb and flow; not so Portugal’s. Since the kingdom was proclaimed in 1139, its frontier with Spain has stayed essentially the same – along with the timeless landscapes, encompassing cork oak forests snuffled by Iberian pigs, winsome whitewashed hilltop villages, Roman temples and Moorish palaces. Explore’s eight-day Cycle Seville to Porto holiday traces the tessellated border where the little-touristed Spanish region of Extremadura and its Portuguese neighbour Alentejo abut, bookending an undulating but mostly relaxed route with the Moorish marvels of Seville and the grape-based delights of the Douro Valley and its twin cities of Porto and Vila Nova de Gaia, famed for its port-wine cellars.
From £1,189, including flights, b&b accommodation and bike hire. Four departures in April, May and October 2017. Explore (01252 884723; explore.co.uk ).
9. Classic Wales
Wales is magnificent, verdant, traditional, tasty. Flat? Not so much. Yet The Carter Company’s eight-day Welsh Adventure takes in a host of highlights – including the mountains – with a bit of jiggery-pokery that ensures short daily distances, mostly off-road riding and few serious climbs, plus characterful guesthouse accommodation. Beginning with dramatic vistas in the Brecon Beacons, you’ll riffle through book-town Hay on Wye, meander the craggy Pembrokeshire coast, admire St David’s hidden cathedral and spot puffins on a boat trip to Ramsey Island. And freewheeling down from Snowdonia’s heights, you’ll explore the Italianate fantasy of Portmeirion before pedalling to Caernarvon Castle.
From £1,865, including accommodation, two dinners and bike hire (electric bikes available at additional cost). Excludes other meals and transport to/from start and end of tour. Departs June 8 2017. The Carter Company (01296 631671; the-carter-company.com ).
10. Vietnam end to end
This Indo-Chinese beanpole nation is a dream for end-to-end cyclists, trundling through diverse landscapes from lush river delta to rolling highlands, palm-fringed beaches to karst outcrops, ancient imperial cities and bustling French colonial quarters. Freedom Trek’s 17-day Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi tour scoots from south to north, covering a challenging 1,000 miles – but with ample time to delve into the Viet Cong’s Cu Chi Tunnels, cool your heels in the waves at the lovely port town of Hoi An, meet the monkeys of Cuc Phuong National Park, cruise among the craggy limestone islands of Halong Bay and get lost in Hanoi’s old quarter.
From £3,116, including domestic flights, accommodation and almost all meals. International flights and bike hire excluded. Eight departures in January, February, March, May, July, October, November and December 2017. Freedom Treks (01273 224066; freedomtreks.co.uk ).
This article was written by Paul Bloomfield from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.