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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Missing the Tour de France? Take your own European cycling trip

Now that the Tour de France has finished, with Italian Vincenzo Nibali donning the yellow jersey, many cycling fans may be left dreaming of their own two-wheeled tour of Europe.

If your love of cycling has been reignited and the Tour de France has left you wanting more, this may be the perfect time to consider your own cycling trip. Whether you like cities, hillsides, wining and dining or would rather just stay closer to home, there are plenty of fantastic tours you can make on your own two wheels. Here’s a selection of some of Europe’s most impressive cycling regions to whet your appetite.

For Tour de France fans: The Pyrenees

A cyclist in The Pyrenees
Image courtesy of kingArthur_aus

One of the key routes of the Tour de France, the Pyrenees offer challenging routes and winding pathways between the area’s many peaks. These hefty climbs reward cyclists with high speed descents and awe-inspiring views of mountains, forests and high altitude lakes.

Beginners could start with the Col des Ares climb, which offers gentle gradients of 310m in total, with winding turns throughout. Cycle 6.7km from la Moulette to the summit, where you’ll be able to celebrate your journey with a cooling beverage.

Another great climb, and one of the most popular, is Guardader d’Arres, which can be started on the Spanish side of the border. This winds through tall forests before offering jaw dropping views across the valley. Following the moderately steep, but steady climb, cyclists can enjoy a fun descent, speeding through the village of Arres, with plenty of hairpin bends to get the heart racing.

For city-lovers: Amsterdam

bicycles in Amsterdam
Image courtesy of Claudio.AR

 Any cycling fan will know about Amsterdam. But nevertheless, here are a few key facts that will really whet your appetite for a two-wheeled tour of the city. 40% of the city’s traffic is by bicycle, so you’ll be joined by plenty of other cycling fans exploring and travelling around the city. As such, the lifestyle is naturally geared (pun intended) towards cyclists and pedestrians over cars.  This makes it one of the safest cities in the world for bike riders, with over 400km of bicycle paths and several car-free streets.

Use the extensive network of pathways to see the city’s famous sites, like the Albert Cuyp outdoor market or Rembrandt’s house, while criss-crossing canals and soaking up the atmosphere of this laid back destination. Just a word of warning, scooters are also permitted on the cycle paths, so be sure to keep an eye out for these speeding vehicles.

A 15 minute train journey outside of the city to Zaandam Railway Station and you’re surrounded by tulip fields and windmills, with countless bike rides to enjoy in the area. Routes are even marked by white signs with green junction numbers; just follow the arrows on these to enjoy a fun 3 hour circuit that will let you explore the region’s iconic countryside.

For wine and wonderful views – visiting vineyards in Tuscany, Italy

Tuscany is a wonderful place for cycling
Image courtesy of valentinapowers

How better to wind down after a tough day of cycling than with some well-earned Tuscan refreshments? Cycling in the popular Italian region of Tuscany rewards visitors with smooth roads, charming country lanes, ancient olive groves, stone farmhouses and picturesque castles – making this an ideal spot whether you’re cycling with the family or on your own.

One particularly popular cycle route is from the historic city of Florence through the Chianti vineyards to the charming town of Siena. Enjoy soaking up the inspirational scenery whilst passing castles, farms, local markets and charming trattoria. You can also enjoy a post-ride wine tasting along the way.

The landscape of Tuscany can be fairly hilly, offering several challenging climbs for the expert cyclists. Rest stops are regularly available, especially when taking in a few tours at local wineries, where you can pick up some supplies for later. Flatter ground and plains can also be found along the charming rivers and the Tuscan coastline, should you wish to enjoy a more leisurely cycle holiday.

For closer to home delights – Surrey, UK

Cyclists in Surrey, UK
Image courtesy of Nick J Webb

For Olympic cycling enthusiasts, you can stay in the UK and cycle the Surrey routes which led to Lizzie Armistead taking Silver in the women’s Road Race in 2012. The route takes in the lovely Box Hill Park, as well as the delightful ruins of the Newark Priory and Hampton Court Bridge. Or perhaps cycle the route of Bradley Wiggins as he secured Gold in the men’s Time Trial, taking time to enjoy the Claremont Landscape Garden, Hampton Court Palace and the Kingston Bridge.

Following the Olympics, a series of events will take place for RideLondon, a new yearly legacy cycling event – this year on 9th and 10th August. The RideLondon-Surrey Classic will be taking place around the picturesque Surrey Hills on the Sunday and 80,000 people who entered the ballot will cycle from The Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, 100 miles into the stunning Surrey countryside.  If you’re too late to enter this year, make sure to add it to your calendar for 2015 and enjoy cycling the challenging Olympic route for yourself.

Tips for cycling overseas:
  • ·         Make sure to check out eachairline’s individual regulations before flying with your bike as they can vary. Some, such as the more budget airlines, will charge you up to £80 for your bike to be transported, so it might be better to hire at your destination
  • ·         If you do still choose to travel with your bicycle, make sure to pack it securely in an enclosed bag or box, with slightly deflated tires so they’re not effected by the air pressure
  • ·         It goes without saying that it’s important to carefully research your route before setting off, but if your sense of direction leaves a lot to be desired, it may be worth investing in a GPS for your bike, to make sure you can concentrate on the scenery rather than a map