The popularity of cycling has rocketed over the last decade and we can understand why as it is one of the only sports where you can visit new places while improving your fitness. The saddle of your bike is surely the perfect vantage point for endless exploration. The downsides? There aren’t many. Cycling is versatile; it suits all ages, tastes and fitness levels, with no carbon footprint, and you can carry all your kit. Have we persuaded you yet? Here are our top ten cycling destinations:
1. French Alps
Home of the Tour de France, one of the world’s most famous cycling events and a test of superhuman strength. The gruelling climbs and tricky terrain make men mortal as they compete against each other and the elements. While crowds flock here to spectate, there are also many who cycle similar routes – their efforts are rewarded by breath-taking scenery and quintessentially French villages dotted along the way.
How better to explore the length of the UK than by cycling from Land’s End on the south-westerly tip of England all the way to the north coast of Scotland? If using the full route, you could cover around 1,000 miles and pass through some of the most stunning and unseen countryside in the British Isles. Prevailing winds are more likely to be with you going north to south but either way, this is a tough challenge! The first ever record was 65 days…the current record is 44 hours. How would you fare?
3. South Island, New Zealand
New Zealand is an incredibly beautiful country but we think its South Island might have the edge with its glacial lakes, mountainous Alps and national parks. The west coast in particular is home to some spectacular scenery – we recommend you take a route through the Nelson Lakes National Park, over the Haast Pass, definitely finding the time to stop in Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Bungee jump? Sky-swing? Canyon dive? You name it, Queenstown has it…
4. Pacific Coast, United States
Typically this route will take you from Vancouver in British Columbia to the Border Field State Park next to the Mexican Border. A long way, yes, but the tremendously diverse Californian coast, the stretch over the Golden Gate Bridge into San Francisco, and the scenic Pacific Coast Highway make it all worthwhile. Listen to the sea lions bark, spy a herd of elk, or just enjoy the view – in true American style we’re talking BIG trees, BIG waves and BIG, beautiful beaches.
5. Yorkshire Dales, England
Return home to the dramatic, heathen landscape of Yorkshire. This Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is a training ground for many top cyclists with quiet roads and a fantastic variety of scenery. Gentle valley routes make this area perfect for beginners, while those more daring can head for the challenging moorland climbs. We recommend taking a break in one of the many lovely villages along the way to explore the local history. And maybe treat yourself to a slice of cake…it would be rude not to.
6. Ruta/Carretera Autral, Chile
This South American gem of a route requires a sturdy bike to tackle the 1,000km of mostly unpaved road. The route is surfaced with graded but unpaved gravel and runs from Puerto Montt in central Chile south through Patagonia. Stunning mountains, lakes and glaciers will be ample distraction from your potentially bumpy ride, which will also be broken up by ferry boat transfers. Strap on the saddle bags in summer to make the most of this beautiful route; in winter it’s often closed by heavy snow and rain.
It may be most famous for pizza and pasta but Italy’s diverse landscape makes it perfect for cycling. If the lakes appeal to you, then check out one of the many road cycling options which will take you to the shores of Lake Como and explore the alpine foothills. Here you can combine your adventure with the delights of Italian cuisine and wine. However, if you are a serious cyclist, then the Dolomites – home of the Giro D’Italia – will present you a challenge in the form of mountain passes and rolling valleys. If you have time, visit the region’s capital, Cortina D’Ampezzo, for a (stylish!) rest.
8. North Sea Cycle Route
6,000km of exciting experiences that will take you through eight different countries…intrigued? We were! This route opened in 2001 and was awarded a Guinness world record confirming its status as the world’s longest cycle route. You can explore cities, towns, villages, countryside, mountains, sandy beaches, woods and coastal paths as you pass through England, Scotland, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.
9. Danube Cycle Path
As you may have guessed, this cycle route follows the course of the Danube as it winds through Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary. The paths here are more developed making them ideal for beginners and families; the trail is well-paved all the way. Guidebooks offer useful tips for every stretch of the journey and if you don’t fancy a solo trip, check out one of the many package tours.
The route from Hanoi in the north to Ho Chi Minh City in the south is a 1,200km route between the country’s two biggest cities and is a spectacular stretch of coastline. Where else could you encounter rice paddies, jungles and beaches on the same cycle route? The vibrancy of the cities complement the kind-spirited natives and on a saddle seat you will experience the incredible rural life that is often overlooked. Don’t forget to leave yourself some beach time – the white sands and green waters are not to be missed.