Britain is getting serious about cycling. Bicycle sales are up, more people are choosing to cycle to work and more people are choosing to incorporate it into their leisure time. It’s great on paper- no petrol, no car parking fees, you get fit, you get to feel virtuous (annoyingly, tiresomely, virtuous).
But, as shown by The Times’ recent “Cities Fit for Cycling” campaign, the reality in the UK is often very different. You weave in and out of angry cars, cycling through every kind of weather and arrive at work sweaty, wet and helmet haired. Oh and with a rapidly thudding heart thanks to poor cycle lanes, potholed roads and zombie-like pedestrians.
Being a noble environmentalist really does come at a green-around-the-gills price doesn’t it? Thankfully, this isn’t the case everywhere. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to indulge your Tour de France fantasies or just entertaining the idea of peddling serenely through pretty landscapes without a 40ft articulated lorry breathing fumes down your neck, then freewheelin’ Europe has something to offer you.
Where better to go than the country where the bicycle was invented, and home of the most famous cycling race in the world? Beautiful cycling holidays in France combine the best of all worlds: a Mediterranean coastline to the south, flat farmland and rugged Alps in close proximity, and of course, Paris, which has almost 300 miles- and rising- of cycle lanes to va-va-voom on. The Loire is one of the most popular cycling destinations and it’s easy to see why- Cycling down quiet country roads, past chateaux and vineyards and through tiny villages. And of course, after working up an appetite you don’t have to feel guilty about letting loose on the haute cuisine. Getting fit never tasted as good. Best…if you want to combine cycling with historical and cultural interests.
It’s proven that there’s safety in numbers so therefore the more cyclists there are the safer they are. Comforting then that 27% of all journeys taken in the Netherlands are on a bike, compared to 12% in Germany or something close to 1% in America. Over 19000km of cycle paths and lanes criss-cross the country and they’ve even got traffic lights, signals and tunnels just for bikes. The popularity of cycling in the Netherlands is unsurprising when you consider the flat-as-a-pancake landscape and forgiving climate. Those seeking relaxing cycling holidays can meander through the countryside, while those looking for a challenge can try and cover the country in a holiday- it’s only 350km north to south or 200km east to west. Best…if you want flat, lazy cycling past fields of tulips and windmills.
Like the Netherlands, Denmark is big on bikes, with 18% of all journeys taken on two wheels. The bicycle lanes are so prevalent and well-laid out that you never have to jostle for space with a car. And even if you do, in Denmark the cyclist is King: both cars and pedestrians have to give way. It’s so safe that the Prime Minister himself is often seen peddling away industriously; are you listening David Cameron? Denmark’s other big draw is its remarkable landscape. Nowhere is further than 52km from the coast, so you can chop and change between beaches and forests, and, with over 500 islands, you can devise a very special cycle-boat-cycle itinerary. One word of warning: try to cycle east in the very windy Denmark. That way you’re cycling with the prevailing wind on your back. Wheeeee! Best…if you prefer a cooler climate with hundreds of islands to explore
Over the past few decades, Austria has pumped money into bicycle trails and there’s now around 10,000km of meticulously signposted paths. There’s somewhere in Austria to suit all cyclists. If you like a challenge, there’s the rugged and leg-tiring Alps, with the famous Tauernradweg in Salzburgerland. Or if you prefer something a little easier going there’s cycling along the Danube and through little villages that time forgot. The cows actually do wear bells here. As for the cities, Salzburg is known as the most bike-friendly city in the country, with bicycle lanes covering the entire road network. Then there’s Vienna, which is also relatively bike-friendly and is beside the Vienna Woods, perfect for mountain biking enthusiasts to look down upon the capital. Best…if tough and exhilarating mountain biking sounds appealing
The roads in Spain are notoriously dangerous and cycling is traditionally seen as either a kid’s hobby or a competitive sport. The idea of cycling to work, for example, is anathema to most Spaniards. What this means is that the cycle path network is under-developed and signage is often confusing and even out-of-date. However, things are improving. Catalonia is one of the best regions to see and cycle in and its capital, Barcelona, is by far Spain’s most bike-friendly city. It has a 100km ‘Green-Ring’ of bicycle-only lanes and its Biking rental system is world renowned. The rest of the region is also more bike-friendly than the rest of Spain and also has a beautifully varied landscape including beaches and a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Best…if you worship the sun and don’t mind getting lost.
Laura wonders if anyone can resist part of the Tour de France route whilst undertaking their cycling holidays in France.