Aussies Rod and Karen Davis are regular travellers to Europe and in 2007 they spent 11 weeks cycle touring through the Netherlands and Germany. They have since returned to Europe on numerous occasions, each time taking their bikes and hitting the trails. Here they share their experiences and some handy hints for fellow would-be cyclists.
Europe offers the best cycle touring in the world. 30,000 kilometres of dedicated bike paths link villages and towns that are as close as five kilometres. Castles, medieval houses, keeps and statues are part of the European identity. History in Europe is written in wood and stone buildings, recorded in architecture that spans time measured in millennia. All this is awaiting the cycle tourist.
Whether you have three months, three weeks or three days, you can tailor a cycle tour to meet your needs. All fitness levels can be accommodated, with rides to suit every budget. Some will seek out the mountains with full panniers, others wish for wineries and hotels, while day tours along a sunny river valley will excite others. There are rides for all ages and all interests.
Europeans respect the bike and cyclists. Trains will carry bikes in most countries, buses will in the Netherlands, and bike paths exist for safe, easy riding. Cycle touring offers flexible travel and access to adventure that is easy to achieve. And you can drink the water, eat the food, and be safe too.
PLANNING A TOUR
Do you want flexibility or organization in your holidays? Riding with panniers, tents and cooking gear provides complete freedom and independence; you decide how far and where to ride daily according to your whims at the time.
Or, you are with a tour group with the itinerary, accommodation, food all supplied, with your gear taken from one destination to the next. Thorough organisation, with only the sights, smells and adventure awaiting you can be easily obtained. It depends on whether planning and preparation are a pain or a pleasure.
“…decide what is right for you."
Or maybe you want to combine cycle touring with another interest. For example, staying on a barge, riding some days, walking others, or focusing on food and wine. Castles, and staying in them, might interest you. Perhaps staying in a town and riding the surrounding areas could slake your thirst for exploring. Stopping in capital cities, travelling by train and using a bike to soak up the sights and sounds might be more your thing.
Decide on the time you have available, the budget you have and your interests. Once these are decided, you can begin to select the cycle touring that suits your needs. This is the hardest part – clarifying your own needs. History, leisure, food, wine, physical challenge, train spotting, bird watching, all can be blended into cycling. You decide what is right for you.
What style of accommodation would you prefer? Camping is not an option if you enjoy fluffy white towels, dressing gowns and crisp sheets. Youth hostels, camping grounds and hotels are all plentiful.
Dedicated bike paths exist for long distance cycling in Europe. Imagine riding on a sealed path that only bikes and pedestrians can use! It is a pleasure cycling on a sealed trail with sign posts to direct you, not having to consider traffic. Cycling is so much more enjoyable. You can look about you, admire the scenery, chat, soak up the atmosphere and savour the experience.
Long distance paths exist because they are not isolated – in excess of 30,000 kilometres already constructed indicates the distances possible. Countries like France, Germany, and the Netherlands can be explored by bike path!
DESTINATIONS AND ROUTES
These bike paths criss-cross Europe and provide endless opportunities to explore the comfortable continent. Perhaps it is the Loire River valley, with its UNESCO World Heritage castles that you seek. Or the Normandy beaches, or the World War I battlefields, or the Mediterranean area, then France offers all of this and a lot of history too.
Maybe you’d prefer the flat cycling of the Netherlands with its changing scenery and canals, where there are twice as many bikes as people. Here, the Dutch of all ages ride and cycle touring is a way of life. The Dutch seem to be born with their feet on pedals. Visiting historical fishing villages, island hopping in the North Sea, these are the cycling experiences awaiting you.
Maybe Germany and its wasser schlosses (water castles) would interest you. Then Munster would be a magnet. Or perhaps riding along a river valley, like the Elbe River, with the historic towns, easy riding and major cities would link your fascination to Europe.
There are long distance cycle paths like the North Sea Cycle Route that is 6,500 kilometres in total. Or the Pilgrim Route of Santiago de Compostella in Spain, or the ride from Amsterdam to Moscow. Each of these has books, pamphlets, maps, logos, sign posts and specialised accommodation along the route.
Flat terrain with only moderate climbs was our key consideration in planning our tours. We sought maps, details and cycling books to support our needs, then chose the route accordingly. Not for us the challenges of bursting lungs and burning thighs!
"We wanted to sample, enjoy and the delights of steady cycling through somewhere new and exciting."
TIME TO VISIT
The ideal time is late spring, summer or autumn. However, note that Europe is on holidays in July and August. In France, July is holidays and peak tourist time too. July would be the time to visit the East Germany area, whereas early spring would be suited to areas of Spain, rather than the soaring temperatures of high summer.
Match your interests to the climate and peak seasons in the countries you intend to visit. After all, Europe is a compact place with lots of choices.
Whether you tour independently, or with a tour group, your first point of call is the internet. With 63,000km of bike paths on the drawing boards, you need up-to-date detail.
Type in “long distance cycling paths in Europe” to find an excellent website and start your search. It has great details for individual countries, for an overview and will allow you to gather detail. We planned our cycle tour of the Netherlands and Germany from this website.
This website offers access to many associated websites like touring groups, tourist organizations, literature, and so on… Another option is to type in “cycle touring France” (or the particular country you are interested in) and an amazing array of options awaits you.
"Lonely Planet has an excellent cycle touring book for France; we used it to plan our first trip to Europe and it was excellent."
Maps, brochures, and pamphlets are available for many regions. Tourist Centres can supply these for you, some online, many when you arrive. Try the individual country’s tourist information website for many details.
The long distance cycle paths – for example, the North Sea Cycle Route, the Weser Radweg, Elbe Radweg – have cycle books to accompany them. Sometimes these are in English, but even in other languages (we used two in German) the maps are outstanding with all the detail you need to plan a route. The tourist-type details are difficult, but each town has a Tourist Centre and they provide these for you when you arrive at the town.
It is a lot easier than you would believe to get detailed information. Most countries even have national cycling organizations. They have publications, though sometimes English versions are not available. But the maps and choices of route provided are excellent.
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