Longer bike tours in Europe in early June
April 24, 2017 9:25 PM   Subscribe

It took 20 years, but my wife and I are going to be in Europe (starting in London) in early June for a couple of weeks (yay!). We'd love to hear suggestions for a moderately challenging bike tour (~50 miles a day, 2 to 6 days) anywhere in Europe that is reachable by train.

Disclaimer: I've never been out of the US before, and am a little bit wide-eyed at the prospect. So, some structure to the tour would be helpful! A tour that included hostels, bed and breakfast, or similar would be wonderful. We're not looking for anything fancy: we'll be spending a few days in a campervan in Iceland before heading to London... anything warm and out of the rain is fine.

Starting and ending in a city would be fine, but a lot of countryside would be appreciated. No need for really touristy destinations.

Guidance on planning our own trip would be fine, too, if anyone has resources they like for that.
posted by cowcowgrasstree to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
My general-purpose recommendation is to strongly consider the river routes: they're beautiful, they're relatively free of mountain ranges, they involve a lovely mix of cities, countryside, and villages, and because they follow a major natural landmark they're hard to get too lost on. I hear good things from people who cycle Europe's rivers.

If you're going to plan this trip yourself (which means you'll have to research or scrounge your own hostels and B&Bs), I recommend browsing these trail books. If finding a B&B for every night in advance sounds like a lot of work (and it is) and you don't want to carry camping gear for when you can't find a place, maybe consider a guided group tour.
posted by daveliepmann at 12:31 AM on April 25, 2017 [2 favorites]

We cycled from Salzburg to Vienna in about a week organized by this company a few years ago. It was great! Gorgeous and mostly off-road, and some river routes which were nice. Very well-organized, nice hotels, and they carried our luggage. But Austria is tough to reach by train. I would take a look at the company's other offerings if you're interested and give them a call. (They're based in the UK, and gave good advice on what trip would work well for us.) A friend also told me she did a route in France along the canals and it was terrific . . .
posted by heavenknows at 12:51 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I am currently working on organising a repeat of a charity ride from London to Amsterdam that we did last year. If the route in the map on that page intrigues you, I'd be happy to share and even meet up to go over the thing. We're leaving in September, but I'd love it if someone did a recce and reported back!
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 1:54 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I cycled from the Midlands (UK) to Romania last year and can talk to you about our route, parts of the route, best bits, etc. What terrain do you prefer? What scenery? What food! Feel free to ask me anything - we were cycling for 4.5 months I think (indirect route) but can tell you the highlights.
posted by TheGarden at 3:12 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

We did a cycle tour of the Loire Valley a couple years ago and had a great time. There's a very well developed cycle network along the river, with plenty of hotels that have secure bike parking, bike rentals all over the place, and overall a very bike-friendly atmosphere. You could go all the way from the ocean to Switzerland if you wanted, but it seems that the popular area is between Anger and Orleans. Rail connections are very easy from the larger cities along the route.
posted by backseatpilot at 5:49 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

The Swiss have - true to reputation - a very well organized set of bike routes; a series of nine national routes, with dozens of smaller local routes. They are mostly (90%+) without traffic or with light traffic, and mostly (95%+) paved. I rode a few sections of them some years ago and was very impressed; there was excellent signage and the great train system is a really good backup (or a way to stretch a few extra miles or skip a high pass, if desired). The portions I rode were all quite flat -- it's a mountainous country, but most of the stuff is in the valleys -- although if you want climbs, those can be accommodated. This website is a little old-school in interface, but has loads of information. Note that Switzerland is -- also true to reputation -- an expensive country to travel in. But the scenery!
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

How about cycling along the Rhine? The EuroVelo Route 15 Rhine Cycle Route leads from the source of the Rhine to its mouth in the North Sea. The landscape you'll encounter is very diverse. The whole route is 1233km long, but you can choose a part that you're interested in. I can recommend the part between Bingen and Cologne which includes the Upper Middle Rhine Valley (UNESCO World Heritage Site) with lots of castles and vineyards as well as some interesting cities with the cathedral in Cologne as the finale.

You can also cycle along the Danube. I've done the bit in Germany 25 years ago, and it was lovely: Deutsche Donau, Cycling.
posted by amf at 8:24 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

Have you looked into Camino de Santiago in Spain? It's a popular trek and a lot of people bike it. There are pilgrim hostels you can stay in along the way for cheap. You can choose your starting point to match how long you want to be biking.
posted by monologish at 8:37 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have no personal suggestions for Europe, but have toured a lot in Asia and hands down the most useful resource I've found for trip planning is reading trip journals/diaries at Crazy Guy on a Bike to get a sense of possible routes and their day by day challenges. Here's one random journal that looks dreamy and detailed.

I'm not on FB anymore so can't link it easily, but there's a very active bicycle touring Facebook group--perhaps called Bicycle Touring--that I've also had a lot of good luck reading teh archives of.
posted by tapir-whorf at 9:22 AM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I met an older guy in Romania who cycled the complete Danube river.

This being said, I would not focus on cities but on a nice environment and climate. In my mid-teens I cycled in the Provence. I don't think I will ever forget the impressions and blue lavender fields.
posted by yoyo_nyc at 12:43 PM on April 25, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've done self guided tours in France (Loire Valley) and Greece (Peloponnese), and had a great time. A couple of things to consider:

- Where do you want to go? There are tours all over Europe, so pick a place that you really want to see.
- Northern Europe has a strong bicycle culture, and so long as you follow the road rules, you will feel extraordinarily safe (if you don't follow the rules they will honk at you and give you a disapproving look). South western Europe is also very accustomed to cyclists, but the road rules are more chaotic and the roads less well maintained. You'll be safe, but have more close calls. Greece didn't have much of a cycling culture, so I wouldn't recommend it as a first trip. Weather wise, southern Europe may be getting too hot to be pleasant by June, if you're from somewhere cold.
- Do you want to take your own bike? We were doing shorter days than you are planning, and I would have struggled to do more on a bike that was not fitted to me.
- I'm a pretty independent traveller, but I like to use tour companies for cycling trips. The logistics are not insubstantial. I prefer self guided, as you can go at your own pace. Tours with the long days that you are looking for are harder to find, but companies were more than happy to change things around a bit if we asked.

If I was fitter, I would do a tour through Switzerland. They are so well organised with bike paths and the car drivers so accommodating, cycling there is a dream. It's expensive, but as a first overseas experience, Switzerland would be very low stress and easy. If you decide to do the Loire Valley (super popular, every hotel is full of cyclist doing the same thing), we found this company to be significantly cheaper than most. Responsibletravel.com and utracks.com are also good sites to browse on.

Other small things:

- Moving hotels every night is exhausting. We really appreciated the nights we stayed in one place.
- Make sure there's enough to do nearby. If the weather is lousy, it's nice to be able to dry out in a museum or restaurant. Also, even at 50 miles a day, the countryside doesn't change that much.
- Decide where you're going to eat dinner on the first night. After a 50 mile ride, you probably won't have the capacity to make difficult decisions like where to eat. Our first cycling trip included a meal the first night, and we were so grateful to just be pointed at a restaurant and given a set menu. We ate unfashionable early, and my sister fell asleep during dessert.
- A GPS is a nice thing to have, especially if you aren't good with maps. Less necessary in places like Switzerland and Germany, due to the excellent signage, but it's still nice to have at least a connected smart phone to tell you were you are.
- If you're coming from London, you can probably get pretty close to your starting point by plane. Tour companies also often offer transfers from the closest airport, which can be expensive, but can also save you enough time to be worth it.
posted by kjs4 at 9:03 PM on April 25, 2017

Just popping in to say that Loire à Vélo others have mentioned above is fantastic. My boyfriend and I did it a few years ago and loved it. It's really well done, excellently signed so you won't get lost, done on off-road routes or quiet roads, and the towns and chateaux are all nice. There are great companies who will outfit you for the ride and can transport your luggage from hotel to hotel

We did the section from Tours to Blois over two nights (staying in Amboise, which is fantastic, along the way and took the train from and to Paris to do this. I was really nervous about doing this without really knowing the area, but it was basically foolproof and beautiful and I really want to do another section in the near future.
posted by urbanlenny at 12:37 PM on May 10, 2017

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