Cycling Holidays Made Easy
You don't need a wardobe full of lycra to enjoy a cycling holiday
‘It’s just like riding a bike’… or so the saying goes, but planning a cycling holiday from scratch is no mean feat. Cycling between destinations means managing multiple hotel bookings, packing minimal luggage, planning a route, organising bikes, and that’s before you hear the dreaded squeak of a brake pad on the brink. It’s enough to grind anyone’s gears.
Thankfully there are a lot of companies that have now stepped in to deal with the logistics for you. Most companies will have multiple routes and destinations to choose from, pre-arranged hotels to stop-off at, and the potential to customise existing itineraries to suit you. They will also have reps on the ground that can provide information on the route, move your luggage between hotels and deal with any problems you have with your bike.
From a tour of Northumberland’s coast, to ancient temples in Thailand, and a trip through the Alps in between, we’ll take you through a few of the top-rated tours to get you on yer bike.
With so many cycling tours to choose from, here are some things you should consider to find the right one for you.
Self-guided or Tour Guide
Self-guided trips generally allow you to cycle by yourself. Assistance might be available if you need it, but following the route is up to you. If you opt for trips with a guide, there’s a good chance you’ll be cycling as part of a larger group and will benefit from your guide’s knowledge, but there is a trade off on flexibility.
It goes without saying that different tours will be better suited for different abilities. Definitions of ‘leisurely’ can vary, so make sure you look into the nitty gritty of distances and gradients before signing up. Lots of companies also now offer the option of e-bikes if not everyone has the same hankering for hills.
Time of Year
Summer sun can be great if you’re planning to lounge by the pool, but the same heat can quickly feel punishing when you have 65 kilometres of road ahead of you. Make sure you have a decent understanding of the climate before booking so you can be prepared.
Will it go ahead?
Some tours require a minimum number of cyclists in order to go ahead. If you like a sure thing, consider tours that are always popular or already have a few bookings.
Thailand Heritage Tour
This tour takes you off the beaten track for a tour of some of Thailand’s real cultural gems
With multiple stops every day, and opportunities to learn about the country’s 800 years of cultural history, it’s hard to do justice to the sheer amount of cultural and historical sites this trip promises to take you to.
The first thing to note is that this tour requires you to cycle as part of a group, so this holiday might not be for anyone looking for a peaceful trip or those who prefer independent exploration. But for the more socially inclined, this is a great opportunity to meet other cyclists and benefit from the expertise of a knowledgeable guide. Forget hurriedly scouring Wikipedia over breakfast, you’ll be able to immerse yourself in Thailand’s cultural heritage while learning from someone who really understands it.
To give a taste, the second stop on day one is the historic city of Ayutthaya. This UNESCO World Heritage Site dates back to the 14th century and was a thriving city until 1767, when it was destroyed by the Burmese. Since then it has remained an important archaeological ruin, replete with ancient statues, Buddhist temples, monasteries, palaces and art, all suffused with the global influences that made this city a centre of global diplomacy and commerce. As UNESCO puts it, ‘Ayutthaya bears excellent witness to the period of development of a true national Thai art.’
Along the way, you’ll experience the beauty of Thailand’s sprawling countryside terrain. Rice is the most widely grown crop in Thailand, but a ride along the Ping River on day six also promises views of farmland growing seasonal fruit including longans, lychee, mangoes and dragon fruit.
After a day of cycling, scenery and history, it’s unlikely you’ll want anything other than a good meal and a soft bed (preferably in very quick succession). With the exception of day four, where your guide will advise you on the best Thai street food to try at the bustling Pratu Chai Market, all meals are included in the price of this trip. This is a godsend for anyone who (like me) is incapable of decision making on an empty stomach, but it might irk foodies who would rather trawl for hidden gems. Similarly, you have the assurance of knowing that there is a tried and tested choice of accommodation awaiting you every evening.
We would particularly look forward to the accommodation after the longest day of cycling, day six. The Aruntara Riverside Boutique Hotel in Chiangmai is located on the restful banks of the Mae Ping River. If you’re able to keep your eyes open, you can admire the blend of British Colonial and Lanna (Northern Thai) styles in the buildings’ architecture, and furniture which is exclusively designed and handmade by Thai craftsmen using traditional methods.
You might need a few days holiday to recover from this trip, but it’s hard to think of a better way to experience not only the culture, but the geography of Thailand than to peddle through it.
Start point: Chiang Mai
Final destination: Bangkok
Price: from £1,422
Duration: seven days, six nights, seven days cycling
Total distance: 263km
Average distance per day: 44km
Longest day: 63km
Bike hire: included
When: dates available throughout the year, check website for details.
Across the Alps
If majestic mountains, sparkling lakes, fine wines and a sprinkling of lactic acid are your thing, then this odyssey across the Alps could be the perfect holiday for you
The trip begins in the home of Bavarian beer, Munich, and ends along the ever-magnificent banks of Lake Garda. Along the way you will experience the unique culture of South Tyrol, an autonomous province along Italy’s border with Austria. Until the 20th century the area was part of Austria, and it now has German alongside Italian as its official languages.
For aspiring sommeliers, swotting up on the region’s wines will be a particular treat. Saturday’s destination is Merano, and we recommend stashing your bikes at the hotel and making the short trip to Weingut Plonerhof to taste the results of their spectacular mountainside vineyards. The next day takes you to Ora (or Aura if you ask a German-speaker) – a truly idyllic rural village and part of the South Tyrolean Wine Route, which produces 85 percent of the region’s wine. This is a Sunday, so wineries are unlikely to be open, but a glass of local wine will make the perfect complement to a hard-won evening meal.
Outdoor swimming enthusiasts can look forward to cooling off in the region’s glorious lakes. Your first day of cycling takes you to the crystal-clear waters of Lake Starnberg, which has multiple public swimming spots. The next big swimming opportunity comes on day eight, when the final stretch of your cycle takes you to Lake Caldaro. ‘Caldo’, is the Italian for heat, and hence Lake Caldaro is the warmest bathing lake in the Alps. Confusingly enough, German speakers call it ‘Kalterer See’ which (crucially) comes from the neighbouring village of Kaltern and not ‘kalt’, the German for cold.
Finally, you will arrive at the largest lake on your trip, Lake Garda, where you have the option of staying in either Torbole or Riva which are both along the northern shore. If nine days of cycling isn’t enough for you, and you fancy a spot of windsurfing, Torbole is the place to go, otherwise opt for the more leisurely atmosphere of Riva.
Celebrate your athletic achievement with a slow afternoon of people-watching from one of Riva’s old town cobbled squares with a caffè shakerato: a non-alcoholic, half-way heaven between an espresso martini and an iced coffee. If you are in the mood for fine-dining, Al Volt is a Michelin-recommended restaurant serving contemporary Italian cuisine and a delectable tasting menu. Viva la dolce vita!
Although there is an option to take the train on one of the days, more than a week of cycling is a reasonable commitment so this is probably best suited to those who are not completely new to cycling holidays. Having said that, with the longest day still only at 65km (around 40 miles) and a bus transfer up to the particularly challenging ascent to the Resia Pass (from which they give you the joy of zipping down the other side) the trip is still very manageable for anyone with a bit of fitness behind them.
Start point: Munich
Final destination: Lake Garda
Price: from £1399
Duration: eleven days, ten nights, nine days cycling
Total distance: 465km
Average distance per day: 52km
Longest day: 65km
Bike hire: not included, E bikes available
When: trips run from April through to mid-September
The iconic sites that punctuate this family cycling holiday in Northumberland will need no introduction to seasoned Living North readers
Sometimes you don’t have to venture far to get away. From vast sandy beaches to Norman forts, ancient monasteries to giant tree houses, Northumberland is the perfect place to introduce smaller intrepid adventurers to the joys of cycling in their local landscape. The distances should be manageable for slightly older children but for younger kids they have tag-a-long bikes, seats for children up to five years, and child trailers available.
Your journey begins in Alnwick, where Skedaddle recommends a stroll round the famous gardens and lunch in the Treehouse restaurant. There’s no cycling on the first day, so if you get there early, the kids can enjoy the magical village of Lilidorei: Alnwick’s new giant playground (although playground feels like an understatement for what has been billed as the ‘world’s largest play structure’ with a dedicated team of ‘secret keepers’ to manage the fun).
The next day takes you to Howick via the picturesque village of Alnmouth. Hop off your bikes for a wander along Alnmouth’s gorgeous sandy beach, or a nosey into Northumberland’s smallest museum ‘The Ferryman’s Hut’. This tiny cabin used to be a place for the local ferryman to shelter between trips across the estuary. Today, the museum’s (tiny) walls display a potted history of Alnmouth and, of course, its ferryman. This exhibition in miniature has been lovingly curated by the local residents that run the museum, and they are usually up for a chat.
On day three you will land at Seahouses, from where we recommend catching a boat from the harbour to the Farne Islands to see the incredible seabird colony that has made its home there, and if you are lucky a seal or two, and maybe even a dolphin ( they’re regularly seen in these waters over recent summers). Day four will take you past the iconic Bamburgh Castle en route to Beal. If you time it right you can make it over the causeway to Holy Island to its 12th century priory, famed for being the home of St Cuthbert and the birthplace of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
Your final destination is Berwick-upon-Tweed. Lying right on the border between England and Scotland, the Elizabethan walls that surround the town’s perimeter tell the story of the many battles that took place for control of Berwick through the centuries.
For those who think 90km of cycling sounds like quite enough scheduled activity for one holiday, a more laid-back approach to planning will not leave you feeling short changed. With endlessly beautiful beaches and coastal scenery, delicious local seafood, fabulous wildlife (and great pubs along the way) you’ll never struggle to fill an afternoon.
Start point: Alnwick
Final destination: Berwick-upon-Tweed
Price: from £715pp (discounts available for under 18s)
Duration: five days, four nights, four days cycling
Total distance: 90km
Average distance per day: 22.5km
Longest day: 26km
Bike hire: not included, E bikes and children’s options available
When: trips run from April to September