You can't really know a country until you explore it by bike.
That's what cycling enthusiasts will tell you anyway and we think they have a point.
Cross continents at your own pace with our pick of the best cycling holidays from around the world.
Across Cuba: Cuba may not be known as the easiest place to travel around, but it’s actually a cyclist’s dream. Being one of the last bastions of communism has kept car ownership archaically low, so outside of Havana cyclists need not fight for space. If you have a fortnight to spare, ride from the capital to the colonial town of Trinidad via the looming Escambray Mountains; alternatively, go west towards the lush valleys of Viñales. Even if you only take the bike out for a day, it’s a great way to find the Cuba that lies off the tour-bus track. Book with Explore (0845 013 1539/www.explore.co.uk).
Transamerica: Trail It’s the American dream, just you and the open road; but rather than crossing the country by car, do it on your bike. One tried-and-tested route goes from Virginia to Oregon, passing through ten states on the way. This being America, food and accommodation, or at least a good camping spot, should be no trouble, but keep to the summer season (May to October) to avoid the Colorado snow. If you haven’t got three months to spare, try cycling down the Pacific or Atlantic coasts, or follow in the tracks of the Underground Railroad – a secret route used by escaped slaves in the 19th century to reach ‘free states’. The website www.adventurecycling.org has detailed route information for several American routes. For inspiration read Donna Lynn Ikenberry’s book Bicycling Coast to Coast: A Complete Route Guide Virginia to Oregon.
The Danube: Rising in Germany’s Black Forest, and extending to Romania and the Ukraine at its delta with the Black Sea, Europe’s second longest river crosses nine countries. Once an important trading route, its modern incarnation seems to be as a muchloved cruising river, but if you fancy seeing the romantic cities and towns of Central Europe in a more active fashion, the banks of the Danube also make for a great cycling route. Tackling the whole length is unwise unless you’re writing a travelogue; the best bet is a week to cycle the relatively undemanding terrain along the German and Austrian sections of the river. Start in Passau, move through the Wachau vineyards and end up in the beautiful city of Vienna. Book with Discovery Travel (01904 632226/www.discoverytravel.co.uk).
Round the world: At the time of writing, Mark Beaumont holds the record for circumnavigating the globe (with James Bowthorpe hot on his trail). The Scot took 195 days to complete the exhausting tour, but whether or not you’re trying to match his feat, follow his route. Start and end in Paris, going through the wilds of Pakistan, the Australian outback, then back round via America. Read The Man Who Cycled the World, by Mark Beaumont, for inspiration.
Luxury cycling: Who says a cycling trip needs to mean slumming it? Ride around the French countryside by day, and by night, rest your weary legs in luxury hotels. Cycling for Softies offers a range of indulgent cycling holiday ideas, from the challenging Tarn to Provence route to a more peaceful ride round the châteaux of the Loire valley or a trip that goes via Cognac distilleries. Bags are carried for you and a number of the trips are child-friendly, with options to go by car for non-cycling companions. Ideal if you want to leave the tent behind. Cycling for Softies 0161 248 8282/www.cycling-for-softies.co.uk.
The Netherlands: Some say there are more bikes than people in the Netherlands. Whether or not that’s true, the largely flat terrain makes for a relaxing cycling holiday and is particularly well suited to firsttimers. Planning your own trip is relatively easy as English is widely spoken and routes are expertly signed across the country – so getting lost is unlikely. Take a week to explore Arnhem and the lower Rhine region, or choose a route that takes you from the tulip fields of Schagen to the bustling port of Amsterdam, via the market town Edam, famed for its eponymous cheese. For help planning your trip visit www. holland.com/uk/discoverholland/active/cycling.
Canal du Midi: The historic thread of water that links France’s Atlantic coast to the Mediterranean makes an unforgettable cycle route. Its plane-tree shaded 430 kilometres lead you from Bordeaux to Sète, near Montpellier, passing through Toulouse, Carcassonne and Béziers en route, as well as a host of medieval villages and pretty, untouristed towns. Go just a little off-piste to explore the wine country of Bordeaux or the Languedoc, Roman Narbonne and its beaches or the Cap d’Agde. You’ll need a mountain bike or hybrid for the occasional rough or rocky stretch, but for much of its length the towpath is smooth-surfaced. Count on ten days for a leisurely ride. For more information, see www.canal-du-midi.org.
Wales: There is certainly more to Wales than rolling countryside and epic scenery, but it does have those in plentiful supply, making the small country to the left of England an attractive prospect for a shorter, lower-budget cycling holiday. Choose from valleys, beaches and mountains depending on how strenuous you want your trip to be. Cross Wales at its widest point by cycling the 225-mile Celtic trail between Fishguard and Chepstow or take a day trip and ride along the north coast from Llandudno to Conwy. For information about cycle routes in Wales, visit www.routes2ride.org.uk/wales.
L’Etape du: Tour If you can’t compete in the Tour de France itself, at least you can tackle a part of it. Every summer, after the professionals have passed through, organisers open up one of the toughest mountain sections of the race to the public. This is one for those in great shape who are confident with vertiginous heights; the 2009 route followed the 170- kilometre penultimate stage from Montelimar to the 2,000-metre summit of Mount Ventoux. Budding Lance Armstrongs should sign up on www.letapedutour.com; places fill up fast, so register when it opens, usually around October or November. The site links to packages for accommodation and transfers, but save money by booking independently. Just be sure your bed for the night is near tomorrow’s starting point because many roads in the area will be closed for the Tour. Extend your stay by plotting an Alpine cycle with www.mapmyride.com.