Home to the birthplace of the bicycle, the Tour de France, as well as some of the world’s most stylish cycling cities, riders aren’t just respected on the road, they’re welcomed into pubs, cafes, and tasting rooms. Whether you’re a casual cyclist or a wanna-be pro, Europe’s roads offer routes for all abilities. Serious cyclists can retrace stages of world-famous races or test their endurance on the high mountain passes of the Alps while active travelers looking to balance out Michelin-meals can leisurely pedal through rolling vineyards and along stunning coastal roads. Most bicycle operators offer both self-guided or guided trips, providing as little as a bike and a GPS or as much as a full support van, five-star lodging, massages, and wine tastings along the way. Here are some of Europe’s best destinations to take in on two wheels, and the outfitters who excel in creating insider experiences on and off the road.
Perfect country roads wind through Burgundy’s prestigious vineyards and iconic wine-making villages such as Pommard, Volnay, Meursault, and the Montrachets. World-class wine and Michelin star meals are the ultimate motivation to pedal a few extra miles. Butterfield & Robinson, a pioneer of bike trips in French wine country, has its European headquarters in Beaune. Their itineraries are punctuated with insider experiences like a tasting with winemaker extraordinaire, Anne Gros.
Italy’s most famed region still has a hidden corner. Maremma, the coastal area of southern Tuscany, is home to wild beaches, ancient Etruscan roads, and remarkable hilltop towns, like Pitigliano and Sorano, that are carved into the local tufa (volcanic stone). Italy experts, ExperiencePlus!, mark the roads with chalk arrows so cyclists can go at their own pace along a mix of gently rolling hills and steep quad-burning climbs. Stops include visits with cheesemakers, butchers, and pasta feasts at agriturismos.
Portugal may be the new darling of Europe, but people are only just discovering Alentejo. The sparsely populated, bucolic southern region is a cycling paradise with well-paved roads surrounded by cork trees, olive groves, ancient castles, and vineyards. Portuguese-born former pro cyclist Joao Correia and his team at inGamba outfit riders with top-of-the-line Pinarello Dogma F10 bikes and challenge them with up to 80 miles during the day before retreating to historic farmstays, like São Lourenço do Barrocal, for massages and rustic farm-to-table meals.
Sweeping landscapes of heathery hills, glittering lochs, and dramatic mountains provide a dreamy backdrop as you cycle the quiet roads of Scotland. Take in castles, distilleries, pubs, and the famous Loch Ness on a seven-day, 262-mile coast-to-coast ride with local adventure experts Wilderness Scotland. Cyclists cover 25 to 55 miles per day, passing through Cairngorms National Park, the UK’s largest and highest national park, and ascending the hairpin bends of Bealach na Bà, a winding single track road through the mountains of Applecross peninsula.
Endless turquoise Mediterranean vistas and deserted back roads have put Mallorca on the radar as a new cycling hotspot. Terrain can be as easy or challenging as you’re up for. Test your legs on the ultra-curvy Orient-Bunyola route in the Serra de Tramuntana mountain range or stick to the low-key roads of the windmill-dotted countryside. Backroads bases riders at Relais & Châteaux resorts and designs routes that pass must-see sights including Moorish hamlets and 19th-century fortresses.
Discover why so many professional cyclists make Girona their home away from home. In less than 15 minutes you can escape the charming city’s cobblestone streets and find undulating country roads, testing climbs, technical descents of the Pyrenees, and winding roads that hug the shores of the Costa Brava. Year-round sunshine, a rich history pair, and delicious Catalan cuisine have put the region on the radar of non-pros. Trek Travel runs trips for cyclists who want to take in the sights at a leisurely pace as well as those who want to train like a pro.
The Dolomites, Italy
One of the great cycling areas of the Alps, the Dolomites is where serious riders come to test their mettle on some of the steepest climbs in Italy. Adventure specialist Dolomite Mountains offers an itinerary that features the area’s most legendary mountain passes—many of which are used for stages of the Giro d’Italia, one of the world’s toughest cycling races. Tackling Stelvio, the second highest pass in the Alps with 46 switchbacks and nearly 6,000 feet of elevation gain, is the ultimate bragging rights for avid cyclists. Long days in the saddle are rewarded with hearty local fare, like cajinci, cheese-filled ravioli, at both rustic rifugios and Michelin-star tables.
Less trodden than Tuscany, and a lot less hilly, the heel of Italy’s boot is ideal for leisurely cycling fueled by burrata, orrechiette, and rosé. Itineraries pass through the white-washed city of Ostuni, centuries-old olive groves, coastal towns like Polignano a Mare, and the region’s iconic trulli, round stone buildings topped with conical roofs. Puglia-based outfitter Southern Visions specializes in weaving culinary experiences, like gourmet beach picnics, into cycling trips.
The bicycle is synonymous with Dutch culture. Amsterdam is often dubbed the bicycle capital of the world and country’s historic towns and villages beckon cyclists with flat, open, trails that hug the canals. UK-based cycling specialist Skedaddle offers trips where you cycle by day and sleep on a barge at night. Explore Alkmaar, the capital of Dutch cheese, the magnificent nature reserve on the island of Texel, and the famous windmills of Zaanse Schans, all on two wheels.
The Loire, France
France’s châteaux-studded river valley feels like you’re biking through a fairytale land of medieval castles and charming villages. Cyclists who care just as much about food, wine, art, and history as they do about logging miles will love DuVine’s Loire Valley Tour. Low-key days in the saddle are interspersed with visits to the former home of Leonardo da Vinci, spectacular gardens and meals in both brasseries and Michelin-star restaurants.
Switzerland isn’t an experts-only cycling destination. Yes, it’s known for its arduous climbs in the Alps. But the country also has plenty of flat rides along bike paths, lake circuits, and long stretches through picturesque valleys. Ciclismo Classico’s 8-day, 262-mile trip between Lake Lucerne and Lake Geneva covers about 37 miles a day mostly on rolling hills. Cyclists pass through 8 of Switzerland’s 26 canons and will want to brake for views of the Eiger and Jungfrau.
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
The Emerald Isle is a technicolor setting for cyclists of all levels. The Wild Atlantic Way, a route that unfolds 1,600 miles along Ireland’s west coast, unfolds from the country’s extreme south to its northernmost point. Wilderness Ireland’s 11-night itinerary covers 418 spectacular miles encompassing three national parks and 8 counties as well as classic Irish biking routes such as the Ring of Kerry, Corkscrew Hill, and Mamore Gap.