Saddle up: six of the best Eurovelo routes to explore on your bike this summer

Getting to grip with Europe on two wheels? These cycle routes are hard to beat, writes Liz Dodd

<p>The best way to explore the continent? Two wheels, of course</p>

The best way to explore the continent? Two wheels, of course

From smooth tarmac paths that skirt the edge of vineyards and the shadows of medieval castles, to epic routes across mountain ranges, cultures and continents, the Eurovelo system of long-distance cycle routes are among the best in the world. The 17 routes of the Eurovelo network wind through 38 countries and stretch from the Atlantic coast in Ireland to the shores of the Black Sea.

I began a bike ride around the world on a Eurovelo cycle route at a crossroads near the port at the Hook of Holland, and I only left its network of more than 90,000km of trails, many fully off-road and signposted, near Turkey, three months and six countries later.

Conceived in 1995 as a way of bringing together the continent’s disparate cycle paths, following a Eurovelo trail has, until recently, involved sharp-eyed signpost spotting, maps and guidebooks. But an official app, launched in 2019, now makes following Eurovelo trails easier than ever, providing interactive maps, waypoints and guidance about accomodation and supplies. Currently available for five of the major routes (3, 5, 8 10 and 13), the plan is to roll it out across all the trails in the network.

Here are six of the best routes to explore.

Eurovelo 15: The Rhine Cycle Route

Fairytale castles overlook the Rhine at its most majestic, and vineyards produce some of the world’s best Riesling

The perfect beginner’s long-distance cycle route, the Rhine Eurovelo starts on the shore of the English Channel and ends in the Alpine landscapes of Switzerland. Almost all 1,233km of it are on segregated cycle paths, beautifully maintained, and take in some of the Rhine region’s most spectacular gorges and vineyards. Resting and resupplying is really easy on this route: in Germany the trails pass between timbered inns and through spectacular cities like Cologne and Bonn. If you don’t want to camp, you can easily find hotels and inns to stay in along the route. But you’re missing out: the campsites, particularly in the Upper Middle Rhine, near Bingen, are a beautiful way to experience the river’s languid pace of life.

The best bit: The Rhine Gorge, between Koblenz and Bingen, is a lovely, 65km stretch of riverside path, past fairytale castles that overlook the Rhine at its most majestic and vineyards that produce some of the world’s best Riesling.

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev15

Eurovelo 6: The Atlantic to the Black Sea

The route passes through Vienna

A stunning ride along the Danube that takes in some of the great European capitals, like Vienna and Budapest, before forging a way into Serbia through the unforgettable, Tolkien-esque Iron Gates, then along quiet roads through Romania to the Black Sea shore. Stretches of this 4,500km ride are among the most beautiful and accessible of all the Eurovelo routes – particularly the days on segregated trails through the Wachau Valley in Austria – and other stretches are genuinely challenging. The route moves onto quiet roads in Hungary and busier roads in Serbia. For the later stages you will need to camp – and perhaps wild camp – in remote areas, although the stretches in France, Germany and Austria are all within easy reach of good hotels.

The best bit: The Iron Gates, where the Eurovelo runs along forested gorges cut by the Danube through the Carpathian Mountains.

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev6

Eurovelo 8: The Mediterranean Route

When you’re not cycling along clifftops that command spectacular views across the sea, you’re rolling alongside pristine and sometimes empty white-sand beaches

Linking some of the Mediterranean’s best-known cities – including Venice and Dubrovnik – with some of Europe’s most beautiful and lesser-known coastlines, this route will eventually reach all the way into Montenegro and Albania. Because it’s coastal, it’s extremely hilly, and because it’s in southern Europe, it can get very hot in summer. But don’t let any of that put you off: when you’re not cycling along clifftops that command spectacular views across the sea, you’re rolling alongside pristine and sometimes empty white-sand beaches or climbing into exquisite hilltop towns. Hotels and campsites are easy to find in the western stretch, but once you cross into southern Croatia, and if you carry on south into Albania and Montenegro, it’s best to plan for some wild camping.

The best bit: Istria, a forested coastal peninsula in northern Croatia, between Slovenia and Dubrovnik, is a foodie paradise, renowned for its truffles, pasta, olive oil and wild asparagus.

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev8

Eurovelo 3: The Pilgrims Route

Take in Norway’s spectacular landscapes

This ride across northern Europe takes in some of the continent’s most ancient walking trails, following old pilgrim routes to reach the famous Camino Francés, part of the Camino de Santiago, to finish at Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. But some of the most spectacular and wildest scenery comes at the ride’s start in Trondheim in Norway, when it follows an 11th-century pilgrimage route dedicated to St Olaf, a hero of early Norse sagas. One of the Middle Ages’ most popular pilgrimage routes, it winds through barley fields and along fjords, taking in spruce forests and wooden churches. This northern stretch can be remote in stages, so bring camping gear, although the guesthouses along the way are wonderfully hospitable.

The best bit: For a less rugged ride, try the stages in Belgium and eastern France, which are decidedly flatter and pass through some of the region’s best beer-producing areas, including Trappist and monastic beers (for a different kind of pilgrimage).

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev3

Eurovelo 1: The Atlantic Coast Route

Andalucía is a foodies’ paradise

A ride of two halves, the Atlantic Coast route starts in the Land of the Midnight Sun – in northern Norway – before taking a deep dive into Celtic culture and heritage as it crosses Scotland into Ireland. But then it hits the western coast of France, drifting temptingly close to Bordeaux, and across Spain to its sun-soaked, southern coast and on into Portugal. This southern stretch is a ride for gourmets: as well as Andalucia, it takes in Lisbon and the country’s foodie Atlantic coast, famous for its seafood and green (young) wine.

The best bit: The stretch of Eurovelo 1 that crosses Scotland is known as Route 1 within the UK, and it takes in the beautiful Shetland Islands, lochs and moors aplenty.

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev1

Eurovelo 5: Via Romea

Cycle up to the steps of St Peter’s Basilica

Another ancient pilgrims’ way, this time retracing the history of modern Christianity, begins in Canterbury, then weaves in and out of other popular Eurovelo routes like the Rhine route, before crossing the Alps and descending through Italy to Rome. Crossing the Alps is difficult but stunning, and cycling fans will love spotting some of cycling races’ most famous cols. The feeling of gliding into Rome, through vineyards and olive groves, onto the city’s longest cycle path to the steps of St Peter’s Basilica, is unforgettable.

The best bit: Riding the Tuscan hills, the last stage before the turn into Rome, is just as challenging as it sounds, but also as rewarding: think hilltop towns, incredible food and wine, and endless sunshine.

More information: en.eurovelo.com/ev5

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