Bike tours: Best summer rides in U.S., Europe and Japan
We've got ideas for great places to pedal in California, Italy, France, Japan, Ireland and Vermont.
Thu, Apr 19 2012 at 12:29 PM
A beautiful view of the Mediterranean Sea near Monaco on the French Riviera. (Photo: nathalielaure/Flickr)
There’s so much of the planet to see and such limited vacation time (especially for American workers). When you have the opportunity to travel to a new place, you want to see as much as possible. But watching scenes go by from a car or bus window is a bit too much like watching a movie, and while walking is both great exercise and you get to see the up close and slower-moving details of an area, it’s a tough way to cover much ground.
That’s probably why bike tours are becoming more and more popular, both within the United States and also in Europe and Japan, where cities are located at short enough distances from each other that it makes sense to ride from one to another. Bike tours can be organized around food, wine, locales, or other themes (castles, anyone?), and while regular cyclists often make up bike vacationers, regular people who are in decent shape can enjoy them too. If you haven’t been on a bike in 20 years, it’s probably a good idea to take some serious rides before you embark on a week-long cycle journey, but for the most part, reasonably fit folks should be able to handle it – though it never hurts to schedule a massage in your itinerary somewhere.
Italy: Here’s one way to get your foodie fed, and not become a total glutton – by day, cycle through the beautiful Italian countryside, stopping in towns to taste-test Chianti and local treats and enjoying full Tuscan meals at night. For several hours a day, you ride away at a ‘let’s see as much as we can’ kind of pace (which means that you can stop to admire views and take pictures, or cruise on ahead). Cycle Italia offers tours of Tuscany, Piedmont, or a coast-to-coast voyage in Sardegna. What could be a better antidote (it becomes a fuel!) to pasta eating than riding all day?
California: Zoom by redwoods, cliffs and miles and miles of Pacific Ocean views – but not so fast you can’t savor them (and enjoy the heady scent of ocean and cedar). Backwoods.com offers a Big Sur central coast tour that stops by the Santa Ynez winery, coastal locavore eateries, and ends with a pass through the gorgeous Spanish-style architecture of Santa Barbara. California offers an ideal climate most of the year to enjoy the natural beauty of this diverse state.
France: With French Cycling Holidays, you can eat as much pastry and buttered everything you want – you’ll soon be working it off as you ride through Bordeaux vineyards, or past Roman ruins. For serious cyclists, the company offers “sport cycling tours,” which include Tour de France routes through the Alps and a faster pace. But the “leisure tours” will give you time to quaff cafes au lait between towns. As you can see in the photo above, the south of France and Monaco are quite beautiful as well.
Ireland: The Emerald Isle is the ideal place to cruise on a bike, with endless rolling hills of green and a cooler climate. Irish Cycle Tours is just one of several companies that offer organized bike tours of the country, and even the names of the tours are romantic: Choose from the Antrim Glens and the Causeway Coast, The Lakelands, Clare West Coast and the Burrens, and more. Stop by pubs that date from the 8th Century, check out the town St. Patrick is said to have spent his boyhood in, and explore castles and ruins. Of course, there are plenty of ocean views and seaside vistas to clear your head and hills to get your blood pumping.
Japan: This island country not only has dramatic coastlines and gorgeous mountains, but lots of traditional baths and massage (usually located near natural hot springs), as well as plenty of amazing food. With Oka Tours, you can choose if you’re looking for a relaxed, moderate or challenging terrain, explore various parts of the country and depart from Tokyo or Kyoto. Trip leaders and guides are bilingual and licensed in Japan, so you will be led by people who are experts in both Japanese culture and cycling.
Vermont: The Green Mountain state is more than just ski mountains and great cheese: it is also home to what Frommer’s has called one of the world’s ten best bike tours by Go Sojourn. Wend through river valleys, pass scenic farms and stop to eat local chocolate and sample maple syrup. Check out waterfalls, Revolutionary and Civil War historical sites, quaint New England towns and stop by a living history museum, all while getting your lungs full of some seriously fresh air.
Know of other cool bike tours out there? Leave us a note in the comments below.