Guest post by Peter Williamson
“Early one morning, as the mist rose above a willow lined stream, we set off down a remote country lane in the gorgeous Loire Valley, soon becoming completely immersed in the peace and tranquillity of our idyllic surroundings. This was how we’d always dreamed a cycling holiday should be – just the two of us, no traffic, and gentle, winding lanes to follow. Suddenly, a bright-eyed doe and two speckled fawns sauntered out of the woods and onto the road before us. What a wonderful – and truly memorable – sight! In the still morning air, they hardly seemed to notice us as we coasted on towards them. I’m so glad we chose cycling for our holiday this year – this sort of encounter simply doesn’t happen when in the car.”
You see, cycling holidays don’t all have to be “hard-core mountain biking adventures”. Like anything, there are varying degrees of scale. I’d always wanted to visit the magnificent châteaux of the Loire and thought that a bike would probably be the best – and most leisurely – way to travel between places like Azay-le-Rideau, Ussé, Chinon and Villandry, and how right I was.
Obviously, there are those who would prefer somewhere a little more challenging, yet still with time to stop off to visit places of interest along the way. The island of Sicily is a good case in point. The south-east of the island, for example, boasts a wealth of world-class heritage, architecture and archaeology that few people really know, while the rolling countryside is a colourful patchwork of fields interspersed by hill-top villages and fabulous towns – amongst which Noto and Ragusa are real gems.
Completely destroyed by the terrible 1693 earthquake, the Noto you see today was rebuilt under the supervision of the Duke of Camastra, by three architects who had carte blanche to let their Baroque creativity run wild. The result is a wonderfully eclectic mix of ornate styles and dazzling embellishments. Ragusa, a World Heritage Site in its own right, is also famed for its glorious architecture and it is well worth spending a day or two exploring its fascinating streets. If you also include the nearby towns of Scicli and Palazzo Acreide, it’s little wonder that this region is called the ‘Realm of the Baroque’.
But it’s not all about architecture. In this corner of Sicily you can visit a number of spectacular natural wonders by bike, too, including the dramatic Vendicari Nature Reserve, where migrating flamingos stop to feed; the Cava Grande, Sicily’s deepest limestone canyon; and the fascinating Anapo Valley, where lush carob, orange and lemon plantations hide ancient Bronze Age cave tombs.
The advantage of Sicily as a destination is that you can cycle here at almost any time of year – though it can get very hot in the height of summer. Head to the northern Alps, on the other hand, and cycling is generally only recommended in spring and summer. Though some people might shy away from the idea of setting out on a cycling holiday through a mountainous region, there are, in fact, many places where you can enjoy the grandeur of the scenery without necessarily having to cycle up steep hills!
One of Europe’s most romantic landscapes is that of southern Bavaria where magnificent fairy-tale castles dominate sparkling lakes, and where villages of ornately frescoed houses are set beneath a dramatic backdrop of steeply forested hills and craggy limestone peaks. King Ludwig II certainly had an eye for the picturesque when he built his remarkable Neuschwanstein Castle here in 1832, its elegant white façade attracting attention from miles away across the surrounding countryside.
In nearby Füssen, you will find the start of the Romantic Strasse, a long-distance cycling route that leads through the heart of Bavaria, but it doesn’t have to be tackled in one go. Instead, take your time to explore the valleys, castles and villages that embody this enchanting region – there are many leisurely routes that reward with fabulous views, and plenty of idyllic spots to sit and reflect upon the joys of cycling.
Peter Williamson is an experienced travel writer and walker, having spent the past five years as copywriter for specialist travel company, Inntravel, the Slow Holiday People. During this time he has travelled extensively throughout Europe, researching and writing route notes for the company’s self-guided walking holidays, as well as writing for Inntravel’s brochures and website. Prior to this, Peter was a freelance writer and author for many years, writing on a wide range of subjects across a wide range of industries. He has published a number of popular walking books, including ‘Castle Walks in Yorkshire’, highlighting his love of his home county; history (he has an MA in Historical Research) and, of course, walking.