The Bike Tourism Boom: Top Cycling Routes in Europe

From high mountain passes to river-carved valleys, sunny coasts to rolling vineyards, Europe’s geographically diverse terrain is paradise for cycling enthusiasts. Scenic routes make for epic journeys packed with all the joys of the open road. Whether it’s a self-guided tour or a trip with a tour operator, bike tourism continues to grow in popularity as active travelers appreciate the destination immersion that a cycling vacation affords: getting close to the landscape with a front-row seat to the scenery, combined with cultural attractions and gourmet stops along the way.

“Our bookings for this summer and fall are booming,” explains Mia Liefeld of the DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. “Throughout COVID people have turned to their bikes, and now they’re ready to take their love of cycling on the road. Our guests are very eager to get back to Europe, especially as restrictions relax.”

Depending on the vacation length and theme, whether you choose a road bike, e-bike or mountain bike, there’s no shortage of routes to discover. Long-distance networks even link multiple countries across the continent; for example, the EuroVelo 1, or the Atlantic Coast Route, stretches more than 5,000 miles from Norway to Portugal, traversing six countries along the Atlantic coast (Norway, the U.K., Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal). Serious cyclists can get ambitious with lengthy international rides, while amateurs can set their own pace on smaller portions like Portugal’s Coastal Ecovia, an 130-mile stretch of the EuroVelo 1, which runs across the Algarve, taking in sublime coastal views, beaches, and cliffs rising dramatically from the Atlantic.

Biking along the River Drava in Austria // Photo by DavorLovincic/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

Another cross-country example is the TransDinarica, a network of mountain biking trails that crosses six countries in the Balkans. The Drava Cycling Route is also popular in the region; starting at the source of the Drava River in Toblach, Italy, this 315-mile route crosses Austria, then shows off challenging ascents and opportunities for river rafting in Slovenia, before terminating in Croatia.

Indeed Slovenia is emerging as the next big cycling destination, with an uptick in interest, particularly after Slovenian cyclist Tadej Pogačar won the Tour de France last year. Billed as “the first green country in the world,” Slovenia is celebrated for its varied landscapes, excellent cycling trails, and tourism infrastructure. Indeed the Slovenian Tourist Board will be promoting active outdoor holidays and sports tourism throughout 2022 and 2023. Exciting news for the year was the launch of the Juliana Cycling Trail, a new loop in the Julian Alps mountain range, and a new themed cycling trail from the team behind Bike Slovenia Green, a long-distance itinerary that connects green-certified locations. Starting in Ljubljana, this new Bike Slovenia Green Gourmet route shows off the country’s epicurean bounty—from vineyards to Michelin-starred restaurants.

A perennial European favorite is Italy. According to the Italian National Tourist Board, cycling vacations are so popular among U.S. travelers that a number of tour operators specialize only in bike tourism. Throughout the country, there’s high demand for both self-guided and organized tours. Of the top routes, the seven-night "Bolzano to Venice" tour starts in Bolzano, renowned for the dramatic landscapes of the Dolomites and the archeology museum that hosts the alpine iceman, “Otzi,” then takes in the Adige River Valley and Lake Garda, the famous cities of Verona and Padua, the vineyards in South Tyrol, before concluding in Venice. Other favorite routes include "Venice to Florence," connecting the two romantic cities by way of vineyards and charming villages; and the Via Francigena, which starts in Siena, showcasing the glorious Tuscan countryside before finishing in Rome.

Slated to be completed sometime this year, Ciclovia Garda ("Garda by Bike") is an 87-mile route started in 2018 that circles the crystal-clear waters of Lake Garda in northern Italy. The Italian National Tourist Board also notes a new route called Ciclovia Vento that’s in the works. Connecting existing trails from Turin to Venice and continuing along the Adriatic Sea, the project would create a new bike path that’s more than 800 miles in length.

Mountain biking at Lake Garda, Italy // Photo by Saro17/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images

“In recent years, we have had a lot of love for Italy,” says Liefeld of DuVine. "Puglia, located in the “heel” of Italy’s boot, has been wildly popular, while our 'Tuscany Bike Tour' is an eternal classic—the best of the best hotels, wine, meals, and absolutely charming local personalities…” DuVine draws on expert guides and local connections to create unique itineraries for small-group cycling vacations. “We’ve also recently launched an intimate 'Chef on Wheels Bike Tour' with local chef Stefano Righetti, who was born and raised in the mountains above Lake Garda. At 16, Chef Stefano entered the restaurant world in Lake Garda, spending six years at Michelin-starred Vecchia Malcesine.”

Looking for more inspiration for scenic routes? Enticing options in Spain include the Transpirenaica, the 500-mile trans-Pyrenees route connecting the Cantabrian coast to the Mediterranean, and the Ruta de Don Quijote, the 1,550-mile course passing through five provinces of Castilla-La Mancha. In Portugal, the Douro Valley and Alentejo regions are quite popular. Ireland boasts the Wild Atlantic Way, while Croatia’s islands offer a dose of the Mediterranean dolce vita as you zip past the sparkling sea during the day, then relax with local wines at sundown. The Czech Republic is home to some of central Europe’s notable long-distance routes like the Prague-Vienna Greenways and the Iron Curtain Trail, which connects the Barents Sea to the Black Sea along the Cold War-era political boundary between the former Soviet Union and the West. And in Switzerland, you can reward yourself with mountain fondue after a day riding through the mountain scenery that’s famous around the world.

“We love cycling in Europe for the way it helps our guests feel grounded in the world around them,” explains Liefeld of DuVine. “Discovering Europe on a bicycle allows you to experience these places with your senses: the smell of smoldering olive wood in Puglia or the must of grapes during harvest in Bordeaux, the sea breeze on your skin as you ride right on the Mediterranean coast in Mallorca, the overwhelming beauty of the landscape as you descend through fiery-red autumnal vineyards to the Douro River in Portugal.”

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