As everyone is busy planning cycle touring holidays for 2016 I thought I would share my top adventure cycling destinations. These are places that I’ve visited over the last few years that I’d love to get back to
and explore more. While I also enjoy cycle touring through classic cycling countries like France and Italy, this list contains the places that I have enjoyed but are not maybe the obvious choices for a cycling holiday, something to give you some inspiration:
Georgia, the country not the US state, is home to the largest mountains in Europe and a fascinating capital city called Tbilisi. The Caucasus mountain range is huge and spectacular in equal measure, the snowy peaks feed alpine meadows dotted with ancient villages, in between there are ancient orthodox Christian monasteries. The population is fuelled by the national dish of cheesy pie and home brew brandy. Cheesy pie is not called cheesy pie but it should be it’s like a pizza fondue cross, soft bread loaded with oozing cheese, sometimes with a raw egg on top.
I cycled the length of the country but barely touched the remote mountains, before I reached Azerbaijan and detoured into the Caucuses there. Whether hiking or biking I will be returning to Georgia at some point, certainly before mass tourism changes the atmosphere here.
Batsumi to Tbilisi via the hills and monasteries of the Adjara Autonomous region. The road at Khulo was rough, but there’s lots of monasteries along the way and at Athaltsikhe visit the castle it’s awesome, the route via Borjomi was fine but the Borjomi national park wasn’t much without hiking. I would go the obvious but much longer route through the mountains to Tbilisi and avoid the main road.
In the Caucuses I think you’re best contacting georidersmtb.com for routes and tours but Svaneti and the surrounding area is a good starting point.
Romania is a bit of unusual place. The mountains of the north and Translyvania are charming villages that feel in a bygone age, ideal for exploring by bike. Horse and carts still pedal the cobbled roads while rural villages to post-industrial towns hide magnificent castles and medieval history. Vlad the Impaler (don’t ask how he got that name you really don’t want to know) AKA Count Dracula’s home sits proudly on a ridge top. The hills here are beautiful, pierced by towers of freshly harvested hay in lush green meadows.
Then you hit the plains of the south near Bucharest. This area is less inviting the closer you get to the Danube river. The villages have more men staring as you pass, we just didn’t enjoy cycling there much at all. In fact from all the countries we’ve cycled, southern Romania was somewhere we never felt comfortable wild camping in stark contrast to the mountains in the north.
Apuseni National Park is beautiful but hilly and navigating the confusing gravel roads need a good map but well worth it. Then Cluj is an interesting city to visit.
Further South in the mountains are Sebes and Sibiu both old medieval towns that you can wander for a day, then from here is the famous Transfargarasan road ascending to 2400m, the best mountain road in the world according to Top Gear. You can camp at the top by the lake or stay in a hotel and hike the mountain ridge line. On the other side the town of Curtea de Arges is great to explore from a friendly guest house. Then pick a road to the east of west back over the mountains.
Part of me wants to keep secret how fantastic and easy the cycling is in Kyrgyzstan, OK when I say easy the hills are ridiculous and the hilly gravel roads can be sketchy, but getting there and out on your bike is easier than you might think. A land of nomads that can be reached by plane quickly and quite cheaply via Turkish airlines who fly into the capital Bishkek, or visit the more remote gem of Osh both direct from Istanbul. The nation used to live in tents so camping is easy and well accepted, today many yurts are solely used for tourists. The food can be as challenging as the terrain, think fermented milk and dried cheese balls but it makes for an unforgettable experience either way the hygiene roulette wheel spins.
A loop around lake Issyk Kul from Bishkek, stopping in Karakol at one of the friendly guesthouses for a day hiking in the mountains.
Osh to Bishkek via the ‘main’ M41 road that is decent tarmac or on the gravel back roads towards Song Kul is a bit more of an adventure. This is a rough isolated road though remote areas, highly recommended for the fit!
Touring the length of Chile makes no sense to me as the Panamerican highway is the backbone and it’s far from the best cycle in the world. To venture off this backbone and up into the higher Andes requires long one way detours east and on a bike it’s a lot of effort so you miss a lot, we used a campervan here. Further south however lies the Carretera Austral AKA Ruta 7 into deepest darkest Patagonia. This area is wet and windy but isolated and beautiful, a challenge best kept for the southern summer, it really is too bleak for winter riding. Start from Puerto Montt and catch ferries or from in Argentina further South.
Rutaa 7 for any length is a fantastic trip.
Option two is to do a tour from Bariloche around the beautiful Lake district of Argentina over the border towards Volcano Orsorno then do a loop of Volcano Calbuca before heading to the Isle of Chiloe or north to the Bavarian Chilean town of Puerto Octay. A fantastic part of the world.
5. Island hopping in Western Canada
Vancouver island and the surrounding smaller islands are fun to explore by Kayak but also island hopping with a bike on ferries is a great trip combined with some whale watching and surfing too. I recommend the chilled out Denby and Hornby Islands with networks of cruisey off road bike trails.
If this isn’t remote enough, then I rode around the Queen Charlotte Islands further to the North West of Vancouver Islands quite a while ago and thoroughly enjoyed it, accessed from Prince Rupert they are wild places and alive with first Nations culture. Totem poles stand proud aside long houses and local artists sell various creations. While the north part is fun to cycle, the southern area is a tightly controlled reserve it is best explored from the water where killer whales and bears are often seen. You should really book a kayak tour up in advance if have the cash as it’s well worth doing!
6. The mountains of Laos and Vietnam
Vietnam is quite a popular e place for touring by motorbike and bike because in the mountains this means quiet roads, more temperate climates than most of SE Asia, lush scenery and ancient Buddhist temples are just some reasons to explore. In Laos the river Mekong is the centre of attention however the road quality is constantly improving making cycling easier in this poor but fascinating place. We were there quite a while ago and the traffic was pretty limited and felt pretty safe. The locals as always were super friendly and there’s no hassle out of the tourist hotspots, the food was also pretty good if you find the right places, the local sticky rice is amazing!
A long loop from Luang Prabang up towards Nam Ha National Park and then the Golden Triangle and China border. Before heading to Hanoi in Vietnam via the mysterious plain of jars (a selection of giant ancient carved jars!) and the limestone karst vertical mountain landscape at Viang Xai.
The sketchy mountain road then crosses a quiet border point before winding onwards towards Hanoi. you won’t meet mant tourists on this road.