Here lies my top 5 favorite cycle touring countries. As a mere mortal I can’t claim to have cycled extensively in every country on Earth but I have done a few tens of thousands of miles in about 35 of them and, of course, I have my favorites.
The quality of the roads and amount of traffic weigh heavily on my subjective opinion. As does the food, climate and experiences with people. ‘Subjective’ and ‘favorite’ are the keywords here but I hope that if you’re looking for inspiration on locations one of these will spark your imagination.
#1 | Turkey
I had a rough start cycling in Turkey but except for those first 48 hours it was probably the most enjoyable travel experience I’ve ever had, it’s an amazing place to ride a bike.
I cycled through Turkey with Ellie, from Bodrum on the south west, to Istanbul. Bodrum didn’t win my heart but as soon as we got inland and headed north everything else in Turkey did. Just a few miles from the coast we began to climb up the first of three large ranges that lay between us and Istanbul, the roads were quiet, people stopped to chat to us and figs grew at the road sides in abundance. A nice touch is that Turkey has water taps and shade shelters dotted about at the sides of the roads, stumbling across one is a welcome oasis in the heat.
I was really impressed by the Turkish food. Commonly you can find lots of crisp salads, spicy meats and fresh yoghurt. Their olive oil, balsamic vinegar, bread and molasses are all world class. If you like food, people and rugged terrain then you’ll love Turkey.
#2 | Island of Kos
The island of Kos is a true gem of the mediterranean, beautiful coastlines, quiet roads, a little mountain range and the town/city of Kos is impossibly picturesque. At 25 x 5 miles Kos is a small area for cycling which makes it perfect for a mini tour or a relaxing break from a larger adventure. When Ellie and I cycled Kos we treated it as a holiday from touring (such audacity!) and slowly enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the coastline, and the delicious seafood. Apart from the little mountain range in the picture below, the island is very flat which gave our legs a welcome rest.
Kos, with its meandering network of tiny side roads is best navigated with a detailed map and a bike that can handle dusty gravel hard pack surfaces of varying quality.
As you venture further away from the town the population density drops off quickly so there are loads of quiet camping spots. For a whole day and a night Ellie and I enjoyed our own private beach on the far end of the island, so private you don’t really need clothes.
#3 | France
The Canal Du Midi in southern France was the first place I ever cycled self supported. I’ve cycled other parts of France since but I’ve still only scratched the surface of what the country has to offer. France is a great place for a first cycle tour because it’s safe, comfortable, relatively flat and has great bread, cheese, cured meats and all the right foods to keep you smiling and your pedals turning. France also boasts one of the highest ratios of small roads to large busy monstrosities of any country so you can ride in peace without competing with heavy traffic.
If you don’t want to free camp in France you won’t have to because camping for the French is a national passion, just like wine and going on strike – sorry, I couldn’t resist! So you’ll be spoilt for choice for a place to pitch your tent or roll out your bivy.
Apart from the south east, where you have the French/Italian Alps, a pretty extensive mountain range north of Montpellier, and the French/Spanish border where the Pyrenees lie, France isn’t a difficult ride. However, if you like a challenge, those hilly bits just happen to be some of the most beautiful.
#4 | Croatia
My experience of Croatia mostly involves a coastal route from north to south and another one just slightly inland. The coastal road is a little busy but full of great bars and little rocky outcrops with hidden beaches. It’s busy, but in a nice way that’s not too tacky and touristy. Good food, drink and accommodation are easy to find. You have to be a little cunning with camp spots but there are some nice bits of rocky beach and scrub if you look for them.
Inland is a different story, it’s quiet and feels very secluded. There are considerable mountains just off the coast that have many great hunting cabins that are usually more than willing to serve you game meat, beer and a plot for your tent. Wild camping is also a very simple matter so long as you’re wary of where the land mines are located and don’t stray off the beaten track too far. Croatia is full of characterful people from a wide range of places. If feels quite up-and-coming as a destination. It’s a shame about the mines, I might have rated Croatia higher but frankly it’s quite scary when you’re spending so much time outside and camping.
#5 | Germany
In my opinion Germany is an underrated tourist destination especially for cycling. Germans know Germany is good for cycling, but no one else seems to know about it. Cycle paths are taken seriously in Germany and cover the country from tip to tip. Of course the cycling signposts and directions are all efficiently standardised and highly effective, as long as you’re thinking logically you can’t go wrong.
Though Germany has some big roads it’s not often you have to use them, especially if you’re following the national cycle routes or the European Eurovelo routes. Some of the roads in the south around Munich are particularly nice and if you’d like to tackle some huge densely forested hills you’ll love Germany’s Black Forest in Baden-Württemberg.
If you liked this post please consider sharing it or leaving a comment and I’d love to hear any suggestions on new places to ride.