Winning tip: Three countries round Lake Constance
Cycling round all or part of Lake Constance delivers maximum scenic delights for minimum effort. September is an ideal month to experience the flat, car-free Bodensee-Radweg cycle path (total length 260km). You will see snow-capped Alps to the south, terraced vineyards, apple orchards and onion-domed churches. It takes in the fairytale medieval town of Meersburg, the Unesco-listed monastery of St Gallen, and the famous lion guarding Lindau’s harbour. Campsites abound, as do lakeside resorts such as Überlingen. Ferries crisscross the lake if time is short, and afterwards you can boast that you’ve cycled three countries: Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
Ponga, Asturias, Spain
A great way to experience the northern Spanish peaks of Asturias is a loop around the Ponga natural park. Leave the car at the first (free) car park on the AS261 (near the N625 junction) and take your bike anti-clockwise right around the park. The scenery is breathtaking, initially following the Ponga river, and passing through villages as you climb up to get a better view of the mountains. We had a delicious Asturian lunch at Fonda Ponga (no website) near San Juan de Beleño, where we could prop our bikes by picnic benches. Don’t eat too much as the biggest climb is still to come and the most dramatic views. Then it’s downhill all the way. Rejoin the N625 at San Ignacio for a quick spin back to the car.
Semois valley, Belgium
Wallonia, southern Belgium, is a beautiful region with excellent cycling opportunities. A non-taxing “taster” might be to follow a stretch (around 30km) along the meandering e Semois River, surrounded by lush wooded hills, You could start with a visit to the Abbaye d’Orval in Florenville, perhaps sampling the Trappist monks’ beer and cheese. Setting off north-west along the well-signposted route, you’ll want to stop after only 4km to visit Chassepierre, one of the “most beautiful Wallonian villages”. Then ride on through the quiet valley to explore the medieval town of Bouillon with its fortified castle.
The Lac d’Hourtin-Carcans area is full of cycle routes through pristine sand dunes covered in pine forests. There are many places to stay in the area that have direct access to the routes, but my favourite is Camping de la Dune Bleue (from €14 a night) in the forest with access to the lake. My favourite route is to Lacanau-Océan further down the coast, as you can take a circular route and rarely encounter any roads or any other people apart from cyclists. Stay at the campsite, leave your car in the car park and cycle everywhere. Awesome!
Finding ourselves in Avranches with a few days to kill, we hired bikes from Ouibike (from €20 a day) and took a pleasant 24km downhill trip towards Mont Saint-Michel. The journey started with picturesque French countryside then stunning sea views and finally the amazing site of Mont Saint-Michel, from it’s abbey and monastery up top, through the Great Hall in the middle to the fishermen’s houses at the bottom. We were told the best views were at dusk so spent the night at La Mère Poulard (doubles from €200 B&B, cheaper places available). Of course, as the trip here was downhill the return wasn’t - but it just meant taking it a little slower and relishing the fuel provided by the legendary soufflé omelette.
Last stop before the Swiss border in Lombardy is this valley where a family-friendly cycle route follows the river Adda for 114km from the mountain town of Bormio to Lake Como. Weaving through meadows, villages, vines and orchards, almost the entire route is traffic free. It’s clearly waymarked, the map is detailed and one-way bike hire works well with seven rental points. We took the train to Tirano, hired bikes and cycled gently downhill to Colico, a full day’s pedalling. As well as regular picnic spots, there are plenty of dining and sleeping options en route - our favourite was La Fioridaagriturismo (doubles from €102 B&B) with a fab farm shop and an air of rustic luxury.
Bay of Kotor, Montenegro
The Bay of Kotor is a huge fjord-like inlet on the coast of Montenegro. Cruising the road that hugs the shoreline by bike is a perfect way to see it from all angles. This is definitely a route for leisurely cycling: you’ll pass plenty of tempting waterside bars and cafes, and perfect spots for a dip in the clear blue water. The route is around 26 miles including a short ferry crossing at the narrowest part of the bay. There are plenty of places to hire bikes in Kotor town.
Green route, Mallorca
Mallorca is renowned for its beautiful mountains and beaches, but the Via Verde is a gorgeous cycle ride: 30km of railway converted to a rural path through the island’s flatter eastern side. Ramshackle windmills, the Llevante hills, fields of oranges and olives, and ancient castles. The smells alone will inspire you. Conclude the ride in Artà and delight in a late paella lunch at unpretentious Bar S’Estacio, or ice-cold sangria and tapas at La Casita Arta. Windswept Cala Mesquida close by is exquisite.
For an exhilarating downhill ride with breathtaking scenery, this sublime 80km mountain-to-fjords road route runs alongside the Bergensbanen and Flåmsbanen railway lines, so is easily accessible by train from Bergen or Oslo. One day adventurers alight at Finse, Norway’s highest railway station, at 1222 metres, and hire a bike from a shop right on the platform (finse1222.co.no, £68 a day). From the stunning Hallingskarvet mountain backdrop to the picturesque Aurlandsfjord, navigating steep hairpin bends to freewheeling past traditional farms, this 57km descent to Flåm does not disappoint. For refreshment try rallarvafler (waffles) from the Fagernut railway cottage and refill your bottle in a pristine stream.
Tour Lake Geneva, Switzerland/France
Cycle route 46 on the 200km Tour du Leman (around Lake Geneva, straddling France and Switzerland) is great for families: mostly along flat, quiet country roads and agricultural paved paths, with great views of the Alps and Jura mountains. It can be adapted for all levels of ability: you can climb higher on some stretches, or take the frequent train and ferry services between, say, Geneva, Lausanne and the delightful French spa town of Évian-les-Bains, to complete shorter legs. Flower-bedecked towns and villages to visit along the way include Yvoires and Montreux. Cycling clockwise will keep you closest to the lake.
Inn to the Danube, Austria
The Inn cycle path follows the River Inn for over 500km from its source above St Moritz in Switzerland all the way to Germany where it meets the Danube. We hired from Crazy Bikez in Innsbruck and spent five days cycling the path’s Austrian section, which was well-signed, predominantly traffic-free, and though the vistas were massive snow-capped peaks, the ride itself was free of any great ascents. The trip took us past medieval castles and fortresses, churches and monasteries. While in Tyrol make sure you visit one or two of their schnapps distilleries.
Looking for a holiday with a difference? Browse Guardian Holidays to see a range of fantastic trips
This article contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a small commission if a reader clicks through and makes a purchase. All our journalism is independent and is in no way influenced by any advertiser or commercial initiative. By clicking on an affiliate link, you accept that third-party cookies will be set. More information.