The World's Top 10 Bike Rides: A Guide's Guide
An well-cycled expert's favorite trips, from the glaciers of Montana to the tulip fields of Holland
Cycling expert Ron Van Dijk is Director of European Operations for Austin-Lehman Adventures, and guides bike trips in Germany, Austria, Italy and the Netherlands. Among his all-time favorite rides, he chose three domestic U.S. adventures, including South Dakota’s Mickelson Trail (110 miles), the state’s first rails-to-trails project.
1. Dordogne Valley between Argentat and Beynac (110 miles), France: One of my favorite regions of France, for its authenticity, the peace, the great food, the old Romanesque churches, the castles and the history (such as the Hundred Years War between France and England). Make sure to divert from the valley every now and then to visit villages like St-Céré, Autoire, Loubressac, Rocamadour, as well as the lively town of Sarlat.
2. South-Tyrol from Reschen Pass to Merano (50 miles), Italy: Starting at the top of the pass, it’s all pretty much all downhill for about 50 miles on specially marked bike paths, and you’re always surrounded by some of the most majestic mountains of the Alps. Pass by villages, lakes, meadows, apple orchards and end your ride in the noble spa town of Merano.
3. Rioja Vineyards between Logroño and Haro (35 miles), Spain: This is best done in the fall (October), when the leaves are turning. The colors are so incredible no matter in which direction you look. And you’ve got the roads to yourself. Villages/towns to include are La Puebla de la Barca, Laguardia, Navaridas, Elciego, Baños de Ebro, San Vicente, Rivas de Tereso, and of course Haro. Prepare yourself for some hills. And be sure to visit some of the tapas bars in Haro for an unforgettable and fun meal while mingling with the locals!
4. Mosel Valley from Trier to Koblenz (132 miles), Germany: You’ll need four days to do this stretch. Every couple of miles you’ll pass another quaint wine village, each tempting you with its delicious white Riesling wine. Throughout the trip you will always be surrounded by the steep hills covered with vineyards, whereas you stay on you bicycle down by the river. Essentially, it can be considered as a downhill trip (very, very gently) and you are even making use of the prevailing winds. Numerous Roman buildings to be discovered in Trier, and a hilltop castle or ruin around every bend of the river.
5. Salzach Valley from Gerlos Pass/Krimml to Salzburg (115 miles), Austria: This could very easily be the most scenic of all the routes listed here. With the snowcapped Grossglockner and many other mountains by your side, enjoy lots of downhill and flat meadows (and a few ups) as you descend from Gerlos Pass (1628m = 5340 ft) to Salzburg (443m = 1450 ft).
6. Danube Valley from Linz or Enns to Krems (80 miles), Austria: Easy cycling along the wide river makes this an unforgettable experience. Especially the stretch through the wine region Wachau between Melk and Dürnstein (23 miles) is some of the most pleasant cycling you’ll encounter anywhere in Europe. And be sure to visit the Baroque abbey of Melk: it’s a masterpiece!
7. Tulip fields near Keukenhof (in April: 20 miles), Netherlands: Does this need any further explanation? The colors and the scents of the flowers (tulips, narcissus, hyacinth) get you high…, in a natural way! And the North-Sea is nearby, across over the dunes.
8. The Mickelson Trail (110 miles), South Dakota, USA: The Mickelson Trail, South Dakota’s first rails to trails project, follows the abandoned Burlington Northern line that took trains from Edgemont, South Dakota up north to the Black Hills and gold mines of the Deadwood area. At approx. 110 miles, you’ll see a lot of different country ranging from unique granite rock formations to hay bale-dotted farmland. A few highlights are riding through blasted hard-rock tunnels and over 100 converted railroad bridges. Careful of the wild turkeys crossing the path!
9. The San Juan Islands (10 miles), Washington, USA : San Juan Island offers a great 20-mile loop around the island with a variety of places to stop along the way. San Juan routes are challenging but the views, history and wide open space make it so worth the work! The famous Pig War “Crisis” of 1859-1872 was on the island. Both the English Camp and American Camp are a must see for history buffs! Lime Kiln Point State Park, a.k.a. Whale Watch Park, is a great spot to look for orcas in the open waters and learn about the history of the lime kilns and the nearby lighthouse. Lastly, a ride around the island wouldn't be complete without a stop off at Pelindaba Lavender Farm where you will find some calming views (and wonderful scents) of rows of lavender.
10. The Going-to-the-Sun Road (50 miles), Glacier National Park, Montana, USA: Biking the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier National Park is perhaps the most exhilarating and challenging way to see one of the United States’ most precious gems. Winding around curves and pumping your legs as you crawl up the Continental Divide at Logan Pass will give you a new found appreciation of the only road that runs through the heart of Glacier. When you reach “the turning point”, stare for miles around at the jaw-dropping views in all directions, take pride in knowing you conquered the pass, and smile when you know an epic downhill is waiting for you on the other side!