In this article, we share our pick of the best cycling destinations in Europe and why we think they should be at the top of your must-do list.
Making this kind of selection is always tough, but we hope it helps inspire your 2020! We've ordered the list by season of the year - you'll find our favourite places to cycle in each season to help with the question of when to go where.
We hope you love these places as much as us - let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
Written by John Vicars
Looking for the best cycling holidays in Europe that you can drive to from the UK? Check out this article.
Best spring cycling destinations
Balaeric islands, Spain
varied terrain and cyclist-focused services
The largest of the Balearic Islands, Mallorca has been extremely popular with holiday makers over the last 50 years or so. During the last ten years, the island has developed its offer, and helped along by Team Sky’s (now Team Ineos) regular training camps, it is now considered to be one of the best places to cycle in Europe.
As with so many parts of Spain, Mallorca boasts 300 days of sunshine a year and combined with mild winters and easy accessibility from main European cities, it is seen as the number one ‘go to’ location for many cyclists. It is certainly the most visited destination guide on www.epicroadrides.com, which is quite some achievement when you consider that there are no UCI World Tour stage races held on the island.
For the amateur cyclist there is an ideal mix of terrain, from the Tramuntana mountain range in the west to the flat but very scenic roads in the south and east. Added to that of course you can test yourself on the same stretches of road that the professionals from Team Ineos, Movistar and countless other teams ride on whilst at their training camps.
The climbs of Sa Calobra and Puig Major, whilst not as steep as the mountains you would find in mainland Europe, are extremely popular and packed with cyclists in the high season. The Mallorca 312 (a 312-kilometre sportive) is going from strength to strength and takes place every April. It all makes for one of the best cycling holidays in Europe.
Our in-depth guide to Mallorca (which includes links to related route guides and articles):
Costa Brava, Spain
Cultural delight and quiet traffic free roads
If Mallorca is where the professional cyclists train and hold their training camps, then Girona is the city where a disproportionate amount of them live. Further north than Mallorca, and within touching distance of the Pyrenees, you would be hard pressed not to spot a professional cyclist as you take to the super smooth and virtually traffic free Catalonian roads.
First made famous by Lance Armstrong who lived in the city for many years, a lot of professionals from outside of Europe now base themselves in the area as geographically it affords easy access to the premier races on the UCI race calendar in neighbouring France and Italy.
As you walk through the streets of Girona’s old town, you can see the cycling influence: restaurants and cafés (some owned by ex-professionals) are inter-mingled with high quality bike rental, tour and cycling service companies. It oozes chic sophistication and with fantastic, quiet roads its undoubtedly one of the best places to cycle.
There is a mix of terrain starting from gentle climbs, such as the popular Els Àngels, to the more arduous tests of Mare de Déu del Mont and the well-known Rocacorba. Stray a little further to the north west as you hit the front ranges of the Pyrenees and the climbs get more demanding.
Many would say that Girona is one of the very best road cycling destinations in Europe.
Our in-depth guide to Girona (which includes links to related route guides and articles): https://www.epicroadrides.com/destinations/cycling-spain/girona/
off season sunshine and quiet roads
The Costa Daurada (Golden Coast) sits just south of Barcelona on Spain’s eastern coast and is certainly less famous than Mallorca and Girona.
The area is working hard to build its reputation and at the moment still remains a pretty well-kept secret - but given its fantastic climate, roads and cycling routes, we're not sure it will stay that way for too much longer.
If you don’t like crowded roads and want to get away from it all then the Costa Daurada and its long coastline is well worth a close look. It is extremely accessible being served by both Barcelona airports as well as nearby Tarragona. Two professional teams, Bahrain Merida and UAE Emirates, have held training camps recently in the area and there are now more and more cyclo tourists riding the roads around Cambrils and Salou.
The resort is an ideal place to clock up those pre-season base miles and whilst there are many flat roads adjacent to the coast, there is no shortage of climbs in the Serra de Montsant, Muntanyes de Priorat, Mussara and Prades areas. Most of the ascents are under 10 kilometres in length at manageable gradients of between 3% and 6%.
So, if you’re looking at cycling holidays abroad this year, the Costa Daurada is definitely worth a look.
Our in-depth guide to Costa Daurada (which includes links to related route guides and articles):
Best summer cycling destinations
testing ascents made famous by the tour de France
People have been cycling through Europe, and in particular the French Alps, from time immemorial. However, the ever-increasing publicity surrounding the Tour de France and the willingness for amateur cyclists to punish themselves on these fabled slopes ensures that they will never lose their appeal.
Excitingly, as part of a continuous improvement process in the area, a very ambitious ‘made for cyclists’ project has recently been launched. Entitled the ‘Via 3 Vallées’ project the three ski resorts, south of Moûtiers, namely Courchevel, Méribel and Val Thorens are being linked by the creation of asphalt mountain roads for the exclusive use of cyclists!
Stages one and two have now been completed which means that you can cycle from the altiport at Courchevel (circa 2,000 metres) up and over the Col de la Loze on a brand new 6-kilometre road. This incidentally increases the height of the Loze to 2,304 metres meaning it will be the 11th highest col in France.
Then at the end of 2019 another new ‘cyclist only’ road (7.5 kilometres) down the other side to Méribel was completed, meaning that the two resorts are now connected by bicycle. This has created a superb 62-kilometre circular loop (1,970 metres) starting and finishing in Les Allues and incorporating the ‘new’ Col de la Loze and the new roads.
The final part of the project will see another ‘cyclist only’ road between the Col de la Loze and the Val Thorens ski station – a cyclist’s dream! So, if you’re thinking of where to go cycling this year then this may be the cycling place for you!
Our in-depth guides to the Alpe d'Huez region of the Alps (based out of Bourg d'Oisans) and the Iseran region of the Alps (based around Bourg Saint Maurice). These include links to many related route guides and articles.
Alpe d'Huez/Bourg d'Oisans: https://www.epicroadrides.com/destinations/cycling-france/alpe-d-huez-region/
Col d'Iseran/Bourg Saint Maurice:
If you’re looking for some of the best cycling in Europe, look no further.
Nice has been synonymous with cycling for over a hundred years, indeed it was in 1906 that the fourth edition of the Tour de France visited the capital of the Côte d’Azur. Famed for its climate, culture, cuisine and coastline there are numerous opportunities in the area to enjoy a holiday on two wheels.
In a normal year, we'd suggest avoiding July and August in Nice, but this year the official Grand Depart of the Tour de France starts on the beachfront road La Promenade des Anglais on 27 June (more info on the Tour route, here).
A few days later, on 5 July 2020, the 30th edition of the Etape du Tour Sportive starts and finishes at the same point. This annual event, open to amateur cyclists, mirrors a particular stage of Le Tour each year and the 2020 edition packs 3,570 metres of climbing into a 177 kilometre loop featuring the notable ascents of the Col de Turini, Col de la Colmiane and the Col d'Èze (used every year in the prestigious Paris-Nice stage race).
Other than a great coastline bike path that runs from Nice's port to Antibes (generally regarded as one of the best cycle paths in Europe) much of the area is dominated by big climbs as you leave the city and head for the hills. To the north west lies the Parc Naturel Régional des Préalpes d’Azur where you will be able to test your climbing legs on the 19-kilometre ascent of the Col de Vence.
Head out to the east, on undulating terrain, in the direction of Monaco and the Italian border and you eventually reach the seaside town of Menton. If you then traverse due north into the hills of the Alpes-Maritime you can then climb the Col de la Madone (Lance Armstrong’s training climb) and the nearby, hairpin laden Col de Braus as well as the aforementioned Turini.
Our in-depth guide to Nice and the Côte d'Azur (which includes links to related route guides and articles):
Giro d'Italia history and big climbs
When you visit a town with a reputation for downhill skiing you know beforehand what sort of terrain you are likely to encounter! Situated in northern Italy and very close to the border with Switzerland, Bormio transforms itself in the spring and summer months into a mecca for cyclists. It's highly recommended as one of the best cycling trips in Europe.
Top of the bill is the legendary Passo dello Stelvio which sits on the edge of the town. The description by the Italian newspaper La Gazetta dello Sport probably best sums up the climb when it wrote that the mountain was ‘a serpent of asphalt, five tunnels, 21.5 kilometres and 1541 metres of climbing’.
That said the north eastern ascent of the mountain from the village of Prato is generally regarded as the classic ascent due to the 48-hairpin bends that are contained within the 25 kilometres of vertical ascent. It is probably the most photographed mountain in cycling history. (There is also a third ascent of the Stelvio available starting in Switzerland via the Umbrail Pass).
Also, within cycling distance of Bormio are the famous climbs of the Passo Gavia and the super hard Passo del Mortirolo also both steeped in Giro d’Italia folklore. Stage 18 of the 2020 Giro d’Italia sees the peloton climb the Stelvio (from Prato) before scaling the hairpin packed and spectacular Torri di Fraele to finish by the Cancano dam.
A truly incredible region with the potential of making it one of the best cycling holidays in the world.
Our in-depth guide to Bormio and the Stelvio region (which includes links to related route guides and articles):
You might also like our pick of the best places to cycle in Italy: https://www.epicroadrides.com/cycling-blog/cycling-in-italy/
Best autumn and winter cycling destinations
warm, wind-free cycling
Another new winter cycling destination has emerged as Cyprus starts to gear up to welcome more and more cyclists to the island. Driven by a national push to encourage more people to use the bicycle as a means of reducing their carbon footprint, a cycling culture is clearly developing. With an average of 326 days of sunshine each year there’s a lot to like!
The island has a diverse section of terrain, from flatlands in the east to undulating terrain in the south. The area around the Troodos mountain range provides an opportunity for the climbers to test their legs.
In addition to the warm weather, an added bonus due to the particular climate of the region is that there is little or no wind on the island. If you normally spend your winter in colder climes, this is a huge plus point!
As a popular holiday destination there is a good selection of quality hotels, restaurants and shops and there are now established cycle routes and bike rental outlets in all the main towns and cities such as Larnaca, Nicosia, Limassol and Paphos.
Definitely one to consider for 2020 if you’re looking at different places to go cycling.
Our in-depth guide to Cyprus (which includes links to related route guides and articles): https://www.epicroadrides.com/destinations/cycling-cyprus/
Sunshine and great quality traffic free roads
Coosta Almeria is a gem of a hidden cycling destination! A coastal province quietly tucked away on Spain’s southern coast between the commercialised areas of the Costa Blanca (e.g. Alicante and Benidorm) and the Costa del Sol (Marbella and Malaga), with its own microclimate and average temperatures of between 16 and 22 degrees in the winter months.
It's a perfect winter cycling destination in Europe.
Sitting by the sea and the nearby Parque Natural del Cabo de Gata-Níjar and surrounded by the Sierra Filabres mountain range, you will find the holiday resort of Mójacar and a good range of hotels, restaurants and shops. Venture west into the hills and you will have the super smooth roads to test your legs as you climb the Sierra Bedar and the Puerto de la Virgen (a pre-season favourite hill climb test for the professionals).
Heading further west to the town of Gérgal you can sample two ‘Especial’ climbs made famous by the Vuelta a España, the Alto de Velefique (Almeria’s own Alpe d’Huez) and the 30-kilometre-long climb to the giant observatories at Calar Alto. This area sits alongside the Desierto de Tabernas, the only true desert in mainland Europe and the one made famous by Clint Eastwood in the Spaghetti Western movies.
A word of warning – don’t be alarmed if you don’t see a car or another person for miles! This is a sparsely populated part of Spain and in reality, when you get into the hills it’s just like riding on closed roads. In our view, it's more than worthy of being called one of the best road cycling holidays in Europe.
Our in-depth guide to the Costa Almeria (which includes links to related route guides and articles):
Sunshine and big climbs
The Canary island resort of Gran Canaria has quickly earned a reputation as an excellent new cycling destination in Europe and is a great choice for winter cycling holidays. Sitting just 100 kilometres off the north western coast of Africa, it boasts some 3,000 hours of sunshine each year – that’s 8 hours per day on average!
But there’s much more to it than the weather as the island has everything required to get you in shape for the forthcoming season. Challenging climbs, good quality road surfaces as well as stunning coastal roads and deep canyons. The added advantage of it being a popular holiday destination also means that hotels, shops and restaurants are in plentiful supply, particularly on the coast.
The Vuelta a España has in recent years visited the island and raced to a stage finish at the summit of the popular Pico de las Nieves (Snow Peak), which at 1,950 metres is the highest point on the island.
One of the other highlights of Gran Canaria is the infamous Valley of Tears, probably the most revered climb on the island. It’s a brutal climb with sections at 25% and is clearly steep enough to test anyone’s legs!
It's fair to say that Gran Canaria is thought of by many as one of the best road cycling destinations out there.
We're in the process of writing our guide to Gran Canaria. Sign up to our email newsletter (link at the top/bottom of this page) to be the first to hear when it's published!
What did you think of our selection?
What would be in your top 3?
Comment below and let us know!
If you want guides to the scores of other places that narrowly missed our top 9, check out our cycling destinations page, here!
You might also like our pick of the best cycling weekends away and the best cycling holidays in Europe that you can drive to from the UK!
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About John Vicars
John divides his time between England and Spain and, together with his wife, clocks in around 10,000 miles each year searching out Europe's finest roads. John loves to share his experiences (good and bad) from the saddle and has a particular loathing for double digit gradients, sub-zero temperatures and red traffic lights!