A Bikepacker’s Guide to Europe – The Best Bikepacking Locations of 2016

From exploring city streets on two wheels, to crunching down the gears and tackling the rockiest of mountainsides, biking and travel have always gone hand-in-hand. However, recently cycling communities have taken this concept one step further, spawning the trend of ‘bikepacking’ – filling up their rucksacks, grabbing their helmets and heading for the open road.

With the British Cycling Economy reporting a 28% increase in cycle sales this year, there’s never been a better time to wrestle yours out of the shed, dust down the handlebars and see what bikepacking is all about. From rising stars to the classic choices, here is our guide to the best European cycle destinations through the eyes (and tinted sunglasses) of a born-again bikepacker…

The Rising Stars:

Norway

Good for short road cycling – Lofoten Islands
With dramatic sweeps of untouched coastline, sublime mountainscapes and endless miles of winding roads, Norway’s Lofoten Islands are every adventurous cyclist’s dream come true.

● Route to try: Henningsvær to Stamsund (approx 3.5 hours)

[MAP]
A meandering ride 40 miles into the heart of Lofoten’s most beautiful scenery, this route winds through the enchanting towns of Gimsoy and Vestvagoy.

Good for long road cycling – Atlantic Coast
Norway’s coast is notoriously rugged, lengthy and full of inlets, peninsulas and islands. A trip along its entirety would likely take months, (and result in some very chilly weather), but undertaking smaller sections is becoming increasingly popular with hardcore bikepackers.

● Route to try: The Atlantic Road Stretch (approx 12 hours)

[MAP]
Beginning from the Romsdal Peninsula in the city of Molde, this 124 mile stretch works its way west through the Midsund, Sandøy and Aukra islands, and runs over islets and reefs on the Atlantic Road before ending in Kristiansund.

Good for mountain biking – Seven Sisters Mountain Range
Fondly known as ‘seven challenging beauties’, these majestic peaks are home to some of the most exhilarating bike trails in Scandinavia. From glaciers to shingle, mud tracks to sand, the terrain of this range is crying out to be explored on two wheels.

● Route to try: The Helgeland Route (approx 6.5 hours)

[MAP]
Gracing some of the Seven Sisters’ wildest terrain, this 70 mile route encircles the stunning Torghatten mountain and its surrounding wilderness.

Good for family cycling – Hedmark County
Home to Norway’s characteristic fjords, farmlands and forest, there are countless cycle routes in Hedmark County to suit more inexperienced cyclists. A popular family holiday destination, Hedmark caters for its visitors with country parks, woodland trails and coastal paths.

● Route to try: Gullia Trails, Trysil (approx 1.5-2 hours)

[MAP]
The Gullia Trails comprise multiple manmade cycle paths through lush woodland, varying in length from 5 to 7 miles.

 

Croatia

Good for short road cycling – Dalmatian Coast
Home to Croatia’s iconic Dubrovnik Harbour and beaches of Split and Zadar, sprinkled with medieval towns, quaint fishing villages and some of the most jaw-dropping beaches in Europe, the Dalmatian Coast is an incredible setting for road cycling trips.

● Route to try: Park Suma Marjan, Split (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
A 15-mile road hugging the edge of Split’s Park Suma, this route begins at the Stadion Poljud and loops along the ocean’s edge to Aci Marina.

Good for long road cycling – Istrian Peninsula
Often featuring in competitive cycling events, the Istrian peninsula has earned its yellow jersey. A collection of charming villages, shorelines and tangles of forest, if you and your bike are in it for the long haul, there’s plenty to discover in Croatia’s most scenic region.

● Route to try: Pozane to Pula (approx 7 hours)

[MAP]
Once the 14th stage of the Giro d’Italia, this 75 mile stretch begins at Croatia’s border with Slovenia and weaves through Buzet, (the ‘city of truffles’ and home to the hallowed Truffle Festival in Oct-Nov). The road continues through Pazin, the beautiful Lim Fjord and Vodnjan medieval town before ending in the seafront city of Pula.

Good for mountain biking – Istria
Often referred to as the home of Croatian cycling, Istria is replete with prestigious routes for bike fans. Lesser known however, is its incredible wealth of mountain biking routes through rocky trails and rugged landscapes.

● Route to try: Porec Loop (approx 6.5 hours)

[MAP]
70 miles of challenging, rough terrain, this route starts and ends in the coastal town of Porec and squirms through the ancient municipalities of Kanfanar, Svetvincenat and Bale with a maximum elevation of 1,300 metres.

Good for family cycling – Southern Islands
If Croatia is known for just one thing, it would be its glorious collection of islands. From small smatterings to lengthy strips, over 1000 offer endless exploration opportunities for families, both on foot and bike.

● Route to try: Lumbarda to Smokvica, Korcula (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
Meandering through some of Korcula’s most beautiful villages and the house of Marco Polo, this 19 mile route comprises quiet, paved roads with dramatic sea views along the way.

 

Malta
Good for short road cycling – Gozo Island
Thanks to an EU-funded project, Malta and Sicily have recently been fitted with over 600 miles of new cycle lanes. As a result, the country’s Gozo Island is now a cycling hotspot, with much of its beautiful coastline accessible on two wheels.

● Route to try: Gozo Coastal Route (approx 2.5 hours)

[MAP]
Completing a full, 26 mile loop of Gozo, this route begins at the Port of Mgarr, traverses the picturesque, Gozitan villages of Ghajnsielem, Xewkija, Kercem, Nadur and Qala, as well as its beautiful capital Victoria.

Good for long road cycling – East Coast, Malta Island
Home to the country’s vibrant capital and lapped by the Mediterranean Sea, Malta’s east coast is blessed with miles of quiet, oceanfront roads that stretch forever through medieval towns, rugged coastline and the occasional bustling city.

● Route to try: Sliema Loop (approx 4.5 hours)

[MAP]
Beginning and ending in Sliema, this 33-mile route snakes through the trendy beachside town of Saint Julian, as well as Naxxar’s sublime Palazzo Parisio.

Good for mountain biking – Il-Majjistral National Park, Malta Island
A wonderland of indigenous flora and fauna, craggy landscapes and wild, windswept coastal paths, Il-Majjistral is Malta’s first natural national park and a real home-from-home for the avid mountain biker.

● Route to try: Anchor Bay Loop (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
Thundering through the heart of the national park’s rocky peaks and troughs, this 6.5 mile route begins and ends at the stunning Anchor Bay. Il-Majjistral is home to numerous species of native birdlife, not to mention some of the best snorkeling areas in the country.

Good for family cycling – West Coast, Malta Island
One of the areas to have benefitted from Malta’s newly lain cycle network, the main island’s west coast is great for family biking, with countless tarmac routes of varying lengths stretching along the ocean.

● Route to try: Rabat to Mdina (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
A 20-mile route running through some of the west coast’s most enchanting towns including Dingli, Mgarr and Mosta, this route consists of mainly tarmac paths, with many an ocean vista on offer along the way.

 

Poland

Good for short road cycling – Dunajec River
Transecting the southern half of Poland, the Dunajec River stretches for almost 160 miles through the sprawling and lush Zamagurie region, two historic castles and forms a border with Slovakia in the Pieniny Mountains. It is possible to bike almost the entire stretch of the river.

● Route to try: Dunajec Cycle Path (approx 2.5-3 hours)

[MAP]
Starting in Zakopane and ending in Szczawnica, this 33-mile route runs parallel to the Dunajec River through the fairytale village of Lopuszna and the stunning lakeside resort of Niedzica.

Good for long road cycling – Eastern Carpathian Mountains
Poland’s greenways are designed to facilitate long road cycling and recreational hiking. The East Carpathian Mountains are intersected by a stretch of the greenway network, which totals 186 miles, but can easily be tackled in stages or split into separate rides.

● Route to try: East Carpathian Greenway (approx 9 hours)

[MAP]
This particular length of bike trail is half of the entire greenway, passing through traditional towns, villages and historic sites in Podkarpacie. The route also winds through ancient burial mounds and settlements, and churches that have remained unchanged for thousands of years.

Good for mountain biking – Silesian Beskids Landscape Park
A protected area in Poland’s southern region, Silesian Beskids Landscape Park spans across a section of the breathtaking Silesian Beskids mountain range. A secret mecca for local mountain biking enthusiasts, this area boasts some of the best trails and wildest terrain Poland has to offer.

● Route to try: Wisła Stożek Barania Góra (approx 7 hours)

[MAP]
Covering 31 miles, this loop begins and ends Vistula through the craggy Malinowska Rocks and beautiful valley of the White Wisełki.

Good for family cycling – Gdansk Bay
With dazzling ocean views and charming fishing towns, the calm roads of this stretch of Polish coastline make it a great location for less experienced biking fans. Gdansk and Gdynia are excellent starting and stopping points for straight and looping routes.

● Route to try: Gdansk Loop (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
20 miles looping from Konstantego and back, this route features a stretch along the glittering coastline and travels through the leafy Oliwa Park.

The Classic Choices:

UK

Good for short road cycling – Somerset, England
Castles, countryside and carnivals, Somerset is one of England’s most historically rich and magically picturesque locations, and its famous Levels provide endless opportunities for smooth and scenic road cycling.

● Route to try: Cheddar Gorge End-to-End (approx 1 hour)

[MAP]
The world-renowned Cheddar Gorge is one of the UK’s greatest natural wonders, and cycling it from end-to-end can be achieved through an 11-mile route.

Good for long road cycling – Highlands, Scotland
There are few locations in the UK as full of spectacularly unspoilt natural wonder as the Highlands of Scotland. From the dramatic peaks of the Southern Uplands to the sweeping vistas of the Central Lowlands, the bikepacking opportunities are endless.

● Route to try: Glenuig Loop (approx 7.5 hours)

[MAP]
Beginning in the charming village of Glenuig and looping for 76 miles through Ardgour and Glenfinnan, this route comprises challenging climbs, exhilarating flats and spectacular views across to Fort William.

Good for mountain biking – Cambrian Mountains, Wales
Wild and untamed, Wales’ Cambrian Mountains have long enticed and spellbound mountain bikers with their rolling undulations and thrilling summits. Nestled between two national parks, the mountains are blessed with varied terrain and inspiring scenery, keeping bikers coming back for more.

● Route to try: Trans-Cambrian Way (approx 9.5 hours)

[MAP]
100 miles from Knighton to Dovey Junction, this route through Wales’ heart will definitely get yours pumping. Climbing 3,700 metres, the track passes through some of the region’s most mystifying landscapes and eventually stretches to the Irish Coast.

Good for family cycling – Coastal Belfast, Northern Ireland
Linked with a network of cycle paths, Belfast’s coast is a fantastic destination for families to explore the dramatic landscape of the Irish Sea. Tackling the full stretch of the coast is an option for dedicated bikepackers, but it can easily be cycled in smaller sections too.

● Route to try: Lagan and Lough Cycle Way (approx 2 hours)

[MAP]
A 20-mile route, this paved pathway begins at Whiteabbey Village, before hugging the coast all the way into Belfast’s Donegall Quay. The route then snakes along the edge of the River Lagan before ending in the stunning Lagan Valley.

 

Spain

Good for short road cycling – Andalucian Coast
Home to many of Spain’s perennially popular coastal resorts, Andalucia has far more to offer beyond Malaga, Marbella and Almeria. Looking out across the Alboran Sea to Africa’s northernmost tip, the region’s coast has some of the most scenic cycling to be found in Spain.

● Route to try: Transandalus Route: Sanlúcar de Barrameda to Cadiz (approx 2.5-3 hours)

[MAP]
Curving 31 miles along the coast of Andalucia, this oceanfront route journeys through the beautiful whitewashed town of San Fernando, before ending in sun-kissed Cadiz.

Good for long road cycling – Camino de Santiago de Compostela
A long-revered pilgrimage for cyclists, the inland stretch of Camino de Santiago that intersects Spain’s northern half is at the top of every bikepacker’s bucketlist. The full route is a daunting 480 miles, winding through some of rural Spain’s most picturesque towns.

● Route to try: Leon to Ponferrada (approx 6.5 hours)

[MAP]
Said to be the best section of the Camino de Santiago, this 70-mile route begins in Leon, before passing by the gothic architecture of Astorga’s Episcopal Palace and Cathedral, and ending in the historical city of Ponferrada.

Good for mountain biking – Sierra de Guadarrama
Mountain biking opportunities in Spain are varied, diverse and widespread, with the Sierra Nevada mountains often stealing the limelight. Explore a little further however, and you’ll discover the stirring landscapes and untouched beauty of the Sierra de Guadarrama.

● Route to try: El Ingeniero, Segovia (approx 5.5 hours)

[MAP]
A 40-mile trail with a nickname that translates as ‘The Engineer’, this is a single-track trail spanning San Rafael village in Segovia, winding through three of Spain’s provinces, and comprising heart-stopping climbs with an elevation of 1,300 metres.

Good for family cycling – Andalucia
Inland Andalucia offers families the same standard of beautiful cycle routes as its rugged coast. Embellished by some of Spain’s best greenways, cycling here is safe, stimulating and overflowing with spectacular scenery.

● Route to try: Via Verde de la Sierra (approx 2.5-3 hours)

[MAP]
A 20-mile stint beginning in the breathtaking ‘white village’ of Olvera, this route winds through La Muela before ending in Puerto Serrano’s gorgeous hillscapes.

 

Italy

Good for short road cycling – Puglia
The jewel of Italy’s lesser-visited east coast, Puglia is full of historical wonders and rolling, rural landscapes. A bikepacking trip here offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery, not to mention some of the best rustic cuisine the country has to offer.

● Route to try: Polignano a Mare to Matera (approx 3.5 hours)

[MAP]
Taking in some of the most incredible towns and historical sights of Puglia, this 40-mile route passes through the fairytale Castellana Grotte, Gioia del Colle and the iconic cave houses of Matera.

Good for long road cycling – Amalfi Coast
The Amalfi Coast has always been a hotspot for Italian tourism, but uncovering its glorious sweeps of glittering coastline on two wheels is becoming increasingly popular among cycling enthusiasts the world over.

● Route to try: Salerno Loop (approx 7 hours)

[MAP]
One of Italy’s most iconic stretches of road, this 65-mile route begins in the cosmopolitan city of Sorrento, before passing through Amalfi and the dazzling, multicoloured beauty of coastal Positano. The trip can easily be lengthened by veering inland towards the Castellammare di Stabia region of Naples.

Good for mountain biking – Argentina Valley
Italy’s Argentina Valley is a haven for fans of dirt tracks, mean mountains and rugged, unaffected scenery. Bike routes here are largely unmarked, with challenging elevations and craggy hillscapes very much par for the course.

● Route to try: Molini de Triora (approx 3 hours)

[MAP]
Comprising asphalt roads, uphill climbs and tracks through rural villages, this 20-mile route is a challenge for even the most experienced biker. Meandering through the foot of the Maritime Alps and edge of the beautiful Degno Lake, the route begins and ends in Molini village.

Good for family cycling – Tuscany
Italy’s most visited region is unsurprisingly also a hot favourite with cyclists looking to soak up traditional sunflower vistas and the ornate architecture of some of the country’s most famous cities. Its tarmacked roads and rolling countryside make it a great Italian destination for family cycling.

● Route to try: Rapolano Terme Loop (approx 2-3 hours)

[MAP]
Encompassing the best sights of Siena province, this 11 mile route runs through the heart of the beautiful Crete Senesi, past the travertine caves and thermal baths of Rapolano.
France

Good for short road cycling – Burgundy
The heart of France’s wine country, Burgundy is replete with gently undulating hills and rolling, vineyard landscapes for keen cyclists to ride (and drink) their way through.

● Route to try: The Hautes Cotes and Vallee De L’Ouche (approx 2.5-3 hours)

[MAP]
Heading northwest from Beaune through the incredibly picturesque Ouche Valley, this 27-mile route winds through Nantoux and Bessey-en-Chaume, before plunging into the wooded valleys that encircle Abbaye de la Bussiere.

Good for long road cycling – Aveyron
A little-known and undiscovered corner of southern France, Aveyron is a haven of unspoilt countryside routes and quiet roads through wild, windswept landscapes. Decorated by the curves of the River Lot, this wondrous region offers dedicated cyclists a one-of-a-kind ride.

● Route to try: Conques and the Lot Valley (approx 6.5 hours)

[MAP]
Following the weaving River Lot through diverse, glorious scenery, this 65-mile stretch of quiet road begins in Saint Cirq Lapopie and travels through the charismatic villages of Larnagol, Cajarc and Toiras, before ending in the charmingly Romanesque town of Conques.

Good for mountain biking – Rhone-Alpes
Tucked next to the borders of Switzerland and Italy, the Rhone-Alpes region is home to the majestic Massif Central mountains and Ardeche River. In the summer, when the snow has melted and the skiers have headed home, the Alpes’ best runs make great biking tracks.

● Route to try: Super-Morzine (approx 1.5 hours)

[MAP]
This 10-mile run features extreme downhill drops, smooth, swooping trails and a number of flat jumps to really get your heart racing.

Good for family cycling – Loire Valley
Replete with cycle greenways snaking through some of France’s most stunning natural splendour, the Loire Valley makes for a relaxing and safe family biking destination to suit all ages and abilities.

● Route to try: Nogent le Rotrou and Remalard Veloscenic Route (approx 2-2.5 hours)

[MAP]
One of the latest to be developed in France, this 10.5-mile route begins within the Loire’s enchanting forestscapes, before joining the greenway from Conde-sur-Huisne to Alencon, following the meanders of the Huisne River.

 

Itching to jump in the saddle? Download our individual area maps for inspiration!

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About Alice
Alice

You may recognise Alice's name from your inbox - she sends out all our Real Deals emails. When she's not busy tracking down incredible value travel on the web, editor Alice will head direct to the beach. She'll happily spend hours sunbathing, snacking and swimming on any beach from Brighton to Brazil.

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