fFrom smooth paved trails that skirt the edge of vineyards and the shadows of medieval castles, to epic routes through mountain ranges, cultures and continents, the Eurovelo system of long-distance cycling trails is among the best in the world. The 17 routes of the Eurovelo network meander through 38 countries, stretching from the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the shores of the Black Sea.
I started cycling around the world on a Eurovelo cycle route at a junction near the port of Hook of Holland, and I left its network of more than 90,000 km of trails, many of them fully off-road and signposted, near Turkey, three months and six countries later.
Conceived in 1995 to bring together the continent’s diverse cycle routes, following a Eurovelo trail until recently required finding signposts, maps and guides with a keen eye. But an official app launched in 2019 now makes following Eurovelo trails easier than ever by offering interactive maps, waypoints and advice on where to stay and supplies. Currently available on five of the main routes (3, 5, 8, 10 and 13), it is planned to be rolled out on all trails in the network.
Here are six of the best routes to explore.
Eurovelo 15: The Rhine Cycle Path
The Rhein Eurovelo is the perfect long-distance cycle route for beginners, starting on the banks of the English Channel and ending in the alpine landscapes of Switzerland. Almost all 1,233 km of it are on separate cycle paths that are beautifully maintained and include some of the most spectacular gorges and vineyards in the Rhine region. Resting and refueling is very easy on this route: In Germany, the trails lead between half-timbered inns and through spectacular cities such as Cologne and Bonn. Those who do not want to camp can easily find hotels and inns along the route. But you’re missing out: the campsites, especially on the Upper Middle Rhine, near Bingen, are a lovely way to experience the leisurely life of the river.
The best piece: The Rhine Gorge between Koblenz and Bingen is a beautiful 65km riverside walk, passing fairytale castles overlooking the Rhine at its most majestic and vineyards producing some of the world’s finest Rieslings.
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev15
Eurovelo 6: From the Atlantic to the Black Sea
A breathtaking cruise along the Danube, passing some of Europe’s great capitals such as Vienna and Budapest before making your way through the unforgettable, Tolkien-esque Iron Gates into Serbia, then on quiet roads through Romania to the Black Sea coast. Sections of this 4,500km ride are some of the most scenic and accessible of any Eurovelo route – particularly the days spent on separate paths through the Wachau Valley in Austria – and other sections are truly challenging. The route moves along quiet roads in Hungary and busier roads in Serbia. For the later stages you will need to camp in remote areas – and perhaps wild camp, although routes in France, Germany and Austria are all within easy reach of good hotels.
The best piece: The Iron Gates, where the Eurovelo runs along forested gorges cut through the Carpathian Mountains by the Danube.
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev6
Eurovelo 8: The Mediterranean Route
This route connects some of the Mediterranean’s best-known cities – including Venice and Dubrovnik – with some of Europe’s most beautiful and lesser-known coastlines, and will eventually reach as far as Montenegro and Albania. Being on the coast it is extremely hilly and being in southern Europe it can get very hot in summer. But don’t let that put you off: when you’re not pedaling along cliffs that offer spectacular views over the sea, you’re pedaling along pristine and sometimes deserted white-sand beaches, or scaling exquisite hilltop villages. Hotels and campsites are easy to find in the western part, but once you’ve crossed into southern Croatia and continue south into Albania and Montenegro, it’s best to plan for wild camping.
The best piece: Istria, a forested coastal peninsula in northern Croatia between Slovenia and Dubrovnik, is a foodie’s paradise known for its truffles, pasta, olive oil and wild asparagus.
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev8
Eurovelo 3: The pilgrim route
This Northern Europe drive travels some of the continent’s oldest hiking trails and follows ancient pilgrimage routes to reach the famous Camino Francés, part of the Camino de Santiago, ending in Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain. But some of the most spectacular and wild scenery comes at the start of the drive in Trondheim, Norway, as it follows an 11th-century pilgrimage route dedicated to St Olaf, a hero of the early Norse sagas. One of the most popular pilgrimage routes of the Middle Ages, it meanders through barley fields and along fjords, past spruce forests and wooden churches. This northern section can be remote in parts, so bring camping gear, although the inns along the way are wonderfully welcoming.
The best piece: For a less rugged ride, try the stages in Belgium and eastern France, which are decidedly flatter and pass through some of the region’s best beer-growing areas, including Trappist and monastic beers (for a different kind of pilgrimage).
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev3
Eurovelo 1: The Atlantic Coast Route
A journey in half, the Atlantic Coast Route begins in the land of the midnight sun – in northern Norway – before delving deep into Celtic culture and heritage as it traverses Scotland into Ireland. But then it hits the west coast of France, drifting enticingly near Bordeaux and across Spain to its sun-kissed south coast and on to Portugal. This southern route is a gourmet journey: in addition to Andalusia, it also takes in Lisbon and the country’s gourmet Atlantic coast, famous for its seafood and green (young) wines.
The best piece: The section of Eurovelo 1 that traverses Scotland is known in the UK as Route 1 and takes in the beautiful Shetland Islands, lochs and moors galore.
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev1
Eurovelo 5: Via Romea
Another ancient pilgrimage route, this time tracing the history of modern Christianity, begins in Canterbury, then meanders through other popular Eurovelo routes such as the Rhine Route before crossing the Alps and descending through Italy to Rome. Crossing the Alps is difficult but breathtaking, and cycling fans will love seeing some of the most famous passes from cycle races. The feeling of gliding into Rome through vineyards and olive groves on the longest bike path in the city up to the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica is unforgettable.
The best piece: Driving through the Tuscan hills, the last leg before turning off for Rome, is as challenging as it sounds, but also rewarding: think hill towns, incredible food and wine, and endless sunshine.
More information: www.eurovelo.com/ev5