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Exploring a destination on a bicycle tour creates a connection to all five senses that you can’t get any other way. TPG Contributor Joel Ward shares seven places around the globe perfect for two-wheeled travel, even if you’re a newcomer to the world of cycling. (As you read on, remember that tours like these are categorized as travel purchases by the Chase Sapphire Preferred, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Mastercard and the Citi ThankYou Premier.)
1. France’s Loire Valley
The classic European cycling route, France’s Loire Valley offers a perfect blend of natural beauty, stunning architecture and gently rolling bike paths that cover hundreds of miles of the country’s most amazing sights. While the river and vineyards would be enough to make this a world-class destination, it’s the châteaux that set the Loire Valley apart. It’s not just about impressive homes and beautiful views, though: The true popularity of cycling tours also comes from the glory of a post-pedaling, guilt-free appetite paired with fabulous French cuisine.
BikeToursDirect works with local independent operators, giving them a wide selection of tours that provide a very authentic experience. Day-long to week-long tours offered are suited to all levels of accommodation, date availability and cycling experience. Self-guided tours provide you with all the logistics, luggage transport from site to site and route maps, but the riding is on your own. 7-day self-guided tours start at $675 per person, double occupancy, while deluxe tours offering stays in some of the châteaux will cost you $2,200 or more.
2. Maui, Hawaii’s Haleakala
For an adrenaline-charged day, combine the incomparable scenery of Maui’s Haleakala with the exhilaration of coasting downhill for nearly 30 miles. Early morning shuttles take you to the top of the world’s largest dormant volcano for a dazzling sunrise, before launching you into a breathtaking descent. While the trip as a whole isn’t strenuous, this descent isn’t for an absolute beginner. The journey down features layer after layer of Maui’s natural beauty, shifting from the lunar landscape to floral-filled vistas to the seaside town of Paia.
With professional guides, breakfast, lunch and all the gear you need, Viator offers a perfect package. The one-day itinerary starts at $152. There are two departure times daily, but watching the one-of-a-kind sunrise from the top of the volcano is absolutely worth hopping into a van at 3am.
Maui’s small airport, Kahului (OGG), is served by major carriers including American, Delta and United (as well as Alaska and Hawaiian), but many travelers must first fly into Hawaii’s hub, Honolulu International Airport (HNL). For more to do in Maui, check out Destination of the Week: Maui.
3. California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma County
It’s no secret that the Napa Valley and Sonoma County are world-class destinations for wine, food and hotels. A scenic trip by bike brings you up close and personal with the vineyards and wineries, while spinning through beautiful canyons and countryside round out the perfect visit. Tours in the area are plentiful, but Trek Travel offers one of the most appealing itineraries, with an amazing array of food and wine stops. The 6-day tour is offered with a wide selection of dates throughout the year, with prices starting at $2,199 (per person, double occupancy).
Fly into San Francisco (SFO) or Oakland International Airport (OAK), then rent a car for the most flexibility. For more about Napa and Sonoma, see Wine Wednesday: Napa Valley and Wine Wednesday: The Russian River Valley.
4. Argentina’s Patagonia
Patagonia is best known for hiking, but the popularity of cycling tours has grown dramatically in the past several years. Bike trails through the Argentinian Andes let travelers cover far more territory, providing magnificent views of glacial lakes, dense forests and enormous snow-capped mountains.
Take full advantage of all this natural beauty with a multi-sport tour offered by Backroads, which adds kayaking and hiking to a cycling journey between three Argentine national parks. A stay at the historic Llao Llao Resort provides a great place to unwind after all that activity. Tours are offered December through March (a perfect winter getaway to those in the Northern Hemisphere), with prices starting at $4,998 per person, double occupancy.
To start a tour in Patagonia, fly into San Carlos de Bariloche Airport (BRC); LAN Airlines flights connect here from Buenos Aires (AEP). Be sure to check out How to Book Award Travel to Buenos Aires and also see Leveraging Low-Cost Carriers To Travel Cheaply Around Central and South America for other connection options. For more Argentinian adventures (and more wine), also check out Destination of the Week: Mendoza, Argentina.
5. Italy’s Tuscany
Between Pisa’s Leaning Tower and the charm of Florence, a ride through Italian vineyards and olive orchards shows off the scenery that makes Tuscany special. Rolling hills and country roads link thousands of years of history between classic destinations such as Siena, San Gimignano and Lucca.
One-day tours from Florence to Chianti from Viator offer a romantic journey through the Tuscan countryside past medieval castles and hillside villas for only $91. For a longer trip through the region, check out the 10-day tour from VBT (starting at $2,745 per person, double occupancy) which includes Pisa’s Square of Miracles, a ride atop the ancient wall of Lucca and a visit to the thermal pools of Montecatini Terme.
Start by flying into Florence’s Peretola Airport (FLR). To find the best places to explore before and after your cycling tour, check out Destination of the Week: Florence and our guide to eating and shopping in the city, as well as info on staying in agriturismos in Tuscany.
6. Southeast Asia — Vietnam to Angkor Wat
Southeast Asia is a place where two-wheeled transportation is the norm, not the exception. Of course, in some areas you’ll also have to be prepared to share the road with food carts and water buffalo. Temples and ancient monuments are highlights on any tour through Vietnam, including a stop at the Royal Citadel of Hue and the beautifully restored ancient fishing village of Hoi An. The route to Cambodia will take you through quiet footpaths to areas most tourists never see.
Backroads offers an 8-day itinerary that includes a couple of challenging days mixed in with more leisurely cycling through the Vietnamese and Cambodian countryside. Tours are best taken during the drier and cooler months of October through March. Guided tours start at $5,398 for the 8-day journey.
To start, you’ll fly into Hanoi International Airport (HAN); read more about this city in Destination of the Week: Hanoi. Finish the journey at Siem Reap, home to the magnificent archaeological marvels Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom and Ta Phron. Read more in Eric Rosen’s overview of this UNESCO Heritage Site and Destination of the Week: Siem Reap. Also see Richard Kerr’s post on the AirAsia Asean Pass, which includes Vietnam and Cambodia.
7. National Parks in the US
For the ultimate in cycling tours, travel from sea to shining sea. Many Americans never see the amber waves of grain or purple mountain majesties, but you can see all that and more with CycleAmerica, which offers a number of state and regional tours throughout the United States and Canada.
The available routes vary each year, so check to see what’s coming up next; for summer/fall 2015, they’re focused on tours of the West Coast. For the more adventurous, they occasionally offer a full coast-to-coast tour through some of the country’s most stunning scenery.
The Pacific Coast Combo offers a beautiful 24-day cycling tour through rugged mountains and past beautiful ocean views in Washington, Oregon and California for $3,195. The base package is for camping along the route, but suggested motel options are available if you want four walls around you along the way.
For the full experience, start with a visit to Seattle, Washington by flying into SEA-TAC (SEA), then spend your summer vacation pedaling through three states toward a final destination of San Francisco.
Ever taken a cycling tour in one of these destinations — or any other? We’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.
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