Cycling holidays at your own pace

A lovely summer’s day in Alsace, France. You’re gliding downhill with the wind in your hair (or, in my case, over my scalp). Vineyards fly by and you spot a picturesque medieval village, perfect for a pit stop. Over the wind, you hear birds chirping and wave to other cyclists going past. You sit up straighter in the saddle and let go of the handlebars…

I’m a latecomer to cycling holidays, having resisted them for many years. Why would I want to go on holiday to exert myself? Eventually, in a moment of weakness, I agreed to one. Now, I’m a convert and proselytise that cycling holidays are the bomb.

What I love about these holidays is the sense of freedom and impending exploration. Plus, the view from the saddle is unparalleled (in my opinion). Coasting along, you might have a vague sense of destination, but you never know what you’ll find.

In the Loire Valley (Central France) a couple of summers ago, hot, tired, a little lost and slightly irritable, I stumbled, completely by chance, upon a modest café in a negligible village, off the bike path. The owner was a fabulous baker and her brother was the local butcher. The result: one of the most delectable meals I’ve ever had in my life, in disarmingly charming, hospitable surroundings.

All my cycling trips thus far have been in Europe, and I think that the continent has in store the perfect cycling holiday for everyone. Italy and France are perhaps the best countries to go cycling in. Both are cycling mad, which ensures they’re littered with lovely paths away from traffic, as well as picnic spots, cafés, pubs and inns at regular intervals.

Renting bikes is child’s play, and most towns and villages have shops that rent them by the hour, or longer. They offer great amenities, whether you want to do 10 kilometres a day, or 100.