Unbelievable roads and destinations to escape to now
Welcome to part two of MCN’s holiday special, your guide to escaping to the finest tarmac in Britain and Europe and coming home sated for another year. In this four part special we show you some of the most accessible and stunning areas and roads you can explore, how to get there and how much to spend. Every road has been hand-picked for MCN readers by biking travel expert Simon Weir, a touring addict who spends his working life pounding the highways of Britain and Europe in search of roads that move the dial. Bonnes vacances!
Never been? You’re in for a shock because the roads are as good as any in northern Europe
What do you know about Luxembourg? Home of some European Union organisation or other, a tiny country stuffed in between France, Belgium and Germany, basically a city and a couple of fields, right? Sorry – you were spot on until the last bit. It may be Europe’s smallest member state, but outside the capital is a quiet countryside crammed full of amazing roads – and it’s within easy reach of the Channel ports. I didn’t think it was possible either. Which was stupid of me, as one of my favourite places to ride a bike is the Belgian Ardennes – most of which was once part of Luxembourg. However, it wasn’t until I went to Stradtbredimus on the bank of the Moselle River that I understood just how much good riding there is in the Grand Duchy. This is a small country – a quarter of the size of Yorkshire – but with the majority of the population in the eponymous capital city, it feels like the countryside is deserted. It’s beautiful countryside, too – all rolling hills with well- tended fields, small villages and patches of dark and shady woodland. The roads are sublime, like the best of British B-roads but with perfect surfaces and a fraction of the traffic. It’s astonishing – like a day out in the Peak District after the zombie apocalypse has emptied the roads. You can ride for hours along the stunning Gorge de Loup (Gorge of the Wolf), in the shadow of huge Vianden Castle, covering miles of serpentine tarmac and eventually looping round to Luxembourg City without ever straying across the border. So next time someone asks you what you know about Luxembourg, remember the answer: it’s packed with great biking roads.
When to go: March to November
Where to stay: Luxembourg City, Stradtbredimus or Wiltz
How to get there: A short day’s ride from the Channel
How long: 3-4 days
Budget: Luxembourg is Europe’s richest country… so budget £110-£150 a day, plus crossings
4. The South
The Millau Viaduct draws visitors – but it’s the roads around it that make the trip so memorable
It’s a wonder of the engineering age, but while the Millau bridge is busy ferrying traffic on the A75 high above the sleepy little town, we’re busy enjoying the roads it bypasses. You see, Millau is the perfect base for exploring the Tarn Gorges – a network of plunging chasms cut into the earth by the region’s rivers that are followed by some really astonishingly rewarding roads. It’s a landscape you might not expect in the centre of France: bluffs rising high above the mirror-bright waters, birds of prey circling on the thermals. It’s like the Wild West – all bare rocks, scrubby bushes and bright light. The roads that follow the meanders of the rivers are broad, serpentine and rewarding – while the roads that scale the cliffs are packed with hairpins and loaded with epic views. That’s what really makes the Millau Viaduct a great thing. It keeps most of the traffic moving quickly away from here on the motorway – leaving the roads of the Tarn Gorges quiet for us to explore. Brilliant.
When to go: April to November, but September to October is best
Where to stay: Millau, Mende or Alés
How to get there: Ride across France: 1.5-2 days from Calais or Caen
How long: 5-8 days
Budget: As with all of mainland France, budget £90-£120 a day
5. The Vosges
Real mountains within easy reach of Calais, just waiting to be ridden
Spread the map of Europe out on the table and start measuring the distance to the Alps. From Calais to Annecy is more than 500 miles, to Andermatt it’s nearer 600 – and as for the Grossglockner or the Dolomites, you’re looking at more than 750 miles. But there are proper mountains much nearer. From the Eurotunel to St Die des Vosges is a whisker under 350 miles. You could be there tomorrow. The Vosges sit on the west bank of the River Rhine, frowning across the watery border at Germany’s Black Forest. Like the Schwartzwald, the French mountains are high enough to have skiing in winter, their wellwooded slopes crisscrossed by a maze of superbly twisty roads. Unlike the German forest, the Vosges are relatively quiet –you’ll see plenty of bikes, but there’s markedly less traffic. The Black Forest has become famous for one biking road in particular: the B500. But for my money the Route des Cretes that runs from St Marie aux Mines in the north of the Vosges to Cernay in the south is better. On top of which the Vosges has proper passes, hairpins stacked on top of each other like the folded layers of pasty in the sweet local cakes. But the really good bit? This is just the southern end of the Vosges. Head north keeping the Rhine on your right and the Vosges continue all the way to the quaint city of Sarreguemines – delivering mile after mile of superb riding. All within easy reach of Calais.
When to go: May to October
Where to stay: Gerardmer, Bitche, Cernay or St Marie aux Mines
How long: 4-6 days
Budget: £90-£120 a day (plus crossings) but there are plenty of campsites to lower the costs
For the full details on these routes and to download the GPX files for your Garmin or BMW SatNav visit our good friends at Ride magazine www.ride.co.uk/mcnroutes
Words: Simon Weir Photos: Jason Critchell, Mark Manning