The final part of our summer special!
You’ve read about the finest roads in France and Luxembourg. Now it’s the turn of Italy, Spain and Switzerland – countries rich with great biking tarmac. Every road has been ridden and rated by biking travel writer Simon Weir, who spends his working week exploring and mapping the best routes in Europe and Britain.
The best biking’s on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees
You’ll hear the arguments in bike clubs – which are better, the Alps or Pyrenees? Some favour the extreme nature of high Alpine passes, with huge drops and stacks of demanding hairpins that reward with epic views. Others cherish the more laid-back Pyrenees – they’re not so high, the roads are more flowing but the views are just as good. What I love most about the Pyrenees – especially the Spanish side – is the consistent quality of the riding. There are so many brilliant roads here: smooth, fresh tarmac, corners that feed beautifully into each other, towns well spaced out. You can ride for days on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees without ever finding a bad or a boring road. And that’s exactly what a touring destination should deliver.
When to go: June to early November. September to mid-October is best
Where to stay: Isaba, La Pobla de Segur or Ripoll
How long: 9-10 days between ferries
How to get there: Ferry to Santander or Bilbao (see www. brittany-ferries.com)
Budget: The pound buys a lot in Northern Spain – budget £70_100
4. Colle Del Nivolet
The best road you’ve never heard of
Dead ends aren’t always a waste of time. In the case of the Colle del Nivolet, which clambers up into the Gran Paradiso mountains outside Turin, time spent on this road is time very well spent indeed. Especially as there’s virtually no traffic – after all, it is a dead end. The pass links the Aosta Valley to Turin, but the final 30 miles are unpaved and now closed to traffic. The miles leading up to it are fabulously paved, unbelievably twisty and mind-blowingly scenic. I’ve ridden a lot of mountain roads but none prepared me for the sheer magnificence of this road. As it’s a dead end, it’s not road you’ll find by accident. I found it only after watching The Italian Job and wondering where the bus crashed at the end. It was here – on one of those hairpins in the middle of the picture. Getting here isn’t easy: it’s a few days’ ride to Turin, but there are some spectacular roads you can do along the way. But none of them will compare to the Colle del Nivolet – it really is in a league of its own. And the best bit of all is that you’ll have the road to yourself.
When to go: June to October (ideally September)
Where to stay: Ceresole Reale or Curogne
How long: 5-9 days (including riding out)
Budget: £90-120 a day
5. Swiss Alps
Europe’s finest passes form a superb figure-of-eight daytrip
Take five riders to Innertkirchen in Switzerland to ride the fivepass loop and then ask them which was the best pass. The chances are you’ll get five different answers. You see, the Grimsel, Furka, Neufenen, St Gottard and Susten passes are all – in their very different ways – equally mind-blowingly good. But when you put them all together they create one epic ride. It’s a relatively famous ride – on top of which, many riders will come and do two or three of the passes on their way somewhere else. This does mean there’s heavy traffic by Alpine standards, though it’s still far quieter than, say, the A272 in the South of England. But this passing trade does mean there are plenty of decent cafes, making this a supremely civilised routewith plenty of nice stops. This route, though, is all about the riding than the coffee drinking – and this is a single day of mountain riding that is almost impossible to beat.
When to go: Mid-June to October. August and September are best
Where to stay: Innertkirchen, Meiringen or Andermatt
How long: 5-7 days (including riding out)
Budget: Switzerland is an expensive destination: budget £100-140 a day
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: Mark Manning