Last updated: 07:00 PM ET, Mon August 17 2015

Rugged Cycle Tours in Europe and Taiwan

Destination & Tourism | James Ruggia | August 17, 2015

Rugged Cycle Tours in Europe and Taiwan

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

Cycling is one of the most intimate ways you can experience a country, and the following three programs offer exemplary destinations in which to do it. The following programs are not for casual cyclists, but for those who are in good shape. One tour, from Ride & Seek, even follows Hannibal’s trail across the Alps and into Italy. If that sounds like too much on a bicycle, imagine poor Hannibal trying to get his elephants over the hump. The Hannibal journey and another two options from Pure Adventures mix all that good exercise with great food along the way. Sounds like a great combination.

They also know their way around a kitchen in Taiwan, which many people esteem as having Asia’s best Chinese food. Bicycle Adventures’ comprehensive itineraries in the country are sure to leave their participants hungry.

Passage through Catalonia

The mystique of Catalonia is tied into its beautiful setting in northeastern Spain up against the border of France. Barcelona, the cultural capital of the region, has become an essential destination for anyone who hopes to get a comprehensive understanding of Europe from their travels. Now a cycling journey from Pure Adventures is making it possible to learn the region from the ground up including the bicycle heaven known as the Costa Brava.

Two of their programs operating through fall combine the love of cycling and the love of food. The daily rides on both trips are moderately challenging and both begin in Girona, home to one of the world’s top restaurants. Another tour, the seven-night Spain-Biking and Cooking brings cyclists into Catalonian kitchens to learn and cook alongside local chefs.

Both itineraries begin and end in Girona. All Pure Adventures self-guided cycling trips begin with orientation and bike fitting, and all of the Costa Brava trips visit both the Pyrenees foothills and coastline.

The seven-night Spain Catalonia Gastronomic Tour is priced from €1,443 per person double and includes deluxe lodging, daily breakfast, four gourmet dinners (two of them tasting menus), luggage transfers, local Girona-based emergency support, road books with riding route maps and cue sheets, and suggestions for both places to see and local dining. One tasting menu dinner is at Restaurant La Plaça in Madremanya where guests feast on eight mini courses, each complementing the other.

 The seven-night Spain - Biking and Cooking explores the coastal Empordà region after visiting terraced olive groves dating to the ancient Greeks, rice paddies near Pals, kitchen gardens, small farms and the sea. Grapes have been grown in the region since the Phoenicians introduced vines in the 5th century BCE. The tour stops at fish markets, a sheep farm (or olive oil farm) and features private cooking classes. The class at Espai del Peix invites guests to spend three hours concentrating on four different dishes followed by lunch with the chef and a guided visit of the port where the fishing boats come in. The per person double occupancy rate starts at €1,381.

Following the Elephants

For real athletic cyclists with plenty of time and plenty of interest in history, Ride & Seek’s 28-day Hannibal Expedition, which follows in the footsteps of Hannibal through Spain, France and Italy, over the Pyrenees, Alps and Apennines on roads featured regularly in the Vuelta a España, Tour de France and Giro d'Italia bike races. The journey will also explore the various regions’ culinary delights. The Hannibal Expedition is divided into four distinct stages, and guests can choose to participate in one or all of them. The Hannibal Expedition is slated for Sept. 5 through Oct. 2 and starts at €1,995 for one seven-day stage.

On the first stage of this epic tour, guests cycle across the Pyrenees Mountains from Spain into France. Envision postcard views while pedaling through the land of Cathar castles and sampling gastronomic delights along the way. Stage 2 takes riders across the Alps, including the epic climbs of Galibier, Alpe d’Huez, Agnel and Izoard. Stage 3 crosses through a landscape of vines, castles and hill towns. Finally, Stage 4 meanders through Renaissance Italy from Tuscany to Rome.

Taiwanese Epic

Bicycle Adventures will lead two departures of its 11-day Taiwan Bike Tour in 2015 on Oct. 24 and Nov. 7. The nearly all-inclusive rate per person, based on double occupancy, is $4,850. Bicycle rental and most meals are included. The tour will be led by Joshua Samuel Brown, a lifelong cyclist and travel writer who speaks Chinese and who knows the culture of China and Taiwan. Brown has authored, among others, Vignettes of Taiwan (Things Asian Press) and co-authored Lonely Planet / BBC: Taiwan. He has worked on projects for the Taiwan Tourism Bureau and the Taiwan Trade Association.

“For the past several years, Taiwan has made a commitment to become the bicycling capital of the world,” said Todd Starnes, Bicycle Adventures’ president and owner. He explained that this commitment came about when the now-retired chairman and founder of Giant Manufacturing Co., Ltd., one of the world’s largest makers of bicycles, decided that he would start cycling as a retirement activity.

The country has created an extensive network of bike lanes and bike paths, including the 35-mile Danshui River Bike Path. It’s all part of a new awakening to health and wellness in the country. More people can be seen outdoors walking and running for fitness. Several cities have even begun bike-share programs, according to Starnes. The new bike routes are easy to ride and were designed with showcasing the island in mind.

It all begins in Taipei where guests are met at the airport. After a few acclimatizing rides, participants board a high-speed train to Kaohsiung City and the southern end of the island to begin the tour northbound. The itinerary averages about 45 miles a day of biking, allowing guests to pause in aboriginal villages where people still live as they did hundreds of years ago. Traversing the ups and downs and in-betweens of some of the island’s five vertical mountain ranges is part of the fun. This includes rides up to and through two national parks that reveal stunning canopies in near-rainforest settings of up to 8,000 feet. 

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