Life is short and the world is big so here is our list of 10 places you simply have to see from the saddle of your bicycle before your knees get too creaky to turn those pedals.
Is it a complete list? Of course not. But it’s a pretty good start. Let us know when you’ve checked all these off and we’ll suggest 10 more…
Have a ride of your own to suggest? Tell us about it by leaving a comment. We’d love to hear your thoughts.
The Serra da Estrela Mountains in Portugal
I’ll take one serving of a long 10% grade, followed by 20km more of steep uphill, a few tunnels carved from rock and a few rounds of local cheese to power me through all of that please. No one said it was going to be easy but the roads that lead through Portugal’s highest mountain range are simply stunning and – assuming you’re not there in peak tourist season – surprisingly uncrowded. The peak stands at 1,933 meters but arguably the best scenery is a bit lower down, where roads run between steep cliffs and valleys carved out by glaciers.
How to see it: We started in Covilhã, then rode the N339 to the peak, then backtracked 20km to the road that leads to São Pedro and Manteigas. (GoogleMap)
Lake Song-Kol in Kyrgyzstan
Put on the fat tires and hit the dirt tracks that lead high into the Kyrgyz mountains. Your reward for a vigourous climb over a pass at 3,600 meters is a gorgeous lake, backed by snowy peaks and surrounded by nomadic families, who come here in the summer to graze their animals in the high pastures. The lake is big enough that you can always find a little piece of heaven for yourself. Just don’t forget enough food and cooking fuel for the whole time you plan to stay. Copies of Russian maps are also handy (available in nearby Kochkor) to help you find the old jeep tracks that lead out of the lake and back to the villages below.
How to see it: Most nationalities get a visa on arrival when flying into Bishkek. Then cycle or get a taxi to Kochkor. From there you can cycle the main road to Sarybulak, where you turn off on a relatively decent dirt road that rises to the lake. Leaving by a different route is where you need the Russian maps. We descended to the north and the village of Kyzart. (Bikely Map)
Along the Mekong in Cambodia
Angkor Wat might be Cambodia’s most famous attraction but when it comes to really seeing how the local people live, you can’t do any better than by riding your bike along the dirt paths that follow the Mekong River, through a string of small villages that rarely see tourists. What will you see? For a start, there will be more chickens and pigs on the road than cars. Lunch might be some sweet rice and coconut, steamed in bamboo over hot coals (the ultimate energy snack for a hungry cyclist) and the whole way you’ll hear the sounds of enthusiastic kids saying Sua s’dei as you pass. The rainy season brings the added bonus of endless local ferries over bits of flooded road.
How to see it: About 40km out of Phnom Penh (direction Skun and Siem Riep), you’ll find the turnoff for the scenic route via Kampong Cham, Chulong and Kratie. Read our route notes for more details.
If touring cyclists go to heaven, they’d go to a place where the roads are smooth, the traffic is light, the views are stunning, the pies are always fresh from the oven and the camping is free. We can only conclude that heaven already exists and it’s on a small island south of Melbourne.
Welcome to Tasmania or Tassie as it’s more affectionately known. Come here for the endless views of the sea, the numerous well-thought-out free campsites, the plethora of bakeries serving up tasty treats and the amazing wildlife. You’re sure to see a wombat or two, echidnas and maybe – if you’re lucky – a Tasmanian Devil.
How to see it: Get the ferry from Melbourne, stop at a tourist bureau to pick up your complimentary bike touring guide and then go. Just pick a road and ride it. It’s all wonderful.
Eastern Oregon in America
Thought Oregon was all about rainforests and coastal views? Think again. The lonely Route 395 cuts through the heart of Oregon’s desert and cowboy country, offering the itinerant cyclist a place to ride along peacefully and reflect on life, all while soaking in the sheer beauty of natural wonders like the Abert Rim – one of the highest fault scarps in the United States – and enjoying a slice of apple pie in lonely one-horse stops along the road like Wagontire.
How to see it: Start in Lakeview, on the border with California, and head north. Pack lots of water. It’s hot and desolate out here.
The Dolomites in Italy
It’s hard to play favourites with mountain ranges. They’re all stunning in their own special way but if we had to pick just one, the pink, craggy Dolomites in northern Italy would get our vote. Nowhere else compares just for the sheer choice of 2,000+ meter peaks on offer and how better to fuel your climb than with a scoop of gelato or a shot of espresso from the local cafe? We loved all of our rides here but particularly the stunning Seiser Alm, the largest Alpine meadow in all of Italy.
How to see it: If you’re feeling flush, base yourself in the posh resort of Cortina d’Ampezzo (camping is an option for those on a budget) and spend every day exploring a new road to the mountains all around. Further west, Bolzano also makes a fine base for climbing the peaks and is right on the magnificent Via Claudia bike path that leads south to Trento.
Shiraz to Yazd in Iran
Want to feel like a cycling celebrity? Go to Iran. Yes, Iran. This is not the axis of evil but rather a country where passing tourists are regularly hauled into local homes to drink endless cups of tea, then stuffed to the gills with home-cooked delights, put to bed on fine carpets and sent off the next day with panniers filled to bursting with bread and sweets.
Friendlier people? You can’t find them anywhere else in the world. Then there are the endless archaeological sites. They’re as glorious as anything you’d see in Rome, only mostly devoid of other tourists because so few people come to Iran these days. Don’t forget the scenery – a mix of mountains and deserts – and some of the world’s most gorgeous architecture. For beauty and tranquility, the tiled mosques of Iran, particularly in Esfahan, are unmatched.
How to see it: Start the visa process early and plan to go in the early spring or late autumn, when temperatures are the most tolerable. Even winter cycling is popular in the southern region. Read our Shiraz to Yazd route notes for more details.
Zagora to Tafraoute in Morocco
Take sand dunes towering 300 meters above your head, then mix them with a lush oasis where women wander through the palm trees singing while they work, some challenging climbs and miles of flowering almond trees and you have an idea of what this patch of southern Morocco has to offer.
There’s also accommodation for every taste – from wild camping galore to campsites and hotels along the way. Don’t rush this trip. A week is good for the cycling but you’ll also want at least 3-4 days to explore the desert around Zagora (book a guide to take you on a trek) and the magnificent Valley du Draa is nearby too. With 3 weeks you could see it all.
How to see it: Come around February when the almond trees are in full bloom and bring your climbing legs for the stretch from Tata to Tafraoute. Read our route notes on Zagora to Tafraoute for more details and check out Caravane Desert et Montagne if you need a desert guide.
The Molesworth Road in New Zealand
There’s a lot to choose from in New Zealand where cycling is concerned but if we had to pick just one ride to do again, it would be the Molesworth Road.
Don’t kid yourself. This is no easy ride. You’ll have at least 3 days on dirt roads, without any shops, but there are cold streams to wash up in, thoughtfully placed campsites at each end of the road and plenty of views over the rugged and isolated farmland to make your heart sing. Prepare yourself for the road ahead, or celebrate your success, by soaking in the hot springs of Hanmer at the road’s southern tip.
How to see it: Come between the end of December and the start of April, the only time of the year when the road is open to the public, and bring your camping gear. Read our route notes on the Molesworth Road for more details.
The Interior of Turkey
Here’s the thing about Turkey. It’s crowded and busy on the coast. Istanbul, while being a fantastic city, is a cyclist’s nightmare. But get yourself and your bike on a bus or a ferry to the Turkey’s inland attractions and you’ll find some two-wheeled adventures that are pretty hard to beat. How about almost deserted archaeological sites (unlike the ones deluged by cruise ships on the coast)? Or tranquil villages where the most excitement is around the fresh bread coming out of the baker’s oven? Or the amusement you find in the turtles that seem to be eternally crossing the road.
How to see it: We suggest taking the ferry from Istanbul to Bandirma, then cycling to Bergama, around Izmir and then via any number of inland roads to Antalya.