Adventure

Exploring Europe By Bicycle… And Ferry

From the perspective of this seasoned continental cyclist, the best thing about a ferry is the fact that it isn’t an aeroplane. No hassle packing up the bike; just a case of riding over a ramp, finding a seat and relaxing while someone else does the hard work of getting you from A to B. I have to admit to being a ferry fan and in recent years I’ve had the opportunity of putting my devotion into practice by taking many ferries across Europe whether it be from Britain to the continent and Ireland or further afield in Spain, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Sweden and – perhaps the greatest destination of all if you love your ferries – Norway. I even crossed the Arctic Circle on a ferry! I see no downside to taking a ferry. Not one. So the fact that it is currently National Ferry Fortnight puts a smile on my face; they couldn’t squeeze all that is good about ferries into a day or even a week. No, they need a fortnight!

Discover Ferries have been in touch with some cycling ideas and below are a few suggestions, interspersed with some images of my own ferry adventures across Europe.

France

A cycling holiday is a great way to explore France at your leisure. Uncover sleepy, unspoilt villages of the French countryside on bike or take your adventure into the urban streets of cities both modern and medieval. Take the ferry to Calais and jump straight into the Loire à Vélo, a popular route through northern France passing winding rivers, elegant vineyards and glittering châteaux, with segments suited to riders of all ages and experience in the beautiful Loire Valley. Alternatively, travel 170km from the Breton capital, Rennes, to St Malo as you follow the green way along the canal. Stop off at iconic sites such as Hédé’s 11 locks, medieval Dinan and the seaside resort of Dinard. To find out more, visit brittanyferries.co.uk/guides/cycling/st-malo-cycle-tour-route

Whilst travelling, watch out for the Accueil Vélo (Cyclists Welcome) signs dotted around the nation. National marks of quality, these signs guarantee a warm welcome for cyclists and promise accommodation, rental and repairs, and advice on finding the best routes. For more information, and extensive guides on the best cycling routes in France, visit en.francevelotourisme.com/

Routes to France are available from Brittany Ferries, DFDS Seaways, Irish Ferries, P&O Ferries and Stena Line. Visit their websites for more information, or call 0330 159 7000 for Brittany Ferries, 0871 574 7235 for DFDS Seaways, +353 818 300 400 for Irish Ferries, +44 (0) 1304 44 88 88 for P&O Ferries, or 0844 770 7070 for Stena Line.

Spain

Spain is home to a variety of different routes, including the new EuroVelo 8, which strikes out from Tarifa on the south coast and runs all the way to Athens for the ultimate touring experience. Along the way, you can stop in one of a wide range of Bike Hotels, which offer specialist services for cyclists, including luggage transportation and recommended routes. For more information, as well as advice and recommendations on the best areas and times to visit, go to spain.info/en

Sail to Spain with Brittany Ferries if you are in search of dramatic scenery, sunshine and tranquil empty roads. If you are a thrill seeker, looking to experience lush green valleys, jagged limestone peaks and spectacular gorges head to the Picos de Europa mountain range, 127km from Santander Port and 208km from Bilbao Port.

For ferry timetables and fares, visit brittany-ferries.co.uk or call 0330 159 7000.

Holland

Cycling is a way of life in the Netherlands. Holland is the most bike-friendly country in the world, so the road network, towns and cities either have dedicated cycleways or well-marked cycle lanes. From the port in IJmuiden you can cycle to Amsterdam in around two hours. Alternatively, cyclists can enjoy a leisurely journey from the Hook of Holland port to destinations such as The Hague, which is just over an hour, and Rotterdam which is 90 minutes’ away –  both of which offer routes along the coast, past sand dunes and capturing beautiful coastal views. Unsurprisingly for a country that calls itself ‘the cycling nation’, Holland has an extensive network of cycle routes, including over 32,000km of safe cycle paths, separated from motorised traffic, and a 4,500 kilometre-long National Long Distance network linking together regional routes. For more information, tips and tours visit holland.com

Routes to Holland are available from DFDS Seaways, P&O Ferries and Stena Line. Visit their websites for information, or call 0871 574 7235 for DFDS Seaways, +44 (0) 1304 44 88 88 for P&O Ferries, or 0844 770 7070 for Stena Line

Cycling towards the ferry through the suburbs of Rotterdam

Isle of Wight The Lonely Planet has recently named the Isle of Wight as one of the 10 best cycling destinations in the world. With both Red Funnel and Wightlink sailing to the Island, the diverse terrain offers a great variety of road cycling, touring and mountain biking. Explore the Red Squirrel Trail to see the real Isle of Wight, one of the few places in the UK where you can still catch sight of a red squirrel, whilst passing through areas of outstanding natural beauty.

With over 200 miles of cycle routes within an area of just 147 square miles, the Isle of Wight has long been a magnet for cycling enthusiasts. There are a variety of services available to cyclists, from simple bike repairs to full guided tours, led by passionate staff who live and breathe cycling. For more information and tour recommendations, go to visitisleofwight.co.uk

For more information and booking, visit redfunnel.co.uk or call them on 02380 248500, or visit wightlink.co.uk or call them on 0333 999 7333.

West Coast of Scotland

Scotland’s National Cycle Network makes it easy to get around on quiet roads and traffic-free paths, and there are a range of routes available regardless of your age or ability. For the full experience, the Cyclists Welcome scheme recognises hotels and other establishments which go the extra mile to help your trip run smoothly. For more tips and advice, go to visitscotland.com

Cycling is a great way to explore Scotland’s beautiful West Coast islands and peninsulas. Travel to the highlands and islands with Caledonian MacBrayne to explore stunning views, with minimal traffic. Hop across to the island of Great Cumbrae, just off the Clyde Coast, for a gentle ten-mile route around the scenic coastline, where your quieter mode of travel will give you an advantage when it comes to spotting the polecats, kestrels and sea eagles that make the island their home. To find out more, visit calmac.co.uk/destinations/cumbrae

For those looking for a challenge, the 5 Ferries Cycle tour, which covers several routes in the Clyde and Argyll region, should fit the bill. This 65 mile or so round trip takes in some of the most scenic (and sometimes hilly) terrain across Arran, Bute and the local mainland. To find out more, visit calmac.co.uk/things-to-do/day-adventures

For more information and booking, visit calmac.co.uk or call 0800 066 5000.

London

Whether you’re a fair-weather cyclist or a serious rider, saddle up and discover the London’s best bits by bike on board MBNA Thames Clippers. Enjoy a scenic ride along the South Bank, passing iconic sights like the London Eye and Tate Modern, or, for a more adrenaline-fuelled adventure, climb on top of an icon with Up at The O2 by the MBNA Thames Clippers port at North Greenwich Pier.

Even better, thanks to the citywide network of Santander Cycles – more commonly known as Boris Bikes– you don’t even have to bring your bike for the perfect cycling holiday. These can be hired from as little as £2, and are available at automated collection points all across the city; simply grab, one, ride it, and return it when you’re done. For more information on cycling in London visit tfl.gov.uk/modes/cycling/

For more information and booking, visit thamesclippers.com, or call 020 7001 2200

Ireland

Ireland’s varied landscapes and fresh, crisp air make the island an ideal cycling destination. Visitors to Dublin can jump straight in the saddle for the Rathdrum Wicklow Gap, which starts right in the city centre and climbs 85km to Rathdrum via the beautiful Blessington Lake and through the Wicklow Mountains. For a less challenging coastal ride, take the Clifden road out of Galway City to Spiddal. This 40kms road route offers mountain and sea views: on a clear day the Cliffs of Moher or even the Aran Islands come into view. For more tours and travel ideas, visit ireland.com

Routes to Ireland are available from Brittany Ferries, Irish Ferries, Isle of Man SteamPacket, P&O Ferries, and Stena Line. Visit their websites for information, or call 0330 159 7000 for Brittany Ferries, +353 818 300 400 for Irish Ferries, +44 (0) 1304 44 88 88 for P&O Ferries, 08722 992 992 for Isle of Man SteamPacket, or 0844 770 7070 for Stena Line.

Isles of Scilly

The Isles of Scilly, just off the Cornish coast, are served exclusively by The Isles of Scilly Steamship Group. St. Mary’, the largest island, has 10 miles of roads that are just waiting to be explored. To find out more about cycling there, visit islesofscilly-travel.co.uk

Tresco, just a 15-minute ferry ride across the bay from St Mary’s, is also a great place to visit on your bike. Spend a day exploring its shoreline in all its subtropical glory – and don’t forget to stop off for a picnic and a swim. Visit islesofscilly-travel.co.uk for more information, or call +44 (0)1736 334220.

Isle of Man 

The Isle of Man, famous for its TT motorcycle racing, also has plenty to offer for those legs putting in the hard graft themselves. There’s a variety of routes encompassing picturesque winding country roads, mountain climbs, and breath-taking descents. There are also plenty of options which showcase the beautiful Manx countryside with coastal paths and forest trails. With routes like these, it’s no surprise the Isle has a long tradition of producing fine cyclists, including star riders such as Mark Cavendish and Peter Kennaugh. For tips, tricks, and a roundup of the best routes for all abilities, visit visitisleofman.com

The Isle of Man hosts some great cycling events throughout the year, and is also great spot for mountain-bikers. Put your bike on the back of a car, or travel as a foot passenger on board the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. For more inspiration for a cycling break to the Isle of Man visit: steam-packet.com or call 08722 992 992.

Northern Ireland

Sail to Northern Ireland to experience stunning cycle trails which span mountain ranges, national parks and woodlands. Alight at Belfast and take the Causeway Coastal Route along 130km of rugged and spectacular coast all the way to Derry, or visit Co. Down and take on the challenge of the Mourne Mountains. The Giro d’Italia Big Start route is another great option. Visit Cycle NI to find out more about the many cycle routes that can be enjoyed throughout Northern Ireland.

For more information and booking, visit stenaline.co.uk or call 0844 770 7070, or visit poferries.com or call +44 (0) 1304 44 88 88

Not me but here’s a nice cycling idea:

On the subject of continental cycling, here are a few pieces of advice from Discover Ferries:

Cycling guidance

In addition to checking out the cycling sections of each ferry members’ website there is some great advice for cycling routes from cycling organisations such as Eurovelo – a European cycling network eurovelo.com/en, or Sustrans.org.uk for UK, Northern Ireland, Wales, England and Scotland.

Cycling rules of the road

We advise checking out the rules of the road in any international country before you set off. Each ferry member has lots of advice, but tips for cycling in France include the fact that a bike must be equipped with a bell, cyclists can ride two abreast in daylight but it’s mandatory to ride single file at night. Cyclists travelling after dark in rural areas must also wear a high visibility waistcoat.

Similar laws apply in Belgium and Germany, but side and pedal reflectors must be fitted, as well as white front and red back lights for use after dusk or in times of low visibility. In Holland all bikes must have a round red reflector on the rear and yellow reflectors on the pedals.

In Germany and Holland, flashing LED lights are illegal.

(Information supplied by Discover Ferries, April 2018.)

What are you waiting for? 🙂

More information about taking your bike on a ferry can be found on the following pages of CyclingEurope.org:

Taking Bicycles On A Ferry

Ferry Companies Policies And Charges

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