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Top five winter sun holidays for cycling in Europe

Joe Robinson
3 Jan 2020

Five destinations in Europe you could visit for a cycling holiday this winter without breaking the bank

January is a tough month. The weather is harsh, work seems eternal and you're packing a few pounds from Christmas. It's almost enough to make you want to give up on cycling.

But it does not have to be like that. In fact, it can be quite the opposite. How? By booking a last-minute cycling holiday abroad. 

The idea of taking a week off to go cycle in February or March may seem like financial madness but we've been hunting around and found some affordable escapes to some of Europe's top cycling winter sun destinations.

So help out your physical and mental health, start on your tan and jump on a plane (or the Eurostar) for a week of cycling in the sun this winter.

1. Mallorca

Sa Calobra hairpins

Travel destination number 1 for any cyclist looking for some sun-drenched riding through the winter months, this Balearic island east of mainland Spain really is a mecca of cycling.

With all the best riding in the northwest, climbs such as Sa Calobra and Cap du Formentor are challenging without being impossible, mixing breathtaking views with winding, exciting roads.

Sa Calobra is one of the most beautiful roads in the world. It looks as if a child was allowed to design the road, such is its endless twists and turns. It’s also a climb that can comfortably be scaled in around 45 minutes, not too hard, not too easy.

There’s also the Mallorca 312, held on 25th April. The clue being in the name, this is a 312km sportive around the island of Mallorca that attracts riders the world over. It’s a bucket-list ride for any serious cyclist and a challenge you can really sink your teeth into.

Travel

Travelling to Mallorca will always involve a flight to Palma de Mallorca. Prices start at around £50 per person, one-way with the flight time a manageable 2 hours 20 minutes (from London).

Being so popular with cyclo-tourists, most hotels offer transfers for you and a bike bag which is handy. Otherwise, you’ll need to go with car rental, which gives you freedom on your rest days anyway.

Accommodation

There are plenty of villas with multiple rooms that can be rented throughout winter for you and your mates to use during a cycling holiday. But, be quick, these will book up faster than Chris Froome rides Sa Calobra.

Alternatively, there are a few cycling-friendly hotels dotted around Port de Pollenca, such as the Hoposa Hotel, that offers secure bike storage, tools, workshops and cleaning equipment too.

Bike hire

Tonnes and tonnes of bike rental in Mallorca.

Ultimate Bike Hire in Port de Pollenca offers a SwiftCarbon Ultravox with full Ultegra and carbon wheels for €140/week. Also in Port de Pollenca, the Pinarello Experience offers bikes from £39/day with the option of a Dogma F10 with Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 for £95/day, too.

Just two of many.

2. Girona

The home of a thousand pro cyclists, Girona has a little bit of everything. Flat roads, coastline, mountains, rolling hills, gravel. Whatever the style of riding you fancy doing, this Catalan city can provide it.

For a proper climbing test, head to the Rocaborba. A 13km climb that’s gradient sweeps up and down as you crawl closer to the top, the hardest section comes in the latter half so make sure you don’t go too hard too early.

Otherwise, take a loop out to the Els Angels climb for a 71km ride that mixes tough climbs and fast flats.

There is also plenty to do off the bike in Girona, as well, with its old city offering a range of delicious restaurants and historic sights for you to enjoy when resting.

Travel

Direct flights to Girona in February are pretty hard to come by. So, it’s likely you will have to fly into Barcelona, with prices starting around £60 per person, one-way for the middle of February.

From there, you can take the high-speed AVE train from Barcelona Sants to Girona which takes just 37 minutes.

Accommodation

Like everywhere on the list, Girona has a tonne of bike-friendly hotels at all prices, such as the Hotel Costabella or the Hotel Historic.

On a recent Cyclist trip, we stayed in the Hotel Carlemany. Its bike garage is huge, it has a workshop and is only 400m away from Girona’s train station.

Alternatively, you can rent out self-contained villas across the city if you fancy a more private stay.

Bike hire

The ultimate bike rental option in Girona is The Service Course. An ‘experience’ that offers guided bike rides, a coffee shop and bike servicing, it also allows riders to rent the bikes of their dreams with Bastion, Argonaut and Speedvagen all on the menu.

And as an alternative, try the super-friendly Eat Sleep Cycle team that have a range of Factor, Basso, Ridley and Reilly at their disposal for you to use.

3. Calpe

Etixx training Calpe

If you want to feel like a pro, nowhere beats Calpe. Why? Because up until late February, almost ever pro team will be descending on this small coastal holiday town for their winter training camps.

Everyone from the likes of Deceuninck-QuickStep and Boels-Dolmans to Team NTT and Team Sunweb use out-of-season hotels and the quiet surrounding roads as their playground while training for the season ahead.

The most infamous climb in striking distance is the Coll de Rates. It’s 6km and averages 5 per cent, perfect for winter training. Although don’t expect to get near the KOM as the entire top 20 is firmly sewn up by pro riders.

For a more unknown feel, try the Puerto de Tudons. It also averages 5 per cent but is 15.3km long, providing almost traffic-free riding on smooth, enjoyable roads.

Travel

Getting to Calpe involves flying to Alicante airport, another destination serviced by many airlines from most UK airports, with prices starting around £40 for the middle of February.

From there you will need to travel for an hour down the motorway to reach Calpe. The easiest solution is car rental although you can get private shuttle rental or even a train (although that involves a change in Benidorm!).

Accommodation

With Calpe being a popular holiday destination for German and Belgian tourists during the summer, there is no shortage of empty hotels to stay in throughout the winter.

You can either go budget, like the Hotel Porto or for something fancier, such as the 27-storey Suitopia hotel or its sister-hotel, the adult-only Sol y Mar.

Either way, most will be bike-friendly, within five minutes of the beach and just 10 minutes from the local Lidl which is perfect for riding supplies.

Bike hire

There is an abundance of bike rental options in Calpe and the surrounding areas.

From experience, some standouts are TopBike rental - based in Calpe, offering a full range of Merida bikes and quality service - and Ciclo Costa Blanca that has Bianchi and Kuota bikes ready for hire.

We also like the Velosol cycling cafe in Jalon. It’s the cafe stop of choice for any rider in Calpe and also offers Eddy Merckx bikes for rent, too.

4. Algarve

A hidden gem, as we recently argued here, the Algarve was once the exclusive getaway of professional footballers and golfing fanatics. Now, with cycling being the new golf, its neverending Atlantic coastline is proving very popular with cyclists.

Weather is almost guaranteed, with temperatures rarely dropping below double figures throughout winter and rain also unlikely. Do, however, be warned that wind is a huge factor here so be prepared to ride through multiple headwinds.

The riding along the coast is relaxing and rolling while to the north, great climbs like the Monchique mountain can provide a proper lung-opener.

There is also the benefit of the professional Volta ao Algarve taking place from 19th to 23rd February, a race previously won by Geraint Thomas and Primoz Roglic. A low-key race that will allow you to get up-close and personal with some of your favourite riders as they kickstart their seasons.

Travel

Faro Airport services the entirety of the Algarve and sees daily flights from almost all major UK airports via a multitude of airlines. Flights can be found for as little as £24 per person, one-way, in February.

From there, you can either pay for car rental or use a hotel transfer to reach your final destination. Public transport is not the best in the Algarve so I would suggest car hire as a safer option.

Accommodation

Being a holiday hotspot during the summer, the Algarve is not short of hotels for you to stay in during the winter.

Areas like Villamoura and Albufeira are packed with huge holiday complexes that will have everything on site. The most famous being the Browns Sports Resort, a complex used by England Rugby for warm-weather training.

Alternatively, head further west for quieter towns like Praia da Luz or Sagres for a quieter affair where many Airbnb or small guesthouses will be up for grabs at a reasonable cost.

Bike hire

There are plenty of places to rent road bikes across the entire Algarve ranging from entry-level to fully-specced carbon fibre Colnagos, it’s just a matter of finding something within your budget that's close to where you are staying.

A recommendation, however, is Musette Bikes based in Salema, 20 minutes outside of Lagos. Run by former pro snowboarding Belgian Jerom, they rent out a fleet of carbon Cube Agree bikes at a reasonable cost and will even join you on your ride if you’d like.

5. Flanders

A winter riding break does not necessarily need to be dictated by weather. It can be a lesson in becoming gnarly and hard. Embracing the cold, wet weather with open arms, learning to ride exclusively in shorts on uncompromising terrain.

If so, head to Flanders, the home of cycling, to take on the cobbled climbs of spring weeks before the pros turn up.

Yes, the weather will be horrible but how cool will it look when you post a 100-mile ride taking in the Paterberg, Koppenberg and Muur van Geraardsbergen all on one February morning?

Travel

The best option is to drive, taking either the Euro Tunnel or a ferry to cross the channel from Britain.

The car shuttle is faster, taking just 35 minutes from Folkstone to Calais yet the ferry to Dunkerque has a duty-free shop onboard. Either way, both are pretty cheap at this time of year, costing from £30 per car, one-way. From the French ports, it is an hour's drive to Oudernaarde, the epicentre of Flemish cycling.

You could also look at going by Eurostar, opting for a 'Any Belgian Station' ticket.

Accommodation

One option is to journey up to Gent where plenty of reasonably-priced hotels can be found around the city's ring road with options from Holiday Inn and Campanile all allowing bike storage in your room.

Alternatively, you have the Hotel Moriaanshoofd in Oudernaarde - the hotel for QuickStep during spring - or the 't Juiste Verzet in Kluisbergen that welcomes all cyclists with a warm heart and cold beer. 

Bike hire

It's Flanders so renting a bike is a piece of cake. The Tour of Flanders Centre in Oudernaarde has a fleet of Ridley and Specialized bikes starting at €60/day while the Greg van Avermaet-owned Veloloft in Nazareth also offers reasonable bike rental too.

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