By Diverse Directions: Self-Guided Bicycle Tours
This article, published by QT Magazine in July 2001, describes why we love bike touring in Europe.
Fortunately, most of us recognize the important role vacations play in maintaining both our mental and physical well-being. Working 60-hour weeks, being tethered to the office by cell phones, e-mail, voicemail and pagers, it's essential to recharge our batteries occasionally to avoid burnout and maintain balance in our lives. With a seemingly endless number of options however, how do we choose the vacation that will make the most of our precious time-off?
Some vacation destinations offer little more than long, lazy days basking in the sun and partying into the night. Others keep us constantly moving with a whirlwind of sightseeing activities. And of course, there's always the long overdue trip home to visit family and old friends. But, do any of these options provide a really well-balanced vacation experience? A vacation experience which nurtures mind, body, and spirit? After years of searching for such a trip, we finally discovered the joys of cycling in Europe.
Why Europe? Rich in history and culture and magnificent in its natural beauty, Europe is the ideal destination for the traveler seeking a well-rounded vacation experience. European travel is a daily celebration of art and architecture, cafes and cuisine, history and scenery. The inherent diversity of the European travel experience nourishes the mind and spirit. And, in comparison to the United States, European travel is experienced on a more human scale. The distance between villages and noteworthy sights is perfectly manageable by bicycle.
Why cycle? Frankly, we believe there's no better, more sensual way to travel than by bicycle. Cycling actively engages your senses in the travel experience and intimately connects you to all that makes your destination unique. Like a good meal, a fine wine and intimate conversation, travel is best savored. When cycling, you experience your travel destination at a slower pace, a more human pace -- one kilometer, one person, one moment at a time.
Why be content to glimpse a quaint village square through the window of a rental car, when you can smell the newly cut flowers being sold by street vendors and taste the corner bakery's freshly baked bread? Why risk missing an awesome view of a river gorge from the window of a speeding train, when you can feel the mist rising from the water below and hear shouts of joy from kayakers negotiating the white water?
By car or train, three to four hours of travel may leave you feeling tired, stiff and cranky. Three to four hours in the saddle however, will leave you feeling energized and alive. And cycling is a great low-impact exercise. Whereas the typical tourist returns home with a few extra pounds around the waist, you'll return home from a cycling vacation leaner, fitter and more self-confident.
Unless you're training for the Tour de France or an AIDS Ride however, it's important to select a tour that has not been designed as a marathon or endurance test. An average daily distance of more than 45 miles will leave too little time to explore, sightsee, and relax. Remember you're seeking a well-balanced travel experience, which integrates and nurtures, mind, body and spirit. Cycling through vineyards, forests and river valleys during the cool morning hours, you'll want to arrive at your destination in the early afternoon with plenty of energy to explore and play. And at dinner, given the calories you've burned earlier, you can eat and drink to your heart's content.
Cycling also permits you to tread lightly on the environment. Unlike travel by car, cycling adds no harmful emissions to the air. As you cycle through pristine river valleys, lush forests and fragrant vineyards, your soul will be nurtured by the knowledge that you've chosen to travel in an environmentally responsible manner. Provided you properly dispose of your garbage, you'll travel without leaving any harmful traces behind.
Europeans, generally more environmentally conscious than Americans, admire and respect cyclists. Unlike some American drivers, passing motorists in most European countries recognize their obligation to share the road with cyclists and generally exercise caution when passing travelers on bicycles. In fact, it's not unusual to receive words of encouragement and appreciation from passing motorists and pedestrians alike.
So, give yourself the gift of total renewal on your next vacation. Enjoy the richness of Europe by bike.