l plan to take a cycling holiday with my family in Europe this summer as a way of getting into shape while enjoying new sights. As we don't all ride regularly, I would prefer routes that are not too taxing or dangerous.
When it comes to cycling, few countries are more biker-friendly than the Netherlands. With most of the population using bicycles for everyday transportation, there is a comprehensive network of cycling lanes criss-crossing Dutch cities and the countryside. The famously flat terrain means you can pedal along without having to exert yourself beyond your fitness level.
There are several companies providing cycles and other equipment for hire, including one-wheeled trailer bikes for young children, trailer wagons and panniers for luggage, maps, GPS trackers, puncture repair kits, helmets, ponchos and even mobile phones. Visit www.tulipcycling.com.
There are more than 20 designated long-distance routes, known as "landelijke fietsroutes" (LF) that you could plan your journey around, depending on which parts of the country you most want to see. For example the coastal LF1 route keeps you close to the beaches while also passing major cities such Middelburg, the Hague and Haarlem. The website www.holland.com is a useful resource. Cycling maps are available from local book and tourist shops.
Thanks to clear signage on cycle routes, you can opt for a self-guided tour, taking in specific regions and sights, and explore the country at your own pace and inclination. Inntravel is a specialist UK tour operator that offers week-long, self-guided tours from April to September, from £665 (Dh3,819) per person staying at three- and four-star hotels along the way (www.inntravel.co.uk; 00 44 1653 617003). Routes take in the Lower Rhine valley and the enormous dune areas and tulip fields south of Edam. Your luggage will be transferred between hotels to save you that extra effort and detailed maps are provided to help make sure you stay on track.
If you decide to begin your tour in a city, Amsterdam, for example, visit the local tourist office (known as VVV) for detailed maps and cycle tours (www.amsterdam tourist.nl). There are a number of short specialist tours on offer such as a culinary tour of the capital on two wheels with a guide which costs €32.50 (Dh154) per person and lasts for three hours. Hire an stadsfiets or city bike for a more relaxed, upright ride.
Another popular option is to combine cycling with travelling along Holland's numerous waterways by barge. Sleep and dine aboard the barge and set off each morning to explore the sights while working your way to the next rendezvous with the boat. Go to www.bikebarge.com for more information. A 13-night tour costs US$2,995 (Dh11,000) per person full-board, including bike hire and a museum pass.
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