Cycling provides a better sense of place than travel by motorised transport, and a more relaxing holiday. Robert Carroll chooses his favourite off-the-beaten-track trails.
Top 10: see the world on two wheels with the best cycling holidays
There's a childlike joy to cycling that elevates it beyond simply a means of transport or a sport. Of course, it is a practical way of moving from one place to another, but it can also be exhilarating and fun. Crucially, you are powering yourself. As such, travelling by bicycle keeps the physical comprehension of space as you move. You feel how far you've travelled through pedal rotations, aching muscles and creaking joints. A journey by bike is closer to nature and provides a greater sense of place than the same journey by car. These routes pass through some of the world's most beautiful landscapes and exploit this proximity to the full.
1 Otago Rail Trail, New Zealand
Completed in the early 20th century, this 150km-railway track was built to transport gold from the mines to the coast. After closing in the 1980s, its bridges were restored and its track resurfaced with gravel in the 1990s. It has since become one of New Zealand's most popular trails for walkers, horse riders and cyclists. This tour takes in the full range of the magnificent route, which includes views of Mount Cook and exploration of abandoned gold mines. It also includes a beautiful trip along the coast from Dunedin to the town of Oamaru, home to a colony of blue penguins. The route is challenging but manageable for most, with distances averaging around 40km a day. Accommodation ranges from old farmhouses to small boutique hotels.
A four-night tour from Clyde to Oamaru with Go New Zealand (www.newzealand.com.au; 00 61 8 9310 3845) costs NZ$1,295 (Dh3,966) per person, based on two sharing, including meals and accommodation. Bike hire is available for $150 (Dh460).
2 East coast, Taiwan
Despite beautiful mountainous terrain, excellent roads and a growing number of cyclists among its inhabitants, Taiwan remains an unsung cycling destination. The best time to visit is in autumn (September and October) when it is dry and warm.
This tour starts around Taroko Gorge, an impressive, steep-sided canyon that stretches for 19km, then heads down the country's east coast. The route avoids the main roads, preferring palm-lined lanes with a smattering of roadside temples for diversion. The trail includes a trip to Green Island, a small volcanic rock formation in the Pacific, as well as the chance to relax in hot springs in towns along the way.
An 11-night tour with Grasshopper Adventures (www.grasshopperadventures.com; 00 66 2 280 0832) costs $2,300 (Dh8,448) per person, including accommodation, meals and bicycle rental.
3 Emerald Mountains, Colombia
Progressive policies such as the Ciclovía programme, part of which makes the capital city of Bogotá car-free for a time on Sundays, have helped to transform Colombia's image and cleanse the stain of murderous drug gangs from the 1980s. Cycling has become one of the country's most popular sports. The country has a host of professional champions, as well as many normal riders taking to their bikes every day.
This tour goes from Bogotá to the coast of the Caribbean Sea, winding over mountain passes in the Andes and crossing the Zona Cafetera, lush coffee plantations that account for almost half of the country's crop. There's a two-night stop in the city of Medellín, Colombia's second-largest city, before heading for the resort of Tolú on the coast.
An 11-night tour with Saddle Skedaddle (www.skedaddle.co.uk; 00 44 191 265 1110) costs£1,750 (Dh10,209) per person, based on two sharing, including meals and accommodation.
4 Jotunheimen National Park, Norway
Skis may be the classic Norwegian means of transport, but bikes are the perfect way to roam the country outside the winter months. Jotunheimen, home to Norway's highest peaks, is a great place to cycle. The route's scenery is diverse and spectacular. It includes riding down numerous hairpin bends on the Stalheim Pass; cycling along fjords, such Sogne Fjord (one of the world's largest) and Geiranger Fjord, a narrow, steep-sided fjord with frothing waterfalls; and scaling mountains to the hotel at Turtagrø, 884m above sea level. If you think this sounds strenuous, you'd be right, but the rewards are worth it. Norway also has a wide range of flatter routes to explore on its extensive network of cycle routes.
A seven-day tour in Jotunheimen National Park with Active Norway (www.activenorway.no; 00 47 9321 4596) costs 14,110 Norwegian krones (Dh9,272) per person, based on two sharing, including meals and accommodation. Bike hire is available from 1,344 krones (Dh883) per week.
Beyond Havana's battered 1950s Buicks and the feeling of time standing still, there lies a beautiful and surprisingly big island - about half the size of the UK - to explore. Cycling is a great way to get out of the capital city and avoid the cloistered, luxury resorts which have sprung up around the country. The two-week tour starts on the east coast in the city of Santiago de Cuba and heads west. It takes in the Sierra Maestre mountains, the Unesco World Heritage city of Trinidad, and the small town of Viñales on the stunning west coast. The tour covers approximately 450km in total. Accommodation varies from all-inclusive hotels to casa particulares - b&b lodgings in local homes.
A 14-night tour with Responsible Travel (www.responsibletravel.com; 00 44 1273 600 030) costs Dh9,090 per person, based on two sharing, including meals and accommodation. Bike hire is available from $240 (Dh882).
6 Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada
This rugged and isolated island, the northernmost area of already remote region, is justifiably renowned as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. The bays are vast and unpeopled, at times shrouded in golden mist or illuminated by the sun's bright, harsh glare. The Cape Breton Highlands National Park covers 950 sq km of the north of the island and is one of its main attractions. It is dominated by a large plateau, with canyons, valleys and steep cliffs jutting into the Atlantic ocean. The Cabot Trail - named after John Cabot, a 15th-century explorer who many consider first to set foot in North America around this area - is a 298km paved route around the top of the island. This tour follows much of this route and includes a couple of steep climbs.
A five-night tour with Freewheeling Adventures (www.freewheeling.ca; 00 1 902 857 3600) costs C$1,995 (Dh7,300) per person, based on two sharing, and including meals and accommodation. Bike hire is available from $145 (Dh530).
7 Ionian Islands, Greece
This modern odyssey combines cycling with island hopping aboard the Panagiota, a 31m yacht that provides nightly lodgings for the majority of this tour. The tour begins in Corfu, with the first ride being a 28km trip from Sivota to Parga on the west coast of mainland Greece. The boat then tours the Ionian Sea, a place steeped in ancient myth as the setting for parts of Homer's Odyssey. The landscapes are rich and varied. Each of the rides, averaging between 30km and 50km, has different characteristics, from the waterfalls of Lefkada and Cephalonia's beautiful Myrtos beach to the olive groves of Paxos and the hills of Ithaca, the birthplace of Odysseus. All the cabins on the boat have air conditioning and a private shower and toilet.
A seven-night tour with Freedom Treks (www.freedomtreks.co.uk; 00 44 1273 224 066) costs £1,146 (Dh6,864) per person, half board, including accommodation, bike hire and meals.
8 Niagara-on-the-Lake, Canada
Away from the kitsch tourist tat and the crowds gasping at the falls, Niagara has more than 200 tracks and trails that are excellent for cycling. A good start would be tackling part of the Waterfront Trail from Niagara-on-the-Lake to Grimsby. The 49km lakeside route passes by charming houses and historic forts. Other options include the Greater Niagara Circle Route, which has more than 140km of trails, and the Niagara River Recreational Trail, which ambles 53km through delightful woodland. Winston Churchill described it as "the prettiest Sunday afternoon drive in the world". Cycling here is comparable, if not better.
Details of the tours are availablefrom www.infoniagara.com as well as from a free iPhone app. The Prince of Wales hotel (www.vintage-hotels.com; 00 1 905 468 3246) has double rooms from C$138 (Dh505) per person, per night, including breakfast. Tours and bike hire are available from Zoom Leisure (www.zoomleisure.com; 00 1 905 468 2366) from $105 (Dh384) per week.
9 Sierra Nevada, Spain
The Sierra Nevada is a mountain range in southern Spain. It is home to the country's highest mountain, and skiing is quite popular in winter. It is excellent cycling territory: wide open expanses of land criss-crossed with scores of unmarked tracks.
Founded in 2005, Pure Mountains has been exploring this terrain for years, mapping out the best routes. The routes are altered to suit the time of year, keeping to low altitudes during the summer and exploring higher ground at other times. All journeys are graded either "epic or easy going" - the former is recommended only for experienced and fit mountain bikers. Accommodation is in a beautiful farmhouse on the mountainside, with all meals and drinks served there included in the price.
A seven-night tour with Pure Mountains (www.puremountains.com; 00 34 958 064 052) costs €890 (Dh4,389) per person, based on two sharing, including accommodation, meals and drinks. Bike hire is available for €263 (Dh1,296) per week.
10 Munda Biddi Trail, Western Australia
This trail - its name means "route through the forest" in the language of the Noongar people - is nearly 600km long and runs from Mundaring to Manjimup. It snakes its way out of Perth's suburbs and through swathes of eucalyptus trees and bushland, with a good chance to glimpse possums, kangaroos and wallabies along the way. But it is important to plan your route in advance. The trail has sections suitable for different levels, from beginner to experienced. It passes through a town at least every second day and there are five campsites along the route. Maps are available from the Department of Environment and Conservation, bike shops and book stores.
The Munda Biddi Trail (www.mundabiddi.org.au) has five campsites as well as hotels in the towns along the trail. Bike hire is available from About Bike Hire (www.aboutbikehire.com.au; 00 61 8 9221 2665) from A$36 (Dh140) per day.