Foodtravel2

The very hungry cyclist

Get your knees in the breeze with Andrew Eames’s selection of Europe’s best leisurely, luxury cycling itineraries, each one with its own distinctive cuisine and plenty of pit stops en route

Seafood of the Stockholm Archipelago Sweden

It may be just a short ferry ride from the nation’s capital, but the Stockholm Archipelago – with a staggering 24,000 islands – is a place apart. With the city so close, it feels like you’ve stepped through the back of the wardrobe to come ashore in a Narnia of idyllic villages, colourful clapboard cottages, tranquil forests and seafood galore. This itinerary starts in Stockholm before heading out to the ferry-connected islands of Ornö, Utö and Fjärdlång, the last whose highest point, Tynsta Klint, has spectacular views over the archipelago. Utö is bridge-connected to nearby smaller islands of Ålö and Nåttarö, which both boast beautiful white sandy beaches. Accommodation is at Utö Wärdshus, where Greta Garbo and August Strindberg stayed, and whose restaurant offers an excellent fish-rich buffet which includes smoked prawns and many different kinds of marinated herring and salmon. Another local favourite to try is Biff Rydberg. Named after Stockholm’s first hotel, Hotel Rydberg, the dish consists of seared cubes of beef fillet, sautéed onion, and diced potatoes with mustard cream and raw egg yolk. The gravalax is not to be missed here, either.

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Travel Details

Cycling Stockholm’s Archipelago with Macsadventure – 5 nights from £875pp. macsadventure.com

Nature’s larder on the Wild Atlantic Way Ireland

This guided group holiday combines daily yoga sessions with cycle touring through the quiet back roads of north-west Ireland, helping guests to feel truly connected to the scenery that surrounds them. The trip begins in the laid-back surfing village of Strandhill before heading off to explore the Coolera Peninsula, home to countless megalithic sites. Morning relaxation is followed by cycling to the likes of Lough Gill, made famous by WB Yeats, to the beaches around the coastal villages of Rosses Point, and challenging climbs in the Ox Mountains. Sligo – Sligeach in Irish – means ‘shelly place’ after all the shellfish landed here, and the itinerary follows the Sligo Food Trail, with a focus on healthy – and often organic – eating. A fitting choice is the lunch stop at Sligo town’s vegan Sweet Beat Café, whose owner does her own pickling and fermentation. Choose the avocado and homemade houmous with local bread or the vegan chillies and falafel. Sligo’s location on the Wild Atlantic Way means you can enjoy freshly caught fish in any local restaurant. Other regional highlights to look out for include Knocknarea honey, wild Mullaghmore lobster, Lissadell oysters, and fresh eggs gathered from the foot of Benbulben Mountain.

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Travel Details

Biking and Yoga Escape with Wilderness Ireland – 6 nights from £1,805pp. wildernessireland.com

Island produce and sticky pastries Denmark

Zealand is Denmark’s largest island, and part of it has just become a new national park. Its coastline is dotted with spectacular beaches of powdery sand and gorgeous coastal villages with small stylish hotels, and it is where cycle-loving Danes come to take it easy. The route loops along the northern shoreline, through forest and farmland, with a dip inland to visit the Royal Palace of Fredensborg, known as the ‘Danish Versailles’. It then veers north to the walled coastal town of Helsinør, where Kronborg Castle was the setting for Shakespeare’s Hamlet. One particularly lovely day offers the choice of heading south to Frederiksborg, Denmark’s most magnificent and romantic Renaissance castle, or riding up to the 10th-century abbey of Esrum, where, in the cloister, you can sample some of the abbey’s own produce – beer, schnapps, honey, salami and mustard. And, of course, there are Danish pastries par excellence everywhere you go. Most beloved by the Danes are kanelsnegle (cinnamon rolls), spandauer (puff pastry swirls with marzipan and custard filling), and chokoladeboller (with a generous amount of chocolate icing on top), which is particularly popular with children.

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Travel Details

The Danish Riviera Round Trip with Inntravel – 6 nights from £1,195pp. inntravel.co.uk

Edam and smoked eel The Netherlands

The Dutch love their tweewielers (bicycles) and there can’t be a better (or flatter) country for navigating on two wheels, with 35,000km of bike paths, many of them following a web of waterways from one welcoming 17th-century Golden Age town to another. The route from Leiden to the North Sea coast runs along dykes and past fields of hyacinths and tulips in searing strips of colour, like technicolour tablecloths spread out ready for a giant picnic. It ticks off big sights such as the Keukenhof flower garden, the windmills of Zaandam and the cheese markets of Alkmaar and Edam. Before returning to Amsterdam, it runs along the shores of the Ijsselmeer inland sea and stops off at Volendam, where smoked eel on toast is a speciality in artisan eel smokehouse Paviljoen Smit-Bokkum, best enjoyed on the restaurant’s sunny terrace overlooking the sparkling water. Also look out for hutspot (hotchpotch) – potatoes mashed with carrot and served with slow-stewed brisket, or its close cousin, stamppot – mashed potato combined with endive, and dished up alongside smoked sausage – both of which will provide carbohydrate-heavy recovery for aching limbs.

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Travel Details

Highlights of Holland with the Carter Company – 6 nights from £1,105pp. thecartercompany.com

Olives and figs on the Dalmatian Islands Croatia

This island-hopping cycle-and-sail itinerary is like a mystical, mythical odyssey around wine-rich islands, mixing as it does Roman-origin ports with Venetian-influenced fishing villages. The live-aboard journey starts at Split on the mainland, with its Roman palace in the heart of the city, and includes jet-setting Hvar, as well as sleepy Korcula, famous for its zesty white wine and for being the birthplace of explorer Marco Polo. Lazy sea crossings are interspersed with two-wheeled pootling between walled fields and olive groves, resting in the shade of fig trees before returning to the boat. The sun-warmed scent of rosemary is everywhere, and on the island of Solta it enhances the flavour of the local honey, one of the top-rated in the world. Here you can visit a local beekeeper who also makes paprenjak – ginger biscuits – using the honey as one of the ingredients. Another must-try is crni rizot (black risotto). Every seafood restaurant in Croatia has a version on its menu. The rice is coloured black with squid ink and the dish also usually contains other seafood, particularly mussels and clams. Wash it down with a bottle of native chardonnay, such as the 2008 Grabovac Chardonnay Grand Reserva.

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Travel Details

Croatia Bike and Sail with Utracks – 7 nights starting from £1,050pp. utracks.com

Lake trout and asparagus of Lake Constance Germany, Austria and Switzerland

Lake Constance, sunken in the heart of Europe, is shared between three countries: Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. So to ride its circumference is to dip in and out of closely allied cultures, seeing some of the area’s best vineyards, alongside Unesco-listed Stone Age dwellings, medieval castles and baroque towns, all set against the backdrop of the Alps. The itinerary starts and ends in Constance itself, heads out via Bregenz, famous for its opera festival and floating stage, via the quaint fishing villages on the Swiss shores of the lake to the larger historic German town of Friedrichshafen, with lots of opportunities for grabbing lake ferries en route. Lake trout are a feature of many waterside restaurants, but perhaps the best place to sample them is on the terrace of the elegant garden restaurant at Schloss Wartegg, between Bregenz and Constance, where the sautéed fish is served with white asparagus and lobster sauce. If, after all that pedalling, it’s carbs you’re craving, worth seeking out is dünnele – thin, crispy pizza topped with sour cream, chives and speck – and century-old pasta dishes such as spätzle and knöpfle.

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Travel Details

Germany, Austria and Switzerland: Lake Constance with Saddle Skedaddle – 7 nights from £610pp. skedaddle.co.uk

Provençal cuisine and ice-cold rosé France

This exploration of the laid-back villages and lavender-scented landscapes of Provence starts in the vibrant, art-filled town of Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, where Van Gogh painted some of his finest work, before heading off into the wildflower-filled lanes of Luberon. Highlights include Gordes, a beautiful village which is home to film stars, artists, and its magnificent 12th-century castle, plus Roussillon with its red cliffs and ochre quarries, which colour-match well with the local rosé, served ice cold. For the more active, the crystal-clear River Sorgue, rising from the spring at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse, is a great place to enjoy a spot of canoeing. The pay-off should be enjoying a long leisurely lunch at the likes of La Prévôté, which serves up classic Provençal cuisine such as homemade foie gras and rillettes accompanied by a dry fruit chutney, and rabbit saddle stuffed with mushrooms. If you’re looking for a delicious gift to take friends back home, pick up some white nougat, a regional delicacy. The original variety is made with sugar and honey, roasted almonds and egg whites, while nougatine, or nougat noir, is the crunchy version, which doesn’t contain any egg.

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Travel Details

Picture Postcard Provence with Cycling for Softies – 5 nights from £1,109pp. cyclingforsofties.co.uk

Truffles, chocolate and nuts in Piedmont Italy

Some of the prettiest places in Italy lie on this delicious route, which glides through the castle towns and vineyards between the World Heritage sites of Langhe and Roero, exploring myriad wineries along the way. It begins in Alba, truffle country. One of the grandest cities on the tour, it’s a place of gourmet markets for chocolate, hazelnut and truffles. Pop into the shop Tartufi Ponzio while you’re in town. White truffle season isn’t until the autumn, but the earthier, more affordable black variety are readily available now, and Ponzio’s truffle pâtés, butters and honeys are great year-round. On day two you’ll make your first gentle ascent to Grinzane di Cavour Castle, where you’ll find the first established Langhe regional wine shop. Barolo and barbaresco are your picks here. After some well-earned rest, make your way up to an altitude of 700m, the highest point of the Langhe, which borders the Liguria region. Hazelnuts are a local speciality, notably Corylus avellana, the beautifully named Gentle Round of the Langhe. From here strike west to the Belbo valley for the church of the Madonna di Langa, a great vantage point for photography. The tour concludes at Roero and the Tanaro River with a trip to the Regional Winery of Roero. It’s then back to Alba before saying arrivederci to your hosts.

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Travel Details

Langhe and Roero Gran Tour with Gran Giro – 6 nights from £1,228pp. grangirobiketours.com

Cycling Bavaria’s Schnitzel Circle, Germany

Flower-strewn meadows and half-timbered towns, lakeside terraces and mountain streams – these are the characteristics of Upper Bavaria. Starting at Lake Starnberg, south of Munich, this circular route flirts with the lakes and foothills of the Alps in something of a rollercoaster ride. Heading towards the mountains, the route enters a deeply traditional and very Catholic neck of the woods, side- stepping the quiet town of Oberammergau – scene of a huge Passion Play every ten years – and ending up in the picturesque mountain resort town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen with the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, towering above. Then, following the clear waters of the River Isar to its source, cyclists enter a world of high-sided valleys, wild romantic gorges and lush alpine pastures where the food is still very traditional. On day four you should stop at Der Kleine Kartoffelsack in the village of Mittenwald to try a Mittenwalder schnitzel – a pork escalope topped with sliced tomato and melted mozzarella, best ordered with warm potato salad and helped along with Bavarian beer. For dessert, it has to be Bavarian crème – whipped egg with vanilla, bound with gelatine and mixed with a good portion of pillowy cream, which is served in individual bowls garnished with fruit or chocolate.

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Travel Details

Bavarian Lakes with Freewheel Holidays – 7 nights from £779pp. freewheelholidays.co.uk

Ham and parmesan in Emilia-Romagna Italy

Italy’s Emilia-Romagna – extending from the Apennine Mountains to the Po River in the north – is a region of vast fertile plains and rolling vineyards, stitched with country roads and rural lanes that make it ideal for getting around by bicycle. This guided group itinerary crosses the region from Parma via Modena to the capital Bologna, meandering past apple and cherry orchards, manor houses and castles. With a few gentle climbs, the route mostly follows the ancient Via Emilia and includes a visit to Parmigiano Reggiano Museum, a walk around the fascinating Torrechiara Castle, discovering Montechiarugola Fortress and Montecchio Castle, and marvelling at Modena’s spectacular Unesco-listed cathedral. Delicacies sampled along the way include parmesan cheese at the Parmigiano Reggiano factory, ‘acetaia’ balsamic vinegar at a well-established producer in Spilamberto and indulgent Barozzi chocolate cake at Spilamberto’s Gollini café, along with a tasting of authentic Lambrusco wine in Castelvetro. The tour ends with a cookery lesson in Bologna, the region’s capital, where age-old markets selling delicate, freshly folded pasta and handmade mozzarella and off-the-beaten-path gelato shops are simply begging to be discovered.

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Travel Details

Parma to Bologna with Freedom Treks – 6 nights from £1,164pp. freedomtreks.co.uk

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