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Cycle the EuroVelo Trail: Route 1

Criss-crossing the European continent, the EuroVelo Trail comprises of 15 long distance cycling routes promising adventure and stupendous scenery.

Starting a series of articles dedicated to this extensive cycling network, we’re looking at the Atlantic Coast Route (EuroVelo 1), which connects southern Spain with northern Norway – specifically focusing on the French and Portuguese coastal sections (since these are the most developed). Cycling the entire route would be a mighty mission, so read on for a guide to dividing this immersive travel experience up into manageable (and thrilling) sections.

Portugal

This stretch of the EuroVelo Trail takes you through divine Portuguese coastal towns

This stretch of the EuroVelo Trail takes you through divine Portuguese coastal towns

When it comes to the Iberian Peninsula, the layout of the Atlantic Coast Route is slightly bizarre – instead of starting in Portugal’s southern Algarve region and moving up towards Spanish Basque Country, the trail starts near Porto, heads south and then meanders through central Spain. But as you progress past sun-kissed beaches, pine groves and canyons where rivers feed the verdant banks sprouting with orange trees, the reasoning for the strange but scenic route starts to become clear. As with most coastal cycling journeys, there are stretches of slight incline but – distance aside – this isn’t a hugely challenging ride.

Porto

Cycle across the handsome, grey arch of Porto's Dom Luís I Bridge

Cycle across the handsome, grey arch of Porto's Dom Luís I Bridge

One of the first major stops along the Portuguese coast is Porto, an easygoing coastal city built around the mouth of the Douro River and famous for its production of port wine. Cycle across the handsome, grey arch of the Dom Luís I Bridge to reach the riverside districts of Ribeira and Vila Nova de Gaia, where old port cellars and merchant houses of mismatched colours resemble a small fishing village. Stop into one of the area’s bars, cafés or port wine producers for a tasting. Or simply pedal along the waterfront thoroughfare, Cais de Gaia, to have a picnic on the grassy riverbank. Check into a suite or dorm at The House of Sandeman, a boutique property within what used to be a historic port wine cellar on the River Douro.

Lisbon

Stay in Lisbon's hilly Bairro Alto neighbourhood

Stay in Lisbon's hilly Bairro Alto neighbourhood

From Porto, the route heads towards the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. While this city is very cycle-friendly, you will need a fair amount of thigh muscle power to tackle its endless hills. Stay in or close to the Bairro Alto neighbourhood, walking distance from the Rua Dom Pedro V, which is where you’ll find a bevy of interesting eateries and bars. Put your name on the list for A Cevicheria, a Peruvian restaurant making the most of Lisbon’s exceptionally fresh seafood (the wait tends to be around one hour but the tuna ceviche with coconut, lime and lemongrass is worth it). To kill time until you get a table, head downhill to the Casa da Praia Tapas Bar & Wine Bar, whose intimate quarters provide an authentic setting for some local wine and a platter of manchego and cured meats. Finally, grab a nightcap at Pavilhão Chinês, an eclectic bar (with a surreptitious front door) where waiters serve cocktails from a charming, storybook-style menu in five connected rooms filled to the rafters with quirky, historic toys; stay just a 5-minute walk from the bar at Casa do Jasmim Boutique Guesthouse.

Aljezur

Take a break from your bike hitting the beaches in Aljezur

Take a break from your bike hitting the beaches in Aljezur

Relish the sea air, sun-drenched scenery and stress-free, rural cycling as you move further south down the coast to Aljezur. Gathered around a 10th-century hilltop fort, this seaside town is known for its beaches and surf culture. Take a break from your bike and head to Praia da Arrifana, one of the three popular beaches nearby. Here, golden sand is bordered by black rocks and purple heather while the grand Pedra da Agula (‘needle rock’) marks the coastline at the southern end of the cove. For enthusiastic surfers (beginners and more experienced), you can try catching some of the Atlantic’s crashing, white-tipped waves at the Arrifana Surf School (located right on the beach) before you set off into Spain. The EuroVelo route transitions into the ‘Ruta Vía de la Plata’ as you cross the border. Stay at Herdade Quinta Natura Turismo Rural, a villa that’s just outside Aljezur and is surrounded by national park.

France

Cycle along France's scenic Atlantic Coast

Cycle along France's scenic Atlantic Coast

The French section of the trail is affectionately known as ‘La Velodyssee’, celebrated for its beautiful beaches and phenomenal food – there’s nothing like a banqueting on oysters, mussels, creamy goats cheese or tender French pastries to fuel a long-distance cycle.

Roscoff

Roscoff's pretty harbour is framed by 16th-century granite houses

Roscoff's pretty harbour is framed by 16th-century granite houses

The little-known fishing village of Roscoff in Brittany is disarmingly pretty. The harbour is framed by delicate, 16th-century granite houses, and is overlooked by the Renaissance clock tower of the Gothic Croas-Batz church. Cycling is part of the village’s identity, thanks to the so-called ‘Johnnies’, local farmers who exported Breton onions to the UK by bicycle, dressed in striped shirts and berets. Follow the ‘circuit du patrimoine’, a walk around the town, or stretch your legs on one of the nearby beaches, where broad stretches of sand are backed by windswept sand dunes. Then head back to town to feast on Breton crêpes and prepare for the next stage of the journey. Wake up to sea views, freshly baked baguette and croissants at Hôtel Aux Tamaris.

Nantes

Visit the whimsical, Gothic masterpiece that is Nantes Cathedral

Visit the whimsical, Gothic masterpiece that is Nantes Cathedral

On the banks of the Loire River, the dynamic city of Nantes has reinvented itself as a cultural centre in recent years. You’ll find a steampunk playground (complete with giant, mechanical elephant à la Moulin Rouge) and other quirky attractions on the Île de Nantes, an island of regenerated shipyard space in the middle of the river. Even if you’re not into sightseeing, a short visit to the whimsical, Gothic masterpiece that is Nantes Cathedral won’t go amiss, with its swirling stained glass windows and high-vaulted ceilings. Chances are you’ll be visiting during summer (when the weather is ideal for cycling), in which case you can also enjoy Le Voyage à Nantes; this street art project leads you through the city following a painted green line (either on foot or on two wheels), taking you from installation to installation across an urban route of around 12km. Soothe your cycling muscles in the sauna at the minimalist Okko Hotels Nantes Château.

La Rochelle

The old harbour and medieval stone towers of La Rochelle

The old harbour and medieval stone towers of La Rochelle

Between Nantes and Bordeaux, the coastal city of La Rochelle is known as La Ville Blanche (‘the white city’) on account of the brilliantly bright, limestone facades of its buildings. Head to the old harbour looking out towards the Bay of Biscay, and set up camp at one of the quayside brasseries to people-watch and admire the medieval stone towers that guard the fishing boats bobbing in the Atlantic. If you head to the south side of the harbour, you’ll be treated to a panorama of the entire town. The city was made carfree in the 1970s, so it’s very pleasant for urban cycling. Visit La Rochelle’s Central Market (Marché Central), dating from 1835 and one of the most quintessentially French markets in the country. Here, you’ll find a variety of local produce, from aromatic saucisson and the freshest of seafood, to gargantuan, sweet strawberries and delightful fruit tarts artfully made by local pâtissiers. Stay just a short walk from the old port in a beautiful stone townhouse, La Maison du Palmier.