Europe’s new cycling capitals

Rachel Howard for British Airways High Life magazine

Photography by Coberschneider/Getty

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July 2016

Copenhagen and Amsterdam are the tried-and-tested utopias, but there are also some less likely European cities rolling out bike share schemes and cycle lanes to encourage two-wheeled travel. Here are six destinations turning their cycling offerings up a gear.

Seville, Spain

Like many European cities, Seville’s narrow streets were designed for horse-drawn traffic. Residents still take siestas in the sultry, laidback capital of Andalucia – but that means four rush hours a day. To get people moving, the city has created a 120-kilometre network of cycle paths looping through and around the charming Old town. The two-way lanes are separated by a raised kerb, which makes Seville very safe for cycling. You won’t find many cyclists breaking a sweat in this mercifully flat city, where the average year-round temperature is 18°C. There are 2,500 bikes available through Seville’s municipal bike hire scheme, Sevici.

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  • A view of the Plaza de España in Seville at dusk. © David Soanes Photography/Getty

    Two wheels good

    Bikes are available to rent from 250 stations around Seville, as part of the Sevici public cycle scheme. The first 30 minutes are free, the next hour is €1, and you’ll pay €2 for every hour after that.

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Milan, Italy

Italy’s economic powerhouse might be better known for Vespas when it comes to two-wheeled travel, but the city is attempting to make its roads friendly for cyclists in a bid to cut down pollution levels. Milan’s bicycle lanes were recently improved and extended ahead of the 2015 Expo and its cycle share scheme, BikeMi, has 280 stations holding more than 4,500 bikes scattered around the city.

Ghisallo con Valbrona is a trail that’s almost as legendary as da Vinci’s The Last Supper – the path takes die-hard riders past ancient monasteries and lofty villages to the sacred grounds of the Santuario della Madonna Del Ghisallo

If you’re feeling energetic, follow in the tracks of the Giro D’Italia riders (Italy’s answer to the Tour de France) on the 87.2-mile Ghisallo con Valbrona. A trail that’s almost as legendary as da Vinci’s The Last Supper, the path takes die-hard riders past ancient monasteries and lofty villages to the sacred grounds of the Santuario della Madonna Del Ghisallo – home to a mountain-top bike museum and shrine dedicated to patroness of cyclists. Sound tough? Join the Critical Mass movement’s spontaneous bike tour that starts from Piazza Duomo in the city every Thursday night at 22:00 instead.

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Rhodes, Greece

On the Greek island of Rhodes, bike share docks are dotted around the medieval old town, with cycle routes running alongside the fortified castle walls. It’s a fairly steep climb up to the ancient temple and stadium on Monte Smith hill, or along the coast and up through the forest to Filerimos monastery, but the view across western Rhodes is well worth the legwork. Cyclopolis, Greece’s first bike share company, plans to roll out more stations at local resorts, and launched a bike share service in the Cretan port of Chania in September 2015. The first three hours are free and then chargeable at €1 per hour after.

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  • A couple take in the views while mountain biking in the the Canary Islands © Westend61 GmbH / Alamy

    Passing acquaintance

    Christopher Columbus stopped off at Las Palmas, Gran Canaria’s capital, in 1492, on his way back from America. The house where he stayed, Casa de Colón, is now a museum.

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  • A cross at the Kira tou Filerimou monastery on the Greek island of Rhodes © Oleg Korotkov / 123RF

    Quiet time

    The monastery of Kira tou Filerimou (Our Lady of Filerimos) was built in the 14th century by a wealthy knight, who lived there as a hermit. The name ‘Filerimos’ means ‘he who loves solitude’.

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  • Alpine views are camera ready in Zurich © Westend61/Getty

    Easy rider

    In Zurich, city bikes, e-bikes and children’s bikes can all be hired for free. Visit Bike Station North (at the Swiss National Museum) or Bike Station South (at the Postbrücke) with your ID and a deposit of CHF 20 (£15) to collect your cycle.

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Zurich, Switzerland

It might not make any top ten cycling-friendly cities lists (yet), but Zurich has big plans to encourage its citizens – two thirds of who own a bicycle – to start free-wheeling more. The city council’s Bicycle Masterplan will see the introduction of a 97km cycling network – more than 50 per cent of which will be safely separated from car traffic – by 2025. In the meantime, download the free ZuriPlan cycle route planner app and take advantage of Zurich’s free bike share scheme and the city’s camera-ready landscapes of lakes. With a flat terrain and plenty of cafés dotted around its perimeter, the Greifensee Lake loop is perfect for active families.

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Gran Canaria, Spain

The Canary island’s mountainous terrain (it goes from sea level to mountain within five minutes of riding) and year-round moderate temperature of 18-24°C makes it ideal for riders seeking challenging hill climbs – no wonder it’s been used as the winter training grounds for Tour de France team Tinkoff-Saxo. The little-travelled mountain roads have almost non-existent traffic to boot – Raymond Leddy of Cycle Gran Canaria describes them as ‘almost F1 quality.’ See it for yourself: cycle east along the snaking coastline between Puerto de Mogan and Maspalomas before ascending inland towards Fataga. You’ll pass a striking landscape of deep ravines and pine-tree lined bends on the way up to Ayacata – where you can refuel at Candelilla bar, before making the descent back to Mogan.

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  • People riding bicycles in the mirror fountain in front of Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, France

Bordeaux, France

With more than 200km of cycling paths, the wine capital of southwest France has been crowned the fourth most bicycle friendly city in the world by a recent Danish study – putting it only a few spots behind Amsterdam and Copenhagen. You can rent a VCub bike for 24 hours for just €1.50. The entire, honey-coloured city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Freewheel along the 4km path on the banks of the Garonne River and then cool off in the ‘water mirror’ – a rhythmic fountain that reflects the magnificent 18th-century Palais de la Bourse. When you need to slow down a gear, there’s an excellent and inexpensive wine bar on virtually every corner.

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