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Nell Nelson cycles through France. The former editor of Hong Kong-based Asian Home Gourmet has just embarked on EuroVelo 8, part of an expansive network of cycling routes that criss-cross Europe. Photo: Nell Nelson

Cycling in Europe: 90,000km EuroVelo network and its 17 mapped routes has something to satisfy a wide range of interests

  • The EuroVelo networks threads its way up, down and around Europe, turning the continent into an expansive adventure playground for cyclists
  • A former Hong Kong editor has embarked on EuroVelo 8, from Spain to Turkey, with the aim of compiling a book of recipes discovered along the way

In 2022, when Nell Nelson was told she was suffering from osteoarthritis, she asked what would be the best remedy short of a knee replacement.

“Cycling and the Mediterranean diet,” her doctor replied.

Which is why the former editor of Hong Kong-based Asian Home Gourmet is currently pedalling her way from Spain to Turkey along EuroVelo 8, one of 17 such routes that thread their way for about 90,000km (56,000 miles) up, down and around the European continent, turning it into a single, expansive, two-wheeled adventure playground.

Nelson is but one of thousands of cycling aficionados who will be tackling a EuroVelo route this year.

Nelson fuels up as she cycles through France. Photo: Nell Nelson

Launched in 1997, the network runs from the frigid wastes of northern Scandinavia to the balmy shores of southern Portugal.

EuroVelo 6 stretches east-west, linking the Atlantic Ocean and the Black Sea. EuroVelo 10 circles the Baltic, while the Pilgrims Route (EV3) takes in magnificent cathedral cities such as Cologne and Aachen, both in Germany, and ends at Santiago de Compostela, Spain.

Touring bikes are recommended for all the routes, which are increasingly well signposted and mapped on downloadable GPX files provided free by EuroVelo.

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Camping is the preferred overnight option of many, although there is no shortage of accommodation – and places to eat – beside the busier routes.

“I’m taking my tent and my credit card, so I can sleep in a bed or under the stars,” says Nelson, who, having spent seven months in 2003 cycling from Hong Kong to Sydney, Australia, is undaunted by EuroVelo 8’s 7,560km.

“I will be riding in stages, as I need to keep an eye on my tour business, Edinburgh Food Safari. I’ll also be posting food photos on Instagram, as I plan to compile a recipe book once I’m finished,” she adds.

EuroVelo 6 follows three major rivers – the Loire, the Rhine (pictured) and the Danube – for much of the way. Photo: Getty Images

Various claims have been made as to who invented the bicycle, ranging from Baron Karl von Drais’ “running machine”, which he first showed off riding from Mannheim, Germany, in 1817, to Kirkpatrick Macmillan’s mechanically propelled “velocipede”, which made its debut in Scotland in 1839.

But it seems indisputable that Europe was the cradle of the bicycle, and it’s fitting that it should be the one continent on Earth with a highly developed and growing network aimed at two-wheelers.

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“I spent over two months in Europe in 2022 cycling all over Germany, France, Belgium and Holland,” says adventurer Chung Kin-man, one of a select band of Hongkongers to have summited Mount Everest and who has since trekked to both North and South poles.

“Europe is much more attuned to cycling, and on a bike you can absorb more, and take a deeper look, whereas in a car or a bus you are going too fast to really appreciate what you see.

“EuroVelo makes touring so much easier. You can just go at your own pace, and there is culture and natural beauty almost everywhere you go. I really want to go back, and have my sights set on the Czech Republic next.”

Adventurer Chung Kin-man cycling in Namur, Belgium. Photo: Chung Kin-man

EuroVelo was put together by a coterie of enthusiasts headed by avid Danish cyclist Jens Erik Larsen, who first conceived their plan back in 1994, and it operates under the auspices of the European Cyclists’ Federation.

While one of its prime aims was to link up national cycling routes across the continent and boost tourism, it was also at the vanguard of the push for sustainability, advocating for changes in national policies and practice.

“Our final vision for EuroVelo is for a fully developed and high-quality network, well-connected to national, regional and local routes and other sustainable modes of transport,” says EuroVelo’s Eulalie Ollivier.

“In time, this should spur an increase in everyday cycling and cycling tourism, in line with our vision to improve cycling across the whole of Europe.”

EuroVelo 13, also known as the Iron Curtain Trail, passes along the Elbe river in Germany, near the town of Lenzen. Photo: Getty Images

While there are 17 routes at present – numbered 1 to 19, with 16 and 18 still to be designated – the focus over the next decade will be on improving the quality of the network, rather than lengthening it.

To that end, EuroVelo will concentrate on installing better and more extensive signage and arranging for contractors to improve trails.

One of EuroVelo’s greatest attributes remains its variety, with something to offer all levels of cyclist, whether they want to pop out for a day’s pedal or embark on a months-long odyssey.

Many EuroVelo cyclists bring tents so that they can camp along the route. Photo: Getty Images

Riding from the Atlantic to the Black Sea is an automatic choice for marathon cyclists. Just short of 5,000km, it takes in 10 countries, follows three major rivers – the Loire, the Rhine and the Danube – for much of the way, is generally flat and enjoys top-quality infrastructure.

History buffs tend to plump for EuroVelo 2, which covers some of Europe’s great capital cities, including Dublin, Berlin and Warsaw, although the Iron Curtain Trail (EV13) – which is hilariously described in Tim Moore’s travelogue The Cyclist Who Went Out In the Cold (2017) – also appeals to the more adventurous.

And for families, the top option is EV15, which meanders alongside the River Rhine for 1,500km, from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea, passing through four countries and some stupendous scenery.