Europe’s best cycle rides: France & Italy

Lonely Planet’s recommended cycle rides takes to Megavalanche in France – the world’s longest continuous downhill race – then you can even switchback paradise ascending the iconic Stelvio Pass in Italy, a ride steeped in history.

And if you want to tick off three countries in one go, learn more about the Trans Dinarica Trail which takes you from Slovenia to Croatia and finally to Bosnia & Hercegovina, flirting with the Italian border on its magical route.

The Megavalanche in Alpe d’Huez is the world’s longest continuous downhill race – and arguably the world’s most spectacular race, descending 8,530ft vertically (2,600m) from the glaciated summit of Pic Blanc in the French Alps at over 10,800ft (3,300m) to the valley below. Riders line up for a berserk high-speed mass-start down a snowfield, and those that survive these opening minutes will be in for 12 miles (20km) of technical riding as they compete elbow-to-elbow with around 350 other riders. The best professional riders in the world will be there; qualification takes place a day or two earlier on a separate and shorter course. Do well in your heat and you might find yourself gridded next to one of the sport’s big names come the weekend. Either way, you’ll be in for a few days of intense racing.
Start // Summit of Pic Blanc
Finish // Allemond
Distance // 12 miles (20km)

The Stelvio Pass is the jewel in Italy’s Alpine crown, a 9,045ft (2,757m) jumble of switchbacks in the Ortler range hard near the border with Switzerland. The pass was used as far back as the Bronze Age to get from what is now the Tyrol to Italy, but after the Napoleonic Wars the region fell under the control of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. However, in between the ruling Habsburgs and this new, rebellious territory lay some impenetrable Alps, and in 1820 they began to build a road over them. In only five years, 2000 workers under a master engineer called Carlo Donegani constructed a miracle: the north side, famously, has 48 hairpins, and there are 75 in all. During WWI it marked the westernmost point of the Guerra Bianca, the ‘White War’ in the mountains between Italy and Austria-Hungary, but it is now completely in Italian territory.
Start // Bormio
Finish // Prato
Distance // 27 miles (45km)

Launched in 2017, the Trans Dinarica connects three countries as it follows the Dinaric Alps, which dominate the western half of the Balkan Peninsula and includes several sub-ranges. The trail starts in Slovenia’s Soca Valley, on the southwest edge of Triglav National Park and near the country’s highest peak, Mount Triglav (9,396ft, 2,864m). The route rolls south through the foothills of the Julian Alps along the Italian border until it dips into Croatia and passes through the remote forests of Risnjak National Park. There, it twists and turns through the Velebit Massif and hugs the Adriatic, with its more than 1000 islands, before drifting inland at the Zrmanja River, near the city of Zadar. After passing above the waterfalls of Krka National Park, the path wiggles around Mount Dinara, for which the Dinaric Alps are named, before making its way to the border with Bosnia & Hercegovina.

Lonely Planet’s Epic Bike Rides of Europe is available from RRP £24.99

Reproduced with permission from Lonely Planet © 2020