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Top 7 Islands for Your Summer Biking Retreat

By Martin Atanasov

The summer is here. Finally! As always, it’s time to plan our vacation, and while it’s OK to forget your sunglasses, bathing suit or kids at home, forgetting your bike is simply unforgivable. Thankfully, the Mediterranean is packed with bike-friendly islands with gorgeous beaches, so even if your partner, children or friends are not so eager to spend their vacation days cycling, you can combine your leisure time with some awesome bike rides. Here are our 7 suggestions for bike-friendly islands you should definitely visit.

Sardinia, Italy

Quiet roads, delicious food, breathtaking views, and some pretty lucrative mountains. Did I miss something? Ah, yes, Maldives-like beaches with pink sand and exotic marine flora and fauna. Sardinia is truly one of the best places to spend the summer. There are at least a dozen awesome bike routes for every level and preference. Whether you prefer to have a leisure ride along gorgeous beaches or you are more into hard climbing and enjoying picturesque views from afar, Sardinia has it all. The only precaution you need to take is to avoid the main roads. During summer, there can be quite a bit of traffic, so it’d be best for all if you keep to the quiet sideroads.

Sardinia, one of the jewels of Italy. © Profimedia

Furthermore, they are far more picturesque. Following them, you can go through mediaeval small towns, standing as if frozen in time, marvel at the natural beauty of the great mountain lakes, set foot on the moderately high limestone peaks or take a two-wheeled stroll along vineyards, woods and farms. Finally, you can end the day at one of the many cosy restaurants or pubs, all of which offer top-class meals and cold beer. Well, it’s Italian beer but we all have to make some sacrifices.

Croatia island-hopping

Croatia has always been that hidden place everyone wants to keep for themselves. The result is that everyone goes there, and you can enjoy one truly social biking experience. Even if you go alone, chances are you will end up riding in a group of 5 or more just because you all have the same idea: island-hopping throughout Dalmatia.

Anything we can say about the Croatian sea is not doing it any justice. It’s not often you can see such astounding sunsets where the sun literally dives into the sea. To make things even more mesmerising, there are hundreds of dotted islands across the horizon. It’s simply breathtaking.

If you have enough time, I’d suggest starting your journey from Rijeka, and if you can spare the time, you simply must visit Pula. Both cities have one outstanding vibe, which will quench your thirst for parties and nightlife before you hop on the ferries. Krk, Cres, Brac, Hvar and dozens of other islands with little to no vowels in their name are perfect for exploring by bike with lots to see, even more to experience and let’s not forget delicious food to taste.

Don’t miss out on visiting Split, which is obviously not an island but definitely deserves a day or two of your vacation. Finally, end your tour in Dubrovnik. The city has become a tourist hotspot after becoming King’s Landing in Game of Thrones but still, you can enjoy the city if you avoid the main tourist attractions and just stroll along the picturesque city streets.

Corsica, France

Corsica is much like Sardinia but on steroids. And we should expect nothing less from a place that produced Napoleon. 1,000 kilometres of coastlines, marvellous beaches, which are far less crowded with tourists but just as beautiful as in Sardinia. High mountain peaks with 21 summits above 2,000 m. Corsica has it all. It’s perfect for roadies, awesome for MTB riders, and, most importantly, friendly toward all bike riders. Regardless of your vacation goals, you can enjoy your stay to the fullest. The coastal roads are yours if you want to go from the hotel to any beach on the map without much hassle. You can expect little to no elevation and relatively low traffic.

On the other hand, if you want a real challenge, the mountains, which take 86% of the inner part of the island, await you. Some are not that hard to climb but have jaw-dropping views as a reward. However, some will make you question every decision you’ve made. The island is easily accessible and extraordinarily bike-friendly, so even if you are not the adventurous type, bringing your bike along is a must.

Mallorca, Spain

Cap de Formentor, a demanding and beautiful terrain for cyclist. © Profimedia

If you want to have some fiesta with your bike rides, Mallorca is the perfect place. The flamboyant atmosphere, infused with quality alcohol, late-night parties and a bit wilder experience, contradicts the whole idea of having a bike vacation. Still, if you can find the balance, Mallorca can offer you one unforgettable experience.

Mallorca is the go-to place for almost all UK cyclists for their summer vacation, and in the list of what we can trust the British with, cycling is definitely inside the top 3. The mixture of terrain, predictable temperature and weather, along with the mesmerising views, make Mallorca heaven for all roadies. Traffic is not a problem since the island is heavily populated by cyclists all year round, and the food is to die for. This is the one place where beer won’t be your fuel. Sangria is preferred in these parts, and they know how to mix one.

Mallorca is a perfect place for you if you haven’t done a cycling island vacation so far. It’s a gateway island where you will find the bliss of being part of this community.

Samothraki, Greece

This small island at the northeastern edge of the Aegean sea often remains outside of the radar of most cycling enthusiasts. Well, except for those of us from the Balkans. Here the cosy Greek island is nicknamed adventure island, and for a good reason. Despite being an extremely budget-friendly option, the island definitely delivers on the trifactor all cyclists are looking for – wonderful views, bike-friendly roads and trails, and delicious food. Musaka, Tzatziki, Stifado. All of them. Now.

The only downside is that the transfer will be a bit challenging if you’re not from the Balkans. You need to get to the small port town of Alexandroupolis, which is located in the easternmost part of Greece, to catch the ferry. The closest airport is the one in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Still, it’s at least 3 hours away by car. Once on the island, though, you can enjoy not only biking but kayaking, canyoning and all sorts of extreme sports. If you are looking for a budget-friendly biking destination, Samothraki should definitely be first on your list.

Sicily, Italy

Are you ready for a real challenge? If not, that’s OK. Sicily has a lot to offer, even to beginners. However, if you are looking to test your stamina, endurance and willingness to go the distance, Sicily is definitely the place to go. The biggest Mediterranean island is home to one of the toughest climbs in the world: Catania–Mount Etna. This devastating route is only for the very best. But even if you are not, Sicily offers something for everyone. For beginners and those seeking leisure rides, the southeast part of the island is just for you. For the ones that prefer mixed terrain, the middle and southern regions are yours for exploring. For the ones that are there to push themselves, the whole region around Etna is perfect.

Being in Italy, of course, means a lot of delicious food but that’s taken to the extreme when you are in Sicily. I don’t know if it’s the volcanic ash but the tomatoes there are to die for. The best thing is that the island railway network allows you to have several different experiences during one vacation. Must-sees, except for Mount Etna, which is a given, are the cities of Syracuse, Taormina, Agrigento and, naturally, Palermo and Catania.

If you are looking for a diverse biking vacation where you can blend hard rides, cultural experience, leisure time, delicious food, and so many cannolis, you should already be looking for places to stay in Sicily.

Ionian Islands

If you are looking for a place where you can ride hundreds of miles and still gain weight, then the Ionian Island in Greece is the perfect place for you. The food there is so delicious and the portions are so big that it’s simply impossible to burn all the calories, even if you are non-stop on your bike.

Going there is outstandingly easy. You can take a flight to Kerkyra (Corfu), Kefalonia or Zakynthos. I, however, suggest starting your journey from Corfu. The island has enough picturesque places to spend an entire week, and you still won’t be able to see everything. The main road is rather busy, so it’s better to avoid it. The small roads that cut through the island are nothing but magical. They will take you to some mesmerising views and beaches that you’d want to spend your entire year on. This island is for explorers who want to find hidden gems and enjoy coy and secluded beaches.

Your next stop is Lefkada. The small island is some 100 km away, and you can either ride there through the continental part, which will offer you one truly spectacular view throughout the journey, or hop on a ferry. Lefkada has some astonishing natural wonders. The terrain is much more mountainous, and going from one part of the island to the other will always take you to some high elevation.

Kefalonia is the same but has many more tourist attractions. Argostoli is a must-visit. There you can see sea turtles that act much like dogs. They follow people until you throw them some food and are genuinely curious when they see a tourist.

Finally, you should end your trip on Zakynthos where the terrain, although mixed, has a much lower elevation than Kefalonia. The best part is that Zakynthos is the party capital of the Ionian islands, so your vacation will have one memorable ending. Well, “memorable” depends on your party goals, most of all.

The whole trip is one non-stop adventure where you will enjoy picturesque views, a variety of riding options, a lot of cultural and natural landmarks and most of all, the food. Oh my God, the food. I’m still dreaming of it.

So, have you planned your trip yet? The Mediterranean has excellent choices for your summer vacation regardless of your riding style, terrain preferences and cycling goals. Now, all you need is to find a good enough reason to quit your job and spend the whole summer hopping from one island to the next.