7 Destination Pubs In South Wales
This article was written by Zeneba Bowers and Matt Walker and originally appeared on their blog, littleroadseurope.com.
If someone asked you to think about great cuisine and traditional culinary culture, which foods would you think of first? Italian, French, Vietnamese, Indian? Many come to mind. We're here to offer an unexpected alternative: Welsh. Specifically, South Wales. It is a magical country with sweeping farmlands, forested hills, and beautiful rocky coastlines. Everywhere the countryside is covered with crop fields, or dotted with flocks of sheep and dairy cows. With so many farms of all types of production, it is easy to eat fare that is fresh, local, organic and delicious. And in recent years there has been a surge in Welsh gastro-pub culture, as more and more diners crave a food experience that is seasonal, locally sourced, and memorable. Here's our list of seven fine pubs in south Wales, plus, we've paired each with a nearby site of scenic or historic interest.
The Plough and Harrow & Old Beaupre Castle
In tiny Monknash you'll find the award-winning pub The Plough and Harrow. For centuries the town was a farm managed by the monks of the Cistercian abbey at Neath. The Plough, with its Tudor doors, beamed ceilings, and open log fires, is reputedly haunted with good reason: centuries ago one part of the room (now the dartboard wall) was reportedly used to house shipwrecked bodies. Today it's an excellent pub, with many unusual local hard ciders and ales on tap, a new menu every day, open log fires, and delicious handmade food. Don't miss the sticky toffee pudding.
Nearby is the quaint market town of Cowbridge, which has the highest concentration of independent boutiques and stores in South Wales. Just outside Cowbridge you'll find a sign for the Old Beaupre Castle and a small turnoff. The castle is reachable only by foot through a few fields following the River Thaw. Beaupre was built in medieval times, around 1300, but renovated considerably in the 16th century. It was at this latter time that a Renaissance porch was added, the only one of its kind in Wales. It's more of a mansion than a castle and entry is free.
The Old Sailor's Pub & Tregwynt Woolen Mill
Pwllgwaelod (best of luck pronouncing that!) consists of two buildings: The Old Sailor's Pub, and a house next door. The pub is just steps away from a gorgeous sand beach flanked by cliffs, which make for a great walk either before or after lunch. The building was a makeshift lighthouse before it was a pub and has stood here for more than 500 years. Local lore says Dylan Thomas visited here as well. Food is not fancy here, just local and fresh.
Nearby you'll find the Melin Tregwynt Mill, in the tiny town of Castlemorris. Powered by a nameless but mighty stream flowing from the hills, this mill has been in operation since the 1700s and one of its old, giant waterwheels is on display in the main building. This was historically a very important place for the region, being where the local farmers would bring their fleece to be spun into wool yarn. Today the operation makes its own woven cloth as well as selling its yarn—the shop here sells many knit and weave items made from their product, most notably their cozy Welsh wool blankets.
The Dolaucothi Arms & Talley Abbey
This excellent gastro-pub is set deep in the countryside in the tiny hamlet of Pumsaint. The owners used to live in Bristol, but decided to move to Pumsaint to refocus their energy on the quiet life, focusing on great Welsh beer, cider, and food in the countryside. It's been a rousing success, by our assessment. Everything is made in house including the bread. In the corner of the dining room you'll find the 'shop,' a wooden cabinet filled with housemade pickles, jams, jellies, and chutneys, all available for purchase.
Just up the road you'll find the Five Saints Stone, which may be an ancient burial site; the legend goes that a sorcerer attacked five men, resulting in their heads leaving dents in this rock. Perhaps slightly more likely is that it was a stone used by the Romans in the mining process nearby. The day we visited, the family that lives in the house across the street happened to come home while we were there. We asked if they often had visitors, and they said yes, especially around pagan holidays. They said they like to set up lawn chairs to watch the action, stating it was "better than the telly."
Nearby you'll find the beautiful ruins of Talley Abbey, the site of a cautionary tale about two rival sects of monks. Established in the late 12th century by a Premonstratensian sect, the abbey was at first quite prosperous, but its success drew the attention of some local Cistercian monks who tried to take over the property by means of the legal courts. After nine years of lawsuits, the Premonstratensians prevailed, but all the litigation left them broke. Today it is a peaceful ruin set in the idyllic Welsh countryside.
The Plough & Carreg Cennen Castle
The Plough in Rhosmaen is a very popular restaurant in the area, and serves high quality seasonal food. It's also a very nice hotel. Make sure you have a reservation on weekend nights as this is a popular place to go for a special meal or a fancy evening out. Service is fairly formal: expect one person to take your order, another to serve wine, another to deliver food, and others to clear plates.
Nearby you'll find the ruins of Carreg Cennen Castle, built in the 13th century on a remote rocky crag overlooking a wide expanse of farmland and wilderness south of Llandeilo. Though it was an effective stronghold due to its location and surrounding cliffs, the castle was deliberately demolished in 1462 to prevent it from becoming a haven for bandits. Today, instead, it's a haven for longhorn cattle, excellent birdwatching, and incredible views.
The Raglan Arms & Raglan Castle
This excellent, award-winning gastro-pub sources local foods and puts a new spin on traditional Welsh dishes. The atmosphere is upscale and clubby, and the food was local, handmade, and presented in high style. Most dishes are served on slabs of local slate.
Nearby you'll find Raglan Castle, one of the most impressive castle ruins in eastern Wales. Built in the mid-1430s, it was a strategic hilltop fortification, surrounded at the time by game forest and farmlands. Its most noticeable feature greets visitors as soon as they arrive: hexagonal towers, including two over the main gate and one large guard tower surrounded by a moat. Cross-shaped arrow slits adorn the sides of the towers. The castle was not just a military outpost but also a lord's manor; the rooms include a great dining hall and extensive kitchen facilities as well as various residence spaces. Different coats-of-arms can be seen throughout the castle, carved into the stone walls and archways, the last marks of ancient and powerful families that once called this castle home.
Y Polyn Pub & Llandeilo
Y Polyn is a happy surprise in the middle of rural South Wales and is a destination gastro-pub for diners from all over the area. The atmosphere is clean, cozy and modern, but still relaxed. Nearly everything is made in house, including the bread. Food is of the highest quality and very beautifully presented, and all locally sourced. Situated deep in the countryside, the gorgeous drive to the pub is an experience in itself.
Nearby you'll find Wright's Emporium, a combination cafe/farm shop specializing in artisanal foods. Here you'll find a cold case full of imported Spanish hams and olives, a huge selection of specialty chocolates and cakes, local cheeses, crackers and cider, and spices, including many varieties of Welsh salts.
Just a short drive away you'll find the cute market town of Llandeilo. Just outside town you'll find Dinefwr Park and Castle, featuring the ruins of Dinefwr Castle, the Edwardian era Newton House, a large parkland, and the park's famous ancient tall trees. The foodie visitor won't want to miss Heavenly Chocolates, an artisanal chocolate shop found in the old town, offering upscale chocolate and handmade ice cream. Across the street from Heavenly Chocolates you'll find Crafts Alive, a cooperative of dozens of local artists offering locally made ceramics, ironworks, knits, paintings, and jewelry.
The Charlton Arms & Ludlow
Though Ludlow is now in England, we include it in this list because of its history of being part of the Welsh marches and its proximity to Wales. The Charlton Arms, an excellent pub and hotel, is located by the ancient Ludford Bridge in the market castle town of Ludlow. The chef likes to experiment with different spices and flavors, so though the menu has many traditional options it also has more modern ones like a Sesame Chili Beef Salad. The food, while it is very traditional pub food, is also made with seasonal ingredients and local produce when possible. In winter there's an open log fire, and the pub boasts beautiful views of the river and town.
Ludlow town grew up around its castle, one of a series of fortifications on the Welsh Marches—that area forming the historical border between England and Wales. The castle and supporting walled town were finished by 1233, and served as an excellent point of defense for centuries. In 1501 Prince Arthur honeymooned here—and soon thereafter died here—after his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. (Arthur's older brother later married Arthur's widow and eventually became King Henry VIII.)
Established during the same time period as the castle, the parish church dominates Ludlow in some ways more than the castle does. Healthy visitors can buy a ticket to climb the 200 winding spiral steps to the top to survey the countryside and look down upon the tourists clustered on the castle tower across town.
9 Best Budget Eats in Milan, Italy
For some, the highlight of a trip to Milan is viewing Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper. But for the food-obsessed, a visit here revolves around eating supper (and breakfast and lunch, too). In a country revered for gastronomic treasures, Milan's culinary abundance stands tall. Best known for fashion and finance, this chic, sleek, and efficient Northern Italian city will tantalize your taste buds at every turn. History and geography are on its side. Milan is located in the Po Valley, surrounded by fertile pastures and prolific rice fields, which translates to your plate with luxuriously rich cheese and butter, plus the risotto of your dreams. Centuries of foreign conquerors have left their mark with an open-minded food scene and authentic ethnic cuisine. While posh Milan isn't exactly known for bargains, you won't need to break the bank to eat like a king. Here are nine tasty ways to indulge your appetite on a budget. Aperitivo Best place to try it: Radetsky, Corso Garibaldi 105 Sipping a pre-dinner drink is popular with Milan's trendsetters. Many bars offer a plentiful buffet included in the price of your drink for around 8 euros. You'll spy tables laden with pizza, pasta, rice salad, roasted veggies, sausage, and cheese. While residents tend to nibble daintily, forge ahead and fill your plate with prime morsels that can substitute for a light dinner. Eat in a Neighborhood Trattoria Best place to try it: Il Caminetto, Via Felice Casati 22 Milan's Northern agricultural traditions have little in common with Southern Italy's red sauces and olive oil. If you don't have an Italian Mama, eating in a neighborhood trattoria is the next best thing. These frugal, family-run establishments make everything from scratch, which translates into low prices and home-cooked flavors. You'll sample rich traditional dishes and receive a warm welcome from owner Clara when you dine at Il Caminetto. The Cotoletta alla Milanese, a breaded bone-in veal cutlet cooked in butter, is crisp and greaseless. Boldly yellow Risotto alla Milanese stars short-grained carnaroli rice cooked with precious saffron threads and enriched with butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Coffee Best place to try it: Motta Caffe, Piazza Duomo In Italy, coffee is not just a beverage, it's a way of life. Savor a morning cappuccino under the shadow of the freshly restored Gothic Duomo at Motta. Pair it with a fortifying brioche filled with jam or chocolate, perfect for dunking in your foamy beverage. You'll have a breakfast bargain for a few euros, with the most dazzling view in town. Burgers Best place to try it: Quality Beef, Trattoria Della Carne, Viale Pasubio 8 We're not suggesting fast food when you're in the Slow Food capital of the world. Burgers are trendy in Milan and there's nothing fast about the way this lean and luscious source of protein is eaten. Quality Beef, Trattoria Della Carne turns a simple burger into an elevated dining experience. This bastion of beef serves a dressed-up hamburger with pitch-perfect sides that will satisfy your carnivore cravings without making a big dent in your wallet. Pack a Picnic Best place to purchase yummy supplies: Peck, Via Spadari 9 Peck is a Milan institution and a temple of edible treats. Gourmets will go gaga for its three floors of elegantly presented cheese, charcuterie and eye-catching prepared foods. Select regal eats for an al fresco picnic in nearby Parco Sempione. Choose a leafy spot in the shadow of Milan's imposing castle, Castello Sforzesco and nosh away. Pizza Best place to try it: La Balena, Via Borsieri 28 Naples is the undisputed king of pizza, but Milan makes a noble effort. At La Balena in the Isola neighborhood, you'll enjoy a no-nonsense individual pie accompanied by an icy draught beer (birra alla spina). If you want a quick slice on the go, try the small chain Princi's delicate zucchini blossom variety. The pizza isn't pre-sliced, so you can ask for just the right size to tide you over until the next meal. Gelato Best place to try it: Il Massimo Del Gelato, Via Lodovico Castelvetro 18 Italians are passionate when it comes to this frozen treat and the Milanese are no exception. Chocoholics should try a refreshing scoop at Il Massimo Del Gelato, where ten variations of chocolate are served. This city has no shortage of gelaterie, just be sure and look for the words prodotto artigianale and you'll know that it's freshly made. Sandwich or Panino Best place to try it: Panino Giusto, multiple locations Don't think we're suggesting you eat peanut butter and jelly. Milan takes it up a notch with photo-worthy sandwiches filled with quality cheeses, meats and salads piled on crusty bread and eaten hot off the press. Give one of Panino Giusto's outposts a try. One bite and you'll understand why this small chain is packing them in at lunchtime. Chinese Best place to try it: Jubin, Via Paolo Sarpi 11 While Italians may have the cultural claim on pasta, most food historians believe it was actually brought to Italy from Asia by Marco Polo. It seems fitting that Asian eateries are flooding this city and savvy foodies head straight to Chinatown. It's main thoroughfare, Via Paolo Sarpi, is car-free, so you can hop on your BikeMi bike share and pedal over to your feast. You can choose from dozens of authentic Chinese options, but unassuming Jubin is a top pick thanks to its quality ingredients and low prices. This article was written by Allison Tibaldi, a native New Yorker who has lived in Rome, Tuscany, Melbourne, Toronto, and Los Angeles. She is fluent in Italian and Spanish and laughably adequate in French. When she's not traveling, she's scouring NYC for delectable eats. As a freelance travel writer, she focuses on family, culinary, and car-free travel. She's also a senior travel writer at offMetro.com.
18 Great Places to Go Camping
When it comes to getting up close and personal with nature, Budget Travel editors know the spots where you'll find elbow room, nightly lodging for under $30, and North America's most beautiful flora and fauna. This morning, Budget Travel's President and Publisher Elaine Alimonti appeared on the Weather Channel's AMHQ with Sam Champion to share these best-ever campsite recommendations. Here, some off-the-radar faves, surprising East Coast campsites, family-friendly outdoor spots, and places that are perfect for the adventurous camper. SEE 27 CAMPING LOCATIONS BUDGET TRAVEL READERS LOVE TOP 3 OFF-THE-RADAR CAMPING LOCATIONS: Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia. Take one look at Blackwater Falls and you'll see why it's one of the most photographed places in West Virginia: Five stories of amber-colored water gets its signature hue from the hemlock and red spruce needles of the forest. You'll find 20 miles of hiking trails, trout fishing, and if you need a dose of civilization, the park is also home to a lodge and an excellent restaurant. Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. If you think they go big in Vegas, head an hour northeast to Nevada's biggest state park, which boasts its own show: Stunning, 150-million-year-old sandstone formations that give the park its name; and 3,000-year-old petroglyphs carved into the rock by the region's original inhabitants. When it comes to getting away from it all, well, Valley of Fire has stood in for Mars in Hollywood movies. Ruckle Park on Salt Spring Island, British Columbia. The Gulf Islands in British Columbia are some of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, just north of the border with Washington State. Ruckle Park offers miles of shoreline, towering headlands, and gorgeous coves and bays where you can camp with a spectacular view right outside your tent. The terrain is a perfect blend of forest, grassy fields, and shore, where you can hike or cycle the miles of trailhead, or kayak along the beach. (Keep an eye out for sea lions, killer whales, and adorable otters.) TOP 5 EAST COAST CAMPING LOCATIONS: Mount Desert Island, Maine. Pitch your tent where the mountains meet the sea in coastal Maine, this island is also home to beautiful Acadia National Park. Salisbury Beach State Park, Massachusetts. Yes, a public beach on the Massachusetts coast where you can camp and enjoy the legendary surf and sand. Eagle Point, New York. On the western shore of upstate New York's Schroon Lake, this is that rare East Coast getaway that makes you feel like you're in the wilderness, but still close to great food and amenities. Hershey Park Camping Resort. Some people consider this America's finest campsite for convenience and fun. Its proximity to chocolate (at Hershey Park) may be a factor. Huntington Beach State Park, South Carolina. Add some art to your camping adventure here, with the spectacular Brookgreen Gardens sculpture collection nearby, and cast a line at one of the Southeast's finest surf-fishing beaches. TOP 5 FAMILY OUTDOOR SPOTS: Anastasia State Park, St. Augustine, Florida. A perfect stretch of beach, tidal marsh, and opportunities for cycling, hiking, and canoeing make this an all-in-one camping spot. First Landing State Park, Virginia. Add a little history to your Virginia Beach getaway here, where European colonists first landed in Virginia. Fort Robinson State Park, Crawford, Nebraska. Kids will love the old west history, buffalo, and longhorns here, not to mention thousands of acres of parkland to explore. Glacier National Park, Montana. Meet mountain goats up close (but stay a few feet away from those horns) at the Continental Divide, and ogle sky-high mountains that contain some of the lower 48's only remaining ice age glaciers. Mount Hood Village, Oregon. Camp in the shadow of gorgeous Mount Hood and explore Oregon's rich forests and tasty food scene at one of the West Coast's finest campsites. TOP 5 ADVENTURE DESTINATIONS: Mount Washington State Park, New Hampshire. Climbing Mount Washington is near the top of many adventurers' bucket lists. Dress for all four seasons and bring water - the weather changes dramatically, which is all part of the fun if you're prepared. Everglades National Park, Florida. Amazing opportunities for drive-in camping or backcountry for the truly adventurous. A great way to explore the waterways and wildlife of this iconic park without breaking the bank. Big Bend National Park, Texas. A hidden gem on the Texas-Mexico border, we love the beautiful canyons and spectacular vistas this lesser-known park offers. Lake Powell, Arizona. The seemingly endless shoreline of Lake Powell is no secret to Westerners, and presents opportunities to take on just about any watersport challenge. Pfeiffer State Park, California. Hiking trails through the forest and purple-hued sand on the beach make this a magnet on the Central Coast, but many people don't know you can book a yurt (essentially a big, fancy tent) for a "glamping" experience like no other in the U.S.
8 Reasons To Try Traveling Solo
According to an article by The New York Times, 24 percent of people traveled solo on their last vacation, up from last year's 15 percent. More and more people, of all different ages and backgrounds, whether single or in relationships, are saying yes to adventure and letting nothing stand in their way. I'm proud to say I'm one of them. It started small—a weekend in Washington D.C. by myself back in 2011 because I wanted to see the cherry blossoms and no one else was able to join me at the time—and has resulted in some of my most memorable trips: a solo trip to Paris and the beaches of Normandy this time last year for the 70th anniversary of D-Day, a solo road trip through the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota, and more recently, a solo road trip adventure through Southern Utah and Northern Arizona. We've talked about solo travel before: you've shared your favorite solo travel adventures with us, and we've shared advice from our favorite solo travel experts. Now, I'm sharing my own tips with the hope that they might inspire those of you who are thinking of hitting the open road alone to take the first step. Chances are you won't regret it. Here's why. The freedom is intoxicating Have you ever been on a trip where someone else is calling all the shots, directing you around from place to place, and giving you only a limited amount of time to explore the things that you're really interested in seeing? Kiss all that frustration goodbye! On a solo trip, you are in charge of your own destiny. What do you really want to see? Where do you want to eat dinner? Would you rather stay in a fancy hotel or chill out in that cozy looking hostel you spotted on your way into town? It's all up to you to do as much (or as little!) as you want each day, so take it easy and focus on why you wanted to be there in the first place. It's surprisingly easy to meet new people Having your own space and independence is great, but there comes a time during every solo trip when you just want to interact with people again. For me, it usually happens at the end of a long day around dinner time. I've learned that it's way more fun to sit at the bar (instead of at your own table in a restaurant) and let the people come to you. Usually a prop like a book or a map full of circled spots you can't wait to check out will do the trick. People are naturally curious and will probably ask you about your plans, where you've been so far, and in my experience, offer funny stories or suggestions about where I should head next. I've had some amazing conversations, made new friends, and even went bar-hopping with a South Dakota rancher and his cowgirl girlfriend once while I was in Deadwood all because we'd been chatting about rock and roll music and they decided to show me around town—all things I probably never would have experienced had I been traveling with a friend and talking to her the entire time. You get to choose your own adventure Use this uninterrupted time wisely. Do things you're interested in, however silly or dorky your friends and family might have said they are, because guess what, they're not here to tease you about it. Pull over and take a silly photo with the giant smiling ear of corn on the side of the road if you want to. Stop at every sign along Scenic Byway 12 in Utah that says "scenic overlook" because there's no one there to tell you not to and every view is amazing. This is your adventure after all, so go for it. Or if you feel like you need a day off from all the sightseeing and want nothing more than to veg out in a pretty park in the middle of Madrid for the day, make it happen. It's a rare chance to unplug and be in the moment You're probably going to hate me for saying this, but if you want to really experience a place, you need to unplug and just be there. I always carry my iPhone when I travel but only use it for taking photos. I purposely carry a paper map at all times because wacky technology problems always have a way of finding me, especially when I'm abroad, and I've learned not to rely on a sometimes-faulty GPS. That being said, as long as you have a basic idea of where you're going, wandering aimlessly around town can also be an incredibly enriching experience, especially when you stumble upon random events like free rock concerts and opera performances in Plaza Mayor or movie premiere parties in Times Square. Not everyone is out to get you It can be a little unnerving at first, especially when you're traveling by yourself, but don't be afraid to talk to the people around you. You might up meeting someone who could change your life, or at the very least you'll have fun swapping crazy travel stories for a while. It's important to follow your gut when it comes to your own personal safety, but also to remember that not everyone is out to get you. Believe it or not, people are curious about other people and it's amazing to see how similar we all are despite our different cultures and the places we come from. Everyone on earth worries about their kids, hates getting stuck in traffic, and wonders where life will take them. Embrace it. It's a great way to blend in with the locals I've been to Paris a few times now, usually with a group, but occasionally by myself. There's nothing like donning a black and white striped dress, smart black trench coat, your favorite comfy pair of boots, and that cute little red hat you picked up on a whim, and strutting your supposedly French self on the swanky streets of Paris. It was really fun to blend in with the crowds as much as possible and get smiles from the locals. A lot of times, people would start speaking French to me—including some American tourists who stopped and asked me to take photos of them, in French. I entered French shops and restaurants and greeted people with a hearty "Bonjour, Madame! Bonjour, Monsieur!" just like I saw the locals doing. Most people would immediately start chatting and after I reached the threshhold of my tourist-level French, I'd politely smile and reveal that I really didn't speak too much of the language. In response, I'd usually get a chuckle, a smile, and a confession from my new friend that their English was not so great either, to which I always said, "No, no, that's okay. My French is worse." They loved that one. You'll get to know a new place from the inside out I love taking public transportation and staying in Airbnb apartments when traveling solo so I can get a sense of what it's really like to live in a place. I've done this so far in Milan, Madrid, and Venice Beach in California. I stayed in each place for under $100 a night in the city center and my hosts gave me amazing suggestions for places to check out that only the locals know about. It's a nice change of pace to wake up to the sounds of a real neighborhood and be able to prepare a quick meal or do last-minute laundry in the apartment if I need to—just remember to leave an extra day for your clothes to dry on the line as most European homes don't have dryers. You can always join a group tour if you want to If you're more of a social butterfly or are starting to miss interacting with people on a daily basis, consider staying in a hostel, where you have the option to book a bunk or your own private room for less. Generator Hostels in Europe are built to feel more like an artsy boutique hotel than your average hostel. I've stayed at Generator London and Generator Barcelona so far, but they're also in Paris, Copenhagen, Dublin, Berlin, Hamburg, Venice, and Rome. The best part? Access to movie nights, game nights, free concerts, tapas tastings, bar crawls, and other events to help you get to know your fellow travelers. Thanks to sites like MeetUp and others like Zerve and Viator that specialize in group walking tours and other local adventures, you're never too far from a night on the town within the safety of a group should you feel the need. If you're looking for a longer guided trip but still want to do your own thing, check out tour companies like Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, and Contiki (if you're between the ages of 18-35), as they will pair you up with a roommate of the same sex and never charge extra single supplement fees for traveling solo.
9 Tips For Your First Overseas Cycling Tour
This article was written by Jim Johnson, president and founder of BikeToursDirect. If you're looking for a new and exciting way to travel overseas, an increasing number of travelers are forgoing traditional bus- and train-based tours in favor of tours by bike. More and more travelers are finding great options to ease into adventure travel with bike tours that offer riding distances for every ability, easy-to-follow routes, and a variety of budget-friendly itineraries. Here are a few tips to consider if you're thinking about taking your first bicycle tour. Decide whether you prefer riding with a guide and a group or more on your own Guided and self-guided tours offer somewhat different experiences, and each has unique advantages (and, for some people, disadvantages). For example, on guided tours, riders tend to stick together as a group with the guide. If you prefer to explore cities and the countryside at your own pace, a self-guided bike tour may be a better option. If getting lost is a real concern, or if you worry about language barriers, a guided tour may better suit your travel style. Don't overestimate your ability level Many strong athletes who do a lot of running, swimming, or weight training make the mistake that they'll do fine on a bicycle tour. Cycling uses a lot of different muscles than other sports, and even strong, in-shape athletes find their weariness comes sooner than expected. Regardless of your athletic or cycling ability, you'll have a much more comfortable tour if you spend some time on a bike ideally starting 6-8 weeks before your tour. Keep in mind long rides on the weekends may not prepare you for spending multiple days in a row on a bicycle. Before you travel, aim for shorter back-to-back rides at least 60 percent of the daily mileage of your tour. Your butt will thank you. Be realistic in the distance you wish to cover each day Don't use your longest ride or ideal weekend distance as a guide in choosing the daily distance of your bike tour. Remember that you will be on vacation and there will be a lot to see along the way—and you'll be riding for several days, usually back to back. Also, you're at a much slower pace on a bike tour. You'll find yourself getting on and off your bike, whether to take pictures, visit that amazing castle, or stop for a coffee and a pastry. And it's likely you'll be using a heavier bike than you're accustomed to. If you worry about traffic or getting lost, choose a tour along a dedicated bike path Many tours follow dedicated bicycle paths that are paved, free from traffic and well-marked. While dedicated bike paths are most prevalent in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands, other countries in Europe and even Asia are following suit. Consider electric bikes Some purists may scoff, but electric bikes are making cycle-touring possible for travelers who never thought they could tour on two wheels. This is not just a question of fitness level; older riders especially those who are recovering from knee surgery don't have to miss out thanks to the benefits of "E-bikes." Electric bikes are also great "equalizers," when two riders are of differing abilities. Electric bikes are quite prevalent in Europe and Asia, and newer models don't make it obvious that you're getting an added "push." Note that these are not mopeds. You still have to pedal—just not as hard. Ride in the off season—just before or after high season Prices are often lower and crowds are smaller, but otherwise you're getting all the pluses of a high-season experience. Pay attention to the weather Look up average weather conditions and rainfall in the area and time of year you'd like to tour and plan appropriately. Some like it hot, others prefer the weather to be a little cooler, and most like it dry! There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices If it's likely to be cold, wear layers and remove clothing as the day progresses and temperatures climb. Always be prepared for the chance of rain. Carry good rain gear to cover your shoes, legs and torso. Bring your own helmet—and wear it Many companies offer rental helmets, but we encourage clients to bring their own for reasons of hygiene and safety. When you bring your own helmet, you know it fits and hasn't been damaged. Many travelers also choose to purchase a helmet after they reach their starting destination. Remember, no matter how safe the cycling seems, protect your noggin and wear a helmet! Whether you're a seasoned cyclist, a seasoned traveler, both or neither, bicycle tours are a unique and accessible way to see the world. BikeToursDirect offers more than 500 bike tours all over the world for every ability level and travel style.
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