Chris Carter looks at three trips to test your stamina in Italy, South Africa and Britain
In the Dolomite mountains in Italy you can take a different kind of trip that uses the infrastructure that is there for skiing and hiking to create off-road itineraries that take cyclists deep into the high mountains, says Tom Allan in the Financial Times. Each night along the route ends at a different mountain hut or small hotel. These rifugios (lodges) can be spartan. But the first on the route, the Utia de Börz (PassoDellEerbe.it), falls firmly into the comfort end of the spectrum, which is just as well. “Nothing deadens the joy of mountain biking more than a heavy pack.”
The next day “we climb steadily alongside a limestone stream, pausing at the head of the valley to refill our bottles from a spring. A herd of wide-eyed cows look on, jostling and clanging their bells”. From here there is an unobstructed view of the day’s final climb – “a leg-sapping drag up gravel trails to the Lavarella rifugio (Lavarella.it/en). “No chairlift this time, and no shade from the beating afternoon sun.”
From €3,960 for a six-night guided trip – see DolomiteMountains.com.
Sideways in South Africa
“Booze and bikes might seem like unlikely bedfellows,” says Paul Bloomfield in Wanderlust magazine. But in South Africa’s Western Cape, vineyards are planted in attractive, undulating landscapes, connected by country trails and quiet roads. French Huguenot refugees were the first to kickstart the region’s viniculture in the 17th century.
Local outfits offer bike tours between the cellar doors of the holy trinity of wine towns: Stellenbosch, Paarl and Franschhoek. Combine that with a trip taking in the endless skies of the Great Karoo region, whale-watching and “exhilarating pedalling” around Africa’s southernmost point at Cape Agulhas.
Britain’s lost village
The Isle of Purbeck in Dorset (not really an island, but rather a peninsula) is a geologist’s paradise, says Jack Thurston in The Guardian. It was with stone from here that much of London was rebuilt after the Great Fire. The rich “layer cake” geology provides a variety of wildlife habitats and the Purbeck hills are home to many species of wild flower.
Setting off from the fortified Saxon town of Wareham, Thurston’s challenging 45-mile route headed east through the heath and coniferous woodland. Turning west outside Swanage, the ride passed the craggy ruins of Corfe Castle en route for the “lost village” of Tyneham. (Its 225 villagers were evicted during World War II and it is now an open-air museum.) It’s then a “thrilling” descent to Lulworth Cove (pictured) before heading to the River Frome at Moreton. The church here is worth a look for its engraved windows by Laurence Whistler; TE Lawrence (of Arabia) is buried in the graveyard.