A few friends and I will be heading to Europe for a 3 week bicycle tour this summer. Like many cyclists touring the continent we prefer not to camp although that is an excellent option.
This is a self-guided tour and we plan to stay in a variety of B & B’s, hotels and hostels that add to the overall experience, we will be booking 15 different locations for this trip along our route through the French wine country, around Lake Constance and across part of Switzerland.
Why We Reserve in Advance
When I started bicycle touring in Europe I did not reserve any accommodations. What I found was that we had to arrive earlier at a destination (particularly on weekends) to find a place and then had to spend time searching for a place or lining up at the tourist office.
Often these last minute bookings resulted in higher prices and sometimes they were as far as 5 km from the central part of the town we wanted to explore.
One Saturday night our group of four spent two hours searching and settled for a great hotel, which was very expensive, so never again.
What Features You Require
Of course a location in the central part of town near the bicycle route that provides bicycle storage facilities. I also like a nice breakfast to start the day and if provided by the accommodation saves time.
Depending on your style of trip some smaller places may only offer private facilities at an additional cost and is WiFi free or even available.
I don’t worry too much about the star rating as it has as much to do with the facilities and I just want a clean place. Variety is the spice of life and so booking older style family hotels, quaint B & B’s plus some modern locations are all important. On past trips I have stayed even stayed in former monasteries and convents.
What to Watch
- Does the hotel, hostel or B & B accept credit card payments, many do not
- Check in times at some small hotels or B & B many be after 5 p.m., so plan you ride accordingly
- Accommodation may be cheaper if you make a non-refundable payment
- If a hotel booking site (i.e. booking.com) says the hotel is sold out, check direct with the hotel. Hotels normally hold back rooms for walk-in’s and direct sales and in one situation I was able to book 3 rooms in a desirable small hotel when booking search sites showed it sold out.
- Different seasons and time periods (i.e. weekends) can result in different prices
In Europe a double bed often means they have pushed two twin beds together
- There are hotel chains that cater to cyclists.
Some Resources for Cyclists
I did look at some of the hotel search sites such as booking.com and got advice in a few places from bicycle forums.
Bed and Breakfast.eu – features bed and breakfasts worldwide.
Bett + Bike – Site is available in English. German cycling club only features bicycle friendly accommodation not only in Germany but in neighbouring countries. Find it particularly good in smaller towns. Provides distances to bike routes.
Warmshowers – never used this organization but welcomes those bicycle touring.
Where you stay is not only a place to sleep but is part of the overall bicycle touring experience so choose well.
Finding interesting European Bicycle Touring accommodation that is reasonably priced can sometimes be a challenge, particularly in smaller villages where it is limited.
When bicycle touring in Europe I prefer to stay in interesting small local family run hotels or bed and breakfasts although there are always campgrounds available for those that prefer that option.
On one occasion cycling in Bavaria (southern Germany) our small group of four cyclists stopped at our quaint hotel which we had reserved in advance. Going to dinner in the early evening we met others bicycle touring just coming into town who advised us all the accommodation in the town was sold out so we were fortunate to have rooms (see photo above). We saw them on the bicycle path the next day and they explained they had cycled an additional 15 miles in the dark to find a place to stay.
On another European bicycle tour we had not reserved any accommodation and arrived at our destination in a small town in Germany around 5:30 p.m. on a Saturday evening. After 1 ½ hours of searching for a place (the tourist office had been closed) we ended up at a nice hotel however spending far more than we usually would for rooms as there was nothing else plus we had wasted a lot of time when we could have been exploring this scenic town which we never really got a chance to see.
For European bicycle touring I now normally make advance accommodation reservations because:
- I can plan my distances each day in advance and know the location, frequently right on the bicycle route, particularly if doing the Danube Bike Route or similar popular route
- I don’t need to worry what time I will arrive and if I arrive late, no worries as I know I have a room waiting. Particularly in Germany and Austria obtaining last minute accommodation on Friday or Saturdays nights can be an issue as many take advantage or low train fares to explore the country.
- I am aware of the price and whether they accept credit cards as many small hotels or bed and breakfasts do not so I can plan my available money better
- Can arrange for sometimes interesting such as a chalet, former monastery, historic building, farm on vineyard for reasonable prices which adds to overall cycle vacation experience. Personally, I have booked all of these types of accommodation in the past.
- Save valuable time be not needing to look for accommodation. If go to tourist office may need to line up and pay a booking fee.
- They may be bike friendly – many accept cyclists and when I make the booking they are advised I have a bicycle so there is always and secure place to leave my bike overnight.
- On several trips I have been cycling in the rain and the last thing I want to do is look for a room when I am wet and cold (even though we are wearing rain gear). One B & B owner took one look at our small group and said, “you poor dears” and hustled us inside and we soon had a hot cup of coffee in our hands.
So where do I find these gems when on a European bicycle touring trip. One of my favorites is Tiscover – the specialist for holidays in the alps, who have small independent accommodation in the alpine regions of Germany, Switzerland, Italy and all of Austria. There website is in English and they do not charge any booking fees.
Another is Logis, again with an English website with locations all over Western Europe, particularly in France. They also offer bike hotels with special features for cyclists.
The German Cyclist’s Federation has accommodation suggestions in German and surrounding countries. I find it really good to locate hotels in smaller towns.
For you can also go to the Switzerland the tourist office site, pick your route and accommodation options are displayed on the right sidebar along with facts about the route (in great detail).
One question I sometimes get is what happens if there is an unexpected delay in getting to accommodation you have reserved. When bicycle touring I normally cycle in the rain, however on one occasion when heavy showers were encountered we just took the train to our destination. On another situation our bicycles required repairs so we ended up extending our stay at one Bed & Breakfast and reducing our stay at another and revising our route slightly.
Having interesting accommodation is an important part of any cycle vacation. If you are not camping consider the above suggestions when making your European Bicycle Touring accommodation arrangements.
Stay in a Castle
For bicycle touring accommodation why not stay in a castle, villa or a variety of options to really enjoy the region you are visiting for at least a night or two. Adding some unique bicycle touring accommodation, it is fun, and will give you something to really talk about when you get home.
Bicycle Touring Accommodation Choices
Camping – this is an inexpensive method used by many for bicycle touring accommodation. On the plus side you meet a wide variety of people while you also need to carry your bivy tent and other camping gear. Other types of lightweight camping shelters include hammock tents and bivy sacks. Castles – yes, you too can be the king of the castle in counties such as Ireland, England, France and Germany which all offer some castles where you can rent rooms. Many are even located along major bicycle touring routes such as the Romantic Road in Germany (Harburg Castle is pictured above) . Not many other people can say they stayed in a castle even if it is for one night. Monasteries – on the Danube Bike Route in Hungary and in Sarlat in southern France I have stayed in former monasteries which have been converted to hotels. For example the Hotel Klastrom in Gyor, Hungary was a former Carmelite Monastery and today still retains long massive halls with simple rooms. Most the cyclists along the Danube Bike Route including those with travel companies use this hotel. The hotel surrounds a large courtyard with gardens and a beer garden and has a room to store your bicycle touring bike. Villa – for bicycle touring accommodation in Tuscany you must rent a villa for the week and use it as a base because that is the thing to do. It is more typical of the region and it can be more economical than a hotel. Our villa was located between Siena and Florence in the town of Greve and was situated on a working winery so the view each morning was absolutely wonderful. Vacation home – similar to the villa concept but usually located in North American resort areas. For example it is easy to rent a vacation home (or cottage) in New York States Finger Lake region for some great, yet hilly bicycle touring. Universities – in Canada and United States many universities and colleges rent rooms from June until mid August which are used for bicycle touring accommodation by many clubs. They are usually economical and often well located. For example the Finger Lakes region of New York State can be expensive in the summer but Keuka College is a good choice for cycle clubs. Bed and Breakfast – do your research before you set out and you will be amazed at what you find, many offer a lot of character and a great breakfast to get you started in the morning. You meet the local people and in destinations such as Switzerland they provide a cheaper option than using hotels. To find a bed and breakfast go on the internet and Google the country name for the national directory for each country such as B and B Canada or bnb.ch for Switzerland. You can also inquire about with the tourist office of your destination directly. Some travel and bike guides also mention the best bed and breakfasts When booking any bicycle touring accommodation confirm:
- Location/address and ask the owner for specific directions, don’t depend on Google maps or MapQuest.
- Confirm your arrival time and check when the owner is available if a small hotel or B & B
- Price and any taxes or service charges
- Type of breakfast (if included)
- Arrangements for bicycle storage
- Does someone speak some English
Your cycling journey does not only need to be about hotels or campgrounds although they are okay as well. Spice up your bicycle touring accommodation with some of these great options.