(Photo: Thinkstock/Digital Vision)
Cycling vacations aren't just for top-tier athletes. Many of the world's most beautiful bike trails take in the countryside on gentle paths that favor scenery over strenuous pedaling. For this list of beautiful bike trails around the world, we selected routes that can be done in days or weeks, depending on your level of commitment. Bonus: You won't feel guilty sampling the local cuisine after you've spent a day burning calories on a bike trail.
Main River Bike Path, Germany
Germany's first five-star long-distance bike path, the Main River Bike Path (or Main-Radweg in German) showcases some of the country's most treasured castles, churches, and vineyards. About 90 percent of the 372-mile river-valley trail is paved, and most of it is wide enough for two riders to cycle side by side along the shore—close enough to enjoy a view of the sloping hills while generally steering clear of cycling up them.
How to Do It: Day-trippers can experience many of the highlights of the trail right outside of Frankfurt, one of Europe's major air-travel hubs, by cycling along it in the Bavarian town of Aschaffenburg, home to Johannisburg Castle, which just celebrated its 400-year jubilee this May, and Seligenstadt, one of Germany's oldest towns and a picturesque example of classic half-timber architecture. The entire Main River Bike Path can be completed in about 12 days. BikeTours.com offers a self-guided itinerary for the full route.
Munda Biddi Trail, Australia
There's no better way to get away from it all than cycling through the undeveloped wilds of Western Australia on the Munda Biddi Trail. You'll ride from Mundaring in the Perth Hills to Albany in the south of Western Australia on a network of bush tracks, firebreaks, and disused rail tracks.
Shining Sea Bikeway, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
This Cape Cod bike path is classic American—starting with the name, which comes from the song "America the Beautiful." The trail runs 10.7 miles from North Falmouth to Woods Hole and winds through cranberry bogs, alongside beaches, and past numerous ice cream parlors. (This is New England, after all. New Englanders love their ice cream.) Not a big biker? Don't worry, the path was built on a former railroad, meaning that it's level and paved the entire way. It's possible to do the route round-trip in a few hours.
How to Do It: Drive to the start of the path in either North Falmouth or Woods Hole (there is parking available at both ends). You can bring your own bike or rent one from any of the many shops near the trail, such as Art's Bike Shop.
North Sea Cycle Route, Europe
You can cover eight different countries on the North Sea Cycle Route. The path follows the coastline of the North Sea through England, Scotland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands, and Belgium. At more than 3,700 miles from end to end, this trail is the longest cycle route in the world. (Ferries link up the gaps between land.)
How to Do It: You can start at any point along the path, and there are ferry links at points along the way to take you back to your starting point if you don't want to complete the whole route. Make your journey much more comfortable by booking a trip with a cycling company such as Mecklenburger, which will arrange your hotel stays and transfer your luggage between points.
Shimanami Kaido, Japan
This 37-mile roadway (with bike lanes throughout the entire route) covers six different islands as it runs from Japan's main island of Honshu to the smaller island of Shikoku. You'll be rewarded with amazing views of lighthouses, shrines, and the Seto Inland Sea National Park.
How to Do It: Shimanami Kaido is easy to bike on your own—there are 14 bike-rental terminals along the path. If you want to break the journey up into a few days, there are plenty of places to stay along the way. Or, have a guided-biking-tour outfit take care of everything for you: Companies such as My Tokyo Guide can arrange your bike rentals and equipment and provide a guide and accommodations.
Route Verte, Quebec, Canada
Explore Quebec from the St. Lawrence River to the mountains on the Route Verte ("Green Route"), which is almost 2,500 miles of bike paths and lanes showcasing the best of the region. It's the longest cycling network in North America, but it's easy to do in small chunks if you're more of a day-trip biker than a hardcore cycler.
How to Do It: Rent or bring your own bike and make reservations at a Bienvenue Cyclistes!-certified accommodation. The Bienvenue Cyclistes! network of bed-and-breakfasts, hotels, hostels, and campgrounds offers secure locations to store your bike overnight, a pump and tools for minor repairs, and information about nearby bike shops. Or, design your own custom itinerary with a company such as Eastwind Cycle.
Udaipur Bike Tour, Rajasthan, India
Cycle through the wonders of India on this trail that goes from Karauli to Udaipur. You'll travel past jaw-dropping scenery like the Udaipur City Palace, the Badi Mahal, and the rural Indian countryside. The route is 90 percent paved.
How to Do It: Bike rentals are available throughout the route if you want to go it alone, or you can sign up for guided tours of different lengths through a company such as Art of Bicycle Trips.
Route des Grands Crus, Burgundy, France
Burgundy is famous for its vineyards, so enjoy tastings without the guilt by combining your wine tour with biking on the Route des Grands Crus. This 37-mile trail winds through the Cote de Nuits and the Cote de Beaune, through villages and past a wide variety of vineyards (which are open for tastings, of course).
How to Do It: Rent your own bike and follow the advice of Burgundy Today, which tells you where to go along the route depending on the type of wine you like. Or, do a tour with a company such as Duvine, which guides bikers along the route and arranges wine tastings.
Freedom Trail, South Africa
Hardcore biker? Take the Freedom Trail Challenge, an annual race that covers the 1,460-mile-long Freedom Trail in South Africa. The challenge is so grueling that it has a completion deadline of 26 days—the record is 10 days, 16 hours, and 40 minutes. Less-fit bikers or those with limited time frames can do sections of the trail, then take time to enjoy the amazing scenery along the way.
Carretera Austral, Chile
This isolated route goes through 770 miles of rural Chile. Expect to travel on dirt roads and take in incredible views of mountains, glaciers, and lakes—and to pedal for quite a long time without seeing another person. A major perk of this route: the free camping sites available along the road.
How to Do It: Attempting the Carretera Austral on your own will require extensive planning—check out this Rough Guide to the route for an idea of what to expect. For a much less intense journey, go for a multiday trip that covers part of the Carretera Austral, such as this option offered by Paseos en Bicicleta Bike Tours.