Budget Bicycling Abounds: 10 European Tours under $1,000

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With the dollar nearly twenty percent stronger against the euro than last summer, travelers can now find values with bicycle tours offered by European companies. The local tour companies, which charge in euros, are also able to keep their tour prices down due to the low cost of doing business close to home and to spreading their expenses over a large, primarily European client base. For example, one nearly all-inclusive one-week tour in Hungary--with two guides, support van, driver, all meals, lodging in three-star hotels and inns, airport transfers, bicycle rentals, luggage transfers and even unlimited wine--costs only $990.

With the dollar nearly twenty percent stronger against the euro than last summer, travelers can now find values with European bicycle tours offered by local companies. For example, one nearly all-inclusive one-week tour in Hungary--with two guides, support van, driver, all meals, lodging in three-star hotels and inns, airport transfers, bicycle rentals, luggage transfers and even unlimited wine--costs only $990.

The local European bicycle tour companies, which charge in euros, are also able to keep their tour prices down due to the low cost of doing business close to home and to spreading their expenses over a large, primarily European client base. Nearly 40 of these companies are represented in North America by Tennessee-based BikeToursDirect (http://www.biketoursdirect.com), which bills itself as the "one-stop resource for bike tours in Europe" and lists more than 200 tours in 30 European countries, most at the companies' published prices.

Another way to save money: Most European companies offer both guided tours--with ride-along guides, support vans and dinners--and less expensive self-guided options. BikeToursDirect president Jim Johnson stresses that self-guided tours are far from self-contained. "With self-guided tours, you have lots of support," he says. "Your lodging is pre-booked, your luggage is transferred from hotel to hotel, your rental bikes are delivered to your start hotel and picked up at your end hotel, you get detailed maps and route information, and a local liaison is also there to orient and assist."

Here are some examples (all prices are per person, double occupancy, based on mid-February 2009 exchange rates):

Mosel Bike Path, Germany ($648 self-guided, $945 guided): A bicycle vacation in the most well-known wine growing region of Germany along one of its most scenic rivers, with visits to castles and medieval towns. Starting in Germany's 2,000-year old city of Trier and ending at the Rhine.
Wine and Bike in the Balaton Uplands, Hungary ($631 self-guided, $990 guided): Explores the backcountry, villages and National Park adjacent to Lake Balaton, one of Europe's largest lakes, with a focus on culture, cuisine and wine.

Danube Bicycle Path, Germany and Austria ($755 self-guided, $1,247 guided; $844 by bike and boat): Europe's second-most popular bicycle path, running along well-signed, dedicated, nearly flat bike paths through vineyards and medieval towns from Passau, Germany, to Vienna.

Loire Valley, France ($819 self-guided): Cycling through the most peaceful part of the Loire Valley with its vineyards, chateaux, quiet villages and medieval towns.

Provence, France ($835 self-guided, $1,292 guided: A ride through France's sunshine country, along the Mediterranean coast, through medieval towns and visiting architectural masterworks such as the papal palace in Avignon, the Arena in Arles and the Roman aqueduct, Pont du Gard.

Tuscany, Italy ($914 self-guided, $1,366 guided): Experiencing the "Italian jewel" of landscape and culture riding past castles and hilltop villages, vineyards and olive groves.

Lake Constance Bicycle Path, Germany, Austria and Switzerland ($650 self-guided): Circumnavigating one of Europe's largest lakes and across four islands along Europe's most popular bicycle path.

Amsterdam to Brussels by Bike and Boat, Holland and Belgium ($820 guided): Cycling between two historic cities stopping in the Flemish port town of Antwerp with lodging about a river barge.

Krakow and the Tatra Mountains, Poland ($826 guided): A surprisingly easy route through the Carpathian Mountains visiting remote villages and towns that retain much of their ethnic and cultural identities.

Prague to Dresden, Czech Republic and Germany ($644 self-guided, $1,214 guided): Following the Vltava and Elbe Rivers from the cultural center of Prague through Saxon Switzerland to Dresden, so-called "Florence of the North."

Most tours are designed for leisure riders, although some target more seasoned cyclists. Many are appropriate for families and novice cyclists.

BikeToursDirect helps cycle tourists find tours based on preferences like destination, month, duration, cost and level of difficulty. Clients book the tours and make all payments through BikeToursDirect, usually at the same prices charged by the European companies. The site also offers helpful advice and travel tips such as how to choose a tour and what clothes to bring. Many tours have weekly and even daily departures. This gives the tour companies many economies of scale as well as the ability to negotiate low rates at many hotels along the tour routes.

BikeToursDirect's primary offices are at 1638 Berkley Circle, Chattanooga, Tenn. 37405. Telephone: 1-877-462-2423.

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JIM JOHNSON
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