I might manage a cycling trip to the Netherlands or the Somerset Levels, but Dave is drawn to pro-cycling terrain: insanely steep climbs and buttock-clenching descents. He does Geneva-to-Nice-in-a-week kind of cycling, followed by long conversations about gradients, power outputs and lactate thresholds. I love a good mountain myself, but I prefer to look at them – as part of a more sybaritic holiday, with sightseeing and occasional walks. So, we have arrived at a compromise: he packs inner tubes, heart-rate monitors and a ton of Lycra bib shorts; I take walking boots, sun cream and a pile of good books. The Canyon Ultimate comes along for the ride. And we head for hillside hotels that somehow manage to suit us all.
There are three of us in my marriage: me, Dave and a Canyon Ultimate CF SLX. As bikes go, it’s a fine specimen, but it has been monopolising my husband’s downtime for years. And joining him – or them – is not an option.
La Almunia del Valle, Granada, Spain
Only five miles from the centre of Granada, this classy little hotel sits in tumbling gardens tucked into a vertiginous hillside, with dreamy views across the Monachil valley and the slopes of the Sierra Nevada national park. While cyclists explore the local hairpin bends (including a punishing 11-mile climb to a ski resort at the top of the Sierra Nevada), there’s a pool to lounge by, under a fig tree on the lawn, or in a deckchair on the terrace outside the glass-cube rooms. It’s worth wandering to Monachil (the steep walk back is almost as challenging as cycling up a mountain) before watching the sunset, over an Andalusian dinner on the hotel terrace.
• B&B doubles from €129, laalmuniadelvalle.com
Cuatre Finques, Xaló, Costa Blanca, Spain
Among almond and olive trees in the Xalo valley, half an hour from the coast, this chilled casa rural is home to Nicky Scott (she is, indeed, Scottish) and her Valenciano partner, Pep. A keen cyclist, Pep is happy to escort cyclists up the Coll de Rates, one of the many passes that zig-zag up the Marina Alta mountains on local routes familiar to Vuelta a Espana pros. There are mountain views from the pool, chickens in the kitchen garden or Xaló’s market square to explore. Aside from six boutique rooms, the hotel also offers spa treatments in a garden gazebo and live music and tapas nights on the terrace.
• B&B doubles from €125, cuatrefinques.com
Palazzo Brandano, Petroio, Tuscany, Italy
In tiny Petroio, this hotel, named after a Tuscan saint, has 11 charming rooms (named after Renaissance artists) with hilly views and faux medieval decor (wrought iron, damasks and hand-painted frescoes). There’s lots to do: Siena is half an hour away, Petroio itself is a gem (the former capital of terracotta, it has a pottery museum and one bar), and the hotel’s restaurant is sublime (homemade pigeon ravioli served on the vine-clad terrace with a bottle of Montepulciano’s finest). There are occasional cookery classes and wine tours. For the cyclist, the roads around Petroio are empty and occasionally challenging, including the route to Monte Amiata, a 27km climb above Tuscany’s Val d’Orcia.
• B&B doubles from €165, palazzobrandano.com
Hotel la Garance, Bedoin, Provence, France
The rooms are nothing to shout about, but this farmhouse hotel has lush, flowery gardens, a small but decent pool and superb views of Mont Ventoux. The “Giant of Provence” is one of the most feared and celebrated Tour de France climbs (it begins stage 12 of this year’s tour, on 14 July). However, Ventoux is the only mountain for miles, so there are some easy-to-moderate pedalling routes – around vineyard villages, cherry orchards and fields of lavender. The foot of Ventoux is 10 miles away; the town of Bedoin two miles (walkable), and there are a couple of excellent restaurants just across the road from La Garance. On fine days you can breakfast in the garden – with all the other cyclists.
• B&B doubles from €83, lagarance.fr
Airstream Europe, Mirepoix, Midi Pyrénées, France
The Pyrenean peaks are visible from this campsite-trailer park – a collection of vintage American caravans in a field with a solar-powered shower-block, a wrecked red Routemaster bus, Lucy’s Diner and the Apollo Lounge (an Airstream under a silver awning). While the cyclists set off for the said mountains, the less active can relax in an original 1960s sun lounger, or stare at sheep, or chill in a 1968 Streamadelic Overlander, admiring the fairy lights and the groovy night-club decor. Medieval Carcassonne is close by. Lovely Mirepoix even closer. This year’s Tour de France will be whizzing through both towns on July 12 and 13.
• Airstream caravan for up to four from €124 B&B, or €90 a night for 3 nights or more, airstreameurope.com
Le Pigeonnier, Embrun, Haute Alps, France
It’s hard to think of a prettier house or a more charming host (Marie-Christine offers the warmest of welcomes on arrival). There are four gorgeous rooms, with lavish bathrooms and views of the Alps, a large sunny garden to hang out in, and a great location on the edge of old Embrun – close to the Alpine routes used by the Tour de France and the Haute Route Alps (Embrun to Nice is another classic ride). Aside from cycling, the town is a gateway to the Écrins national park (the largest in France) and the manmade Serre Ponçon lake (with boats, beaches and viewpoints). Wake up to birdsong, baking and home-made jam.
• B&B doubles from €130 from April to October, pigeonnier.net
The Arches, Port Erin, Isle of Man
The majority of the island’s hardcore cycling routes are in the north (home ground for Tour de France sprinter Mark Cavendish), but a good compromise for a mix of cycling and non-cycling types is on seaside Port Erin at its southern tip and this luxe Manx guesthouse. The glassy circular lounge, the neon lights and the Astro-turfed decks are a wee bit Austin Powers, but the rooms are super comfortable, with amazing views across the bay – plus there’s a glitzy indoor pool and home-cooked meals on request. It’s an hour’s walk along the Raad ny Foillan (the island’s coast path) to the Calf sound, and a 30-minute walk to Port St Mary (for the steam railway to Douglas).
• B&B doubles £142 (or £125 for a small twin). bedandbreakfast-isleofman.com
Crosslane House, Allerford, Exmoor
This is a mini country house hotel of medieval origin (ancient timbers, latched doors, flagstones, wonky walls distempered in various shades of Farrow & Ball). It has a highly regarded restaurant, rose-scented gardens, a cobbled courtyard and converted linhay stable, which offers fair-weather dining and an outhouse with space for wet bikes and muddy boots. In the room, there’s a complimentary mini bar and views of wooded hills across the A39 between Minehead and Porlock. Open the gate and access Allerford’s ancient pack-horse bridge and a footpath that follows the river Aller to the Somerset coast. It’s less than two miles from the foot of Porlock hill and three miles from the Porlock Weir toll road – two tortuously steep Exmoor climbs which attract cyclists training for the Alps (average gradient 5.5% for 4.1 miles, I am told).
• B&B doubles from £145, crosslanehouse.com
Ty Croeso, Crickhowell, Wales
The new Cycle across the Brecons route (between Llandeilo and Abergavenny) runs right past this rural boutique B&B, the former infirmary to the Crickhowell Union Workhouse. The devilish Bwlch y Groes (or Hellfire Pass, one of the highest mountain roads in Wales) is also close by, along with the Beacons, the Black Mountains and the Georgian joys of Crickhowell (castle, shops, the Dragon Inn, the Bear hotel). Nice rooms, too (wallpapers, soft colours, a roll-top bath in the loft suite) plus a lounge with a 1950s cocktail bar (help yourself to drinks), views of the Usk valley and the Mon & Brec canal at the foot of the garden.
• B&B doubles from £75, ty-croeso.com
Glenview, Culnacnoc, Isle of Skye
Weather permitting (not for nothing do they call this “the misty isle”), Skye is
cycling heaven, not just in the Cuillin mountains but pretty much everywhere. A
favourite is the Trotternish peninsula, a north-west loop of high, undulating
roads that meander up the coast from Portree to Uig, via the Old Man of Storr,
Lealt waterfall and the rocky cliffs and pinnacles of the Quiraing. Within hiking
distance of unspoilt Trotternish beaches, Glenview has three cosy, king-size
rooms with a mountain backdrop, interesting decor (knitting, vintage, white-
wash, dangling tea-cup art), and the Skye Pie Café (refuel on homemade crab or
mutton pie). Just up the hill, the new Eyrie (£165 a night, minimum three nights) offers self-catering in a contemporary highland cottage with two woody “pods” and spectacular views across Skye’s off islands to Scotland’s mountainous west coast.
• Doubles from £85 B&B, glenviewskye.co.uk