We’ve fallen in love with bikes again. Cycling is booming in Britain, Tour de France and Olympic gold winner Bradley Wiggins is our new national hero… we’re even wearing Lycra without too much embarrassment, for heaven’s sake.
The new golden age of cycling comes in many hues. Mums and dads are happy with lots of easy cyclepaths for the kids, while weekend warriors go for the full effect and want to test themselves – and their new, £3,000 carbon-framed bikes – on the steepest, scariest hills. All cyclists, however, have one thing in common: they dream of those quiet, traffic-free roads where White Van Man never goes.
This is where Wales comes into its own. From north to south the country packs in an incredible variety of roads, highways, byways, country lanes and paths, many of which are blissfully traffic-lite (Wales has, in fact, over 330 miles’ of completely traffic-free cyclepaths).
Offroad enthusiasts fare even better. Wales’s forests, once forbidding no-go areas, have opened up as mountain biking centres (Wales can claim to have ‘invented’ the concept of man-made woodland trails when a visionary local, Dafydd Davies, first created routes through the Coed-y-Brenin Forest, Dolgellau, in the 1990s). The country has since become a mountain biking mecca, not just for its hundreds of miles of forest trails but also for its natural terrain, accessible to anyone (with knobbly tyres, of course) who cares to follow the old drovers’ routes, Roman roads and green lanes that lattice the country.
Wales and cycling have strong sporting links too. Dave Brailsford, the plain-speaking (and Welsh-speaking) mastermind behind the all-conquering British Cycling Team and Team Sky, was brought up near Caernarfon. Olympic track champion Geraint Thomas from Cardiff is now focusing his huge talents on road cycling, where he’s again tipped to achieve top honours. World Champion Nicole Cooke from the Vale of Glamorgan has already been there and done that.
For training rides, Geraint and Nicole share a love of the Brecon Beacons and the challenging hills of the South Wales Valleys. But you’re really spoilt for choice. Wherever you are in Wales you’re guaranteed to find roads that go up... and up, before coming down again.
So if you’re serious about the sport you can stay at almost any Rare Hideaways property and know that you’ll not be far from testing climbs. The gentler stuff is equally easy to find. Coastal locations are good for flattish trails and dedicated cyclepaths. The old railway line along the Mawddach Estuary is one, while the route along the Millennium Coastal Park, Llanelli, is a 12-mile breeze along a purpose-built trail with the National Wetland Wales Centre at one end and a Norman castle at the other – and great views of the Gower Peninsula en route.
It’s also possible to ‘do’ green mountains without putting yourself in the red zone. Cycle along the flattish route that takes you into the Elan Valley lakelands from Rhayader, for example. In the Brecon Beacons, parts of the towpath along the Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal are open to cyclists – yet another gentle way of enjoying Wales’s Great Outdoors.
If this choice is all too much for you, think of focusing on one of Wales’s Cycle Break Centres, specially chosen for their facilities and variety of routes – everything from little loops to big days out. There are 11, at Aberaeron/New Quay, Brecon, Cardigan, Dolgellau, Knighton/Presteigne, the Llŷn Peninsula, Newport (Pembrokeshire), Rhayader, Saundersfoot, Tregaron/Lampeter and the Tywi Valley (www.cyclebreakswales.com).
So that’s the cycling sorted. Now take a look at the Rare Hideaways map in the back of the brochure to find where to park your bike and enjoy a nice sit down.