My wife and I recently managed to align our respective work diaries to book a week’s holiday together. We wanted to take a bike trip starting from home in the UK but, as we sat pouring over a map, we were concerned our lack of time would narrow down our destination choices significantly.
We needn’t have worried. Living a short ferry ride from mainland Europe meant we had a myriad of world-class motorcycle touring destinations to choose from, all within a few days’ ride from home.
It reminded me that you don’t need to quit your job and disappear off around the world in order to enjoy an epic motorcycle journey. You can squeeze in plenty of adventure around work and family commitments.
In the end, my wife and I opted to spend a few glorious days exploring northern Spain, taking in the magnificent Picos de Europa and the Pyrenees on a luxuriously pillion-friendly Honda Goldwing. However, we could just as easily have ridden the Alps, the south coast of France, central Italy, or so many of the other superb motorcycling destinations just a few days ride from the UK. Given a bit more time, we could have even ridden through Spain and hopped on a ferry to Morocco for a few days.
Talking to the experts
On my return, I caught up with the good folks at Overland Motorcycle Tours, a company that specialises in leading bikers on guided tours throughout Europe and North Africa. We got to talking about where we’d recommend UK-based bikers go on tour when they only have two or three weeks holiday leave to spare. Those must-ride journeys that challenge and inspire in equal measure but that don’t take months to complete.
The resulting list reads like a greatest hits of motorcycle touring destinations, all of which can be fitted around commitments at work and home. So, without further ado, here is our list of five incredible motorcycle adventures you can ride without having to quit your job.
The Alps are a pilgrimage for many bikers, drawing them back time and time again. Passes like Furka, Grossglockner and Splügen have become part of motorcycling folklore and for very good reason. The surfaces are almost always excellent, the roads twist and turn up and down mountainsides and the scenery is spectacular.
I still vividly remember the exhilaration I felt riding my first Alpine pass, me whooping for joy at each turn while my girlfriend screamed with fear and excitement from the pillion seat. That girlfriend has now become my wife so my riding couldn’t have been that bad!
Many of the best known Alpine passes are concentrated in the areas of south-east France, southern Switzerland, northern Italy and western Austria. Linking them together makes for a superb motorcycle tour which can be squeezed into a week or two.
For example, the team at Overland Motorcycle Tours run 10-day Alps Mountain Tour which takes in many of the famous high mountain roads including the Grossglockner Furka, and the Great and Little St Bernard passes.
Starting and finishing at the Channel Tunnel, the journey also takes you through Germany’s Black Forest and along the B500, one of the country’s best biking roads.
What if you’ve already ridden the Alps but you’ve got still a taste for mountain passes? Where do you go? We’d recommend setting your SatNav for the Pyrenees.
While this mountain range on the border of France and Spain may not quite have the glamour of the high Alpine passes, it is littered with superb motorcycling roads. And the joy of the Pyrenees is that the mountain passes tend to be quieter than the popular biking spots in the Alps. The scenery however is equally as spectacular.
No matter where you cross this magnificent mountain range, you’re likely to find roads that will exhilarate and test your riding skill in equal measure. The Col d’Aubisque balcony road and the Col du Tourmalet are two highlights among many.
The road surfaces in the Pyrenees vary from silky smooth to being in pretty poor condition, but for me, this adds to the sense of adventure. The worse the road surface, the more off the beaten track I feel.
Ferry to Spain
Again, the Pyrenees is within easy reach of the UK by motorcycle. Either spend a day or two whizzing down French motorways, or alternatively take the Brittany Ferries crossing to northern Spain. Overland Motorcycle Tours recommends the ferry so you arrive in the Pyrenees feeling refreshed and ready for action.
The company runs a 10-day guided tour of the mountain range starting at the ferry port in Plymouth. Alternatively, you can fly to Barcelona, rent a bike from the Overland team and traverse the entire Pyrenees mountain range on an eight-day self-guided tour.
Picos de Europa
The Picos de Europa may look small on a map when compared to the Pyrenees or the Alps, but don’t be fooled into thinking the landscape is any less impressive. This mountain range located in northern Spain forms part of the Cantabrian mountains, its highest peak being the Torre de Cerredo, which reaches an elevation of 2,650m.
The riding is sensational, the road surfaces generally good, and the scenery is to die for. What struck me the first time I visited the area is how lush and green the landscape is. It’s a world away from the scorched earth of the south of the country. You’ll find yourself riding twisting roads up spectacular mountainsides and plunging into deep gorges under the watchful eye of the towering massifs.
Many people choose to combine a bike tour of the Picos de Europa with exploring the Pyrenees. This is due to the fact the mountain ranges are only around 250 miles apart. However, the Picos are worth a journey in their own right, especially if you combine them with a tour of the picturesque coastline of northern Spain.
If you’re a regular reader of the motorcycle reviews section of ABR magazine, you’re guaranteed to have seen stunning photos of the latest adventure bikes being ridden on and off road in the Andalucia region of southern Spain.
There are plenty of reasons the motorcycle industry chooses to launch so many new bikes in this part of Europe. The sun usually shines, the landscape is spectacular, it’s easily accessible from the UK and the roads are sublime.
Whether you’re snaking your way along dramatic coastal highways clinging to a cliff edge, or you’re carving your way up a twisting mountain pass, the calibre of riding in southern Spain is up there with some of the best places in the world we’ve ridden.
One of Overland Motorcycle Tours most popular trips guides riders across this spectacular region from west to east. In fact, this forms part of a 16-day tour that laps the whole of Spain, taking in the best riding the country has to offer.
The fact Morocco is so accessible from Europe makes a trip to the North African country a rite of passage for many adventure riders. It’s often a stepping stone for those who have toured in Europe and want to experience riding in a more exotic location.
We’d highly recommend taking the leap when you feel ready because riding in Morocco is an enchanting experience. First off you’ll be riding in Africa, which is just plain cool, but you’ll also have the likes of the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and the Rif Mountains just waiting to be explored.
Ideally you’d be able to talk your boss into giving you three weeks off work. That way you can take a few days to ride through Spain and then take the short ferry ride across the Strait of Gibraltar. You’ll have plenty of time to explore Morocco before the return journey.
The roads you’ll discover are an adventure rider’s dreams. The famously twisty Dades Gorge (pictured above) is just one example of the quality of riding on offer. And then of course there are the high mountain passes like the Tizi n’Tichka and the Tizi n’Test. Morocco is also rich in history and culture and we’d recommend finding time to explore bustling cities like Marrakesh and Fez.
Overland Motorcycle Tours runs a number of tours through Spain and Morocco, including one wholly on roads and one on more adventurous terrain. They both take riders from the ferry port of Santander on the north coast of Spain, down the length of the country and then onto Morocco.
Taking a motorcycle into the African country can be challenging, particularly if you’re new to motorcycle travel outside of Europe. Having experts on hand like the team from Overland Motorcycle Travel can save a lot of time and hassle.
Classic motorcycle touring destinations
This list goes to show you don’t need to quit your job, sell your house and disappear for a year to have an fantastic motorcycle adventure. The fact we haven’t even mentioned Norway’s Atlantic coast, the Dolomites, the west coast of Ireland, or the Balkans goes to show the motorcycle riches to be had for UK-based bikers even if you only have a few weeks to explore.
Overland Motorcycle Tours
The team at Overland Motorcycle Tours specialise in offering unforgettable biking holidays at reasonable prices. Their many years of experience and intimate knowledge of European and north African motorcycle travel means you’re guaranteed to ride the best roads and discover hidden secrets wherever you travel.