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From the wild 'Badlands' to the pristine Tuscan countryside: here's how to find the best gravel riding in Spain and Italy

If you've ever thought about going abroad to ride some gravel, these two destinations should be on your bucket list

No matter how good gravel riding in the UK can be, it's refreshing to change landscapes and experience something new on your bike. Cycling holidays are some of the best ways to do that, and when it comes to gravel destinations, there is a lot to choose from.

While gravel is ever increasingly popular everywhere, Italy and Spain have garnered a strong foothold as popular cycling destinations for those who enjoy exploring the off-road routes; Tuscany's open skies and vast panoramas, lined with cypress trees, and the vast ruggedness of the Spanish Sierra Nevada are quite perfectly made for gravel adventurers… but how do you go about finding the best parts of these places for gravel riding? Obviously, the best way is to ask locals. 

We've asked two experts, Naomi and Dan from Saddle Skedaddle, what makes these places unique. The two of them have been riding in Italy and Spain for over two decades, and are true experts in what the regions have to offer. Both destinations present you with a similarly pleasurable, week-long experience of riding in varied landscapes, enjoying the best local delicacies and most importantly, not having to worry about any of the admin.  

While it's relatively easy to find nice gravel loops around your home, riding abroad is a different story - there are a lot of variables that might turn a nice cycling holiday into a day spent lost on unknown gravel paths, or hangry moments trying to find a cafe stop. Even if you're a seasoned gravel rider, cycling at new locations is a lot more helpful with a local expert and that is where Saddle Skedaddle comes in. 

With decades of experience, Saddle Skedaddle will make your riding experience a breeze – and all you need to do is enjoy the scenery and pedal your bike to the next villa where a glass of local wine is waiting for you. 

Tuscany - the quintessential taste of Italian gravel

cyclists riding in tuscan landscape on gravel road

It is hard to not imagine a sun-kissed morning in Tuscany, where the golden light bathes the rolling landscapes in a warm glow, and not want to be there, soaking it all in. The smooth, white gravel roads lined by cypress trees look simply like the perfect stage for a gravel ride through one of Italy's mesmerising heartlands.

Saddle Skedaddle's Tuscany holiday takes you on iconic Strade Bianche and Eroica routes and connects these with the local experts' favourite spots. The ancient paths are imbued with history and wind their way through the countryside like a treasure map, which makes for a very interesting ride, but there is much more on offer in Tuscany than simply pristine cycling.  

"Riding in Tuscany is the best because of the ever-changing beautiful landscapes. Our tour chooses some classic routes such as those of the Eroica but also lesser-known tracks offering magnificent views and crossing quaint villages that not many people have the opportunity to see and visit."  - Naomi, Skedaddle Italia

Wine glass against a Tuscan landscape

Taste the wines and sample the sweet delicacies

Over the week of riding in Tuscany, you will cut through the Chianti region – you might recognise the name from a wine bottle label –  and to the iconic views of the Colline Sienesi lined with those iconic cypress trees. Because of the relaxed itinerary, there's time to explore some of the UNESCO World Heritage sites that are along the route, such as Val D’Orcia and Pienza, known for their beautiful green hills, vineyards and medieval villages, and the hot springs of Bagno Vignoni. 

By exploring the region by bike, you will be quite literally traversing historic roads that already in Roman times connected the area with France. 

You should also prepare your taste buds for an exquisite adventure. If you have any interest in wines, the area is home to not only Chianti but also Brunello di Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano wines, as well as many other lesser-known local varieties. And of course, it's Italy, so there is no shortage of cafes and great treats to cure the sweet tooth, too. 

Who is the Tuscany cycling holiday for? 

Whether you want to explore Tuscany off the beaten path, learn more about the history of the area or simply have a good time indulging in some pasta, wine and tiramisu – this cycling holiday is a great way to do all of it. You can choose to join a guided small group tour and let the local experts take care of the itinerary and fill you in on the local history, or if you prefer to choose your own dates and go with a bunch of friends, that is an option too. You will just have to make your way to the start location with a bike or hire a gravel bike from Saddle Skedaddle, and from there, everything is taken care of. You don't have to worry about the routes, your luggage transfers, or anything else. 

The Tuscany experience is also suitable for various levels of riders. As long as you possess good bike handling skills, those smooth gravel roads are an easy introduction to gravel riding, and the tarmac sections break the routes up so you won't be rattling on rough roads all day. 

See all the details of the Saddle Skedaddle 'Tuscany - Strade Bianche Explorer' guided gravel riding holiday here

And to book a self-guided Strade Bianche Explorer trip, head over here

The Spanish Badlands - witness the wilderness of Andalucia

Badlands2

If you enjoy the beauty and excitement of rugged terrains more than smooth gravel, then Saddle Skedaddle's Spanish Badlands tour might be right up your alley. The Andalucian labyrinth of jagged sierras is a stark contrast to the lush Tuscan hills, but they too are dotted with ancient villages and castles, connected by an endless network of trails, making them any gravel adventurer's dream. The week-long cycling holiday takes you from the velvety asphalt to exhilarating single-track paths that awaken the adventurer's spirit.

"Our route crosses unique, contrasting and otherworldly landscapes, meandering through craggy sierras and forests, and passing castle-topped villages. We stop overnight in some lovely traditional towns along the way. The riding covers a mix of terrain, from smooth asphalt to exciting singletrack, taking in all that gravel riding has to offer.

"Heading out of Granada, we make our way past huge clay cliffs, through arid deserts, past the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, and traversing vast forests as we make our way to the province's capital; Almeria - a great spot to celebrate our gravel adventure in the Badlands!"

Dan, Skedaddle Espana

Badlands1

From Alhambra Palace to the Azure coastline

Badlands is perhaps best known for the annual ultra-distance gravel race named after it; but let's be honest, most of us would struggle to cover the 800km route through some of Europe's toughest terrains in a race scenario. Touring through the area at a more leisurely pace ensures that you get to take in your surroundings more and appreciate the rich history that it packs in. 

Much like the famous race, Skedaddle's Badlands adventure begins in Granada, a city that is home to the Alhambra Palace. From there, you will ride past clay cliffs, cross arid deserts, and catch glimpses of snow-capped Sierra Nevada peaks in the distance.

The trip finishes at the stunning volcanic Cabo de Gata coastline, where the Azure waters wash on the rugged shore. You can also enjoy a sunset dinner.

Much like Tuscany, Andalucia offers so much more than wonderful views and exceptional riding. There are lots of seafood delicacies to be sampled, and local dishes during cafe stops... perhaps even churros! 

Who is the Badlands gravel adventure best suited for? 

If you want a little bit of challenge up the occasional climb or two, and to witness some of the most spectacular panorama vistas you can find in Europe, the Badlands guided cycling holiday is great for taking you through all the main attractions at a relaxed (but not too slow) pace. 

Similarly to Italy, you can hire a well-equipped gravel bike from Saddle Skedaddle and you'll be provided a full itinerary and guidance from the local experts. 

See all the details of the Saddle Skedaddle 'Badlands of Andalucia' guided gravel riding holiday here. 

How do I sign up? 

The Tuscany cycling holidays run from May to September, and the Badlands rides take place in March and November. You can find out all about the availability on Saddle Skedaddle's website. If you don't have your own gravel bike, you can hire one for the week, which saves you from the stress of transporting your own. Don't wait around too long, book your gravel getaway now! 

You can book your place on one of these great gravel cycling holidays and find out more about the availability and pricing on Saddle Skedaddle's website

Suvi joined F-At in 2022, first writing for off-road.cc. She's since joined the tech hub, and contributes to all of the sites covering tech news, features, reviews and women's cycling content. Lover of long-distance cycling, Suvi is easily convinced to join any rides and events that cover over 100km, and ideally, plenty of cake and coffee stops. 

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Daveyraveygravey | 1 month ago
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If you're in Italy, don't follow the herd going to Tuscany, go to Abruzzo instead...

https://bikepacking.com/plog/wolfs-lair-film/

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