Mallorca may be the obvious Spanish cycling hub, but the small city of Girona is home to more than 100 professional cyclists — and a growing number of international homeowners. Close to the French border, Barcelona, the Costa Brava and the big climbs of the Pyrenees, it sits within verdant volcanic valleys known as the “Tuscany of Spain”.
The city was top choice for Louise Laker, a former racer, when she left London to set up a cycling touring business. “Girona is a great mix of flat roads and mountains, with a friendly community of retired professional cyclists,” she says.
The sophisticated Catalan culture and quality of life attracted Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, the South African professional racer, and her triathlete husband Carl to the region, rather than opting for a base in the Italian lakes.
“This area is super-special and incredible for training,” says the 33-year-old, who is preparing to take part in the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. “Where else in Europe can you cycle for five hours and not see another person?” Her family runs a cycling retreat in a renovated masia (farmhouse) near Banyoles lake and Rocacorba, one of the area’s best climbs.
Rural masia are popular with British and American second home buyers. Expect to pay at least €1.5m for a renovated home with a pool, says Marisa Heatherwick of agent Lucas Fox. “But prices drop west of Girona.” The agent is selling a six-bedroom villa near Banyoles for €875,000.
Some cyclists prefer to live in the city’s historic centre, where the average price per sq m is €3,500, according to Spanish property site Idealista.
Home to the wild and dramatic Yorkshire Dales and the North York Moors national parks, Yorkshire is the natural home of British cycling. This month the region will host the UCI Road World Championships. A combination of unforgiving hills, such as Park Rash, and undulating dales are criss-crossed by empty lanes and minor roads bordered by dry stone walls. Rural villages are lined with welcoming pubs and cafés.
Cycling interest has taken off since 2014 when the county hosted the Grand Départ of the Tour de France. The Tour de Yorkshire takes place every May and local media report that negotiations are under way to bring the starts of the Vuelta a España and Tour de France to the area in the next six years.
The region is soon to be represented at the world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale’s European tour, says Kate Horsfall, founder of Yorkshire’s first all-women’s cycling club, the Yorkshire Lasses. “Since 2014 we’ve seen bike shops and cycling clubs proliferate, and Pateley Bridge is often included in the top 100 climbs in Europe,” she says. “It’s only the weather that lets us down.”
Edward Stoyle, head of the York office for estate agent Carter Jonas, took up cycling when he moved to Harrogate in North Yorkshire. “Ten years ago everyone played golf here — now they cycle,” he says. “Cycling has just enhanced the attraction of owning a second home, but is not quite the sole motivation — yet.”
North Yorkshire is easy to reach from four international airports, and Stoyle says North York Moors villages close to the A170 (arterial road access is key) are popular, such as pretty Hutton-le-Hole, or in the Yorkshire Dales, villages and towns such as Swaledale, Coverdale and Skipton. Expect to pay £400,000 to £500,000 for a three or four-bedroom period cottage. For larger parties, in the small hamlet of Smelthouses close to Pateley Bridge is a four-bedroom former rope mill available for £800,000 through Dacre, Son & Hartley.
The region may be less prestigious than the Alps for luxury chalets, but the Pyrenees can run a good race when it comes to Tour de France history.
Le Tour first ventured into the mountain range in 1910, with back-to-back stages so tough that the overall winner, Octave Lapize, described the organisers as “murderers”. Since then, climbs such as the Tourmalet, Aubisque and Peyresourde have gained legendary status because of their brutal gradients and switchbacks that provide, long gruelling ascents and wild descents.
Many cycling tourists go on to buy homes, says Angela Craig who runs a cycling business from the base of Col du Tourmalet in the Campan valley: “This valley offers a double season, with cycling and hiking in the summer season of April to November, and skiing in the winter.
“There is a large English-speaking community, with people coming from South Africa too. Property is generally inexpensive, so some buy chalets or old barns and renovate them,” says Craig.
Her holiday accommodation, Gîte Belle Vie, is in Sainte-Marie-de-Campan, a small Pyrenean village that marks the start of the 17.2km climb to Col du Tourmalet, the highest paved mountain pass in the French Pyrenees. Bagnères-de-Bigorre, Argelès-Gazost, Payolle, Saint-Savin, Trébons and Aspin are also popular with cyclists, says Juliet Browning of agent Leggett Immobilier.
“Consider villages south of the A64, with easy access via Tarbes — Lourdes — Pyrénées Airport,” she says, where Londoners or Parisians with a spare €200,000 to €300,000 will be able to buy a three-bedroom holiday home.
The historic spa town of Bagnères-de-Luchon enjoys a higher international profile and offers a six-bedroom chalet for €419,000.
Cyclists in search of culture choose Tuscany, and there is no better way to explore medieval hilltop villages — and work off plates of pasta — than by bike.
Chianti’s small mountain range is ideal training terrain and forms a gruelling stage in the Giro d’Italia race, and there are plenty of bike repair shops and enoteca. The village of Quarrata is the European base of British cycling and is home for the 2019 Tour de France runner-up Geraint Thomas.
A recent trend for gravel bikes (a cross between mountain and road bikes) has made the “white gravel roads” of the annual Strada Bianche race popular. It starts and finishes in Siena.
Londoner Bob McNaughton became obsessed with cycling after buying a second home near Siena. “It’s a stunningly beautiful area with great quality quiet roads and reliable weather,” he says. “You can ride your bike all year without getting a puncture. I have taken a bike around the world — and Tuscany is still top of my list.”
McNaughton’s five-bedroom estate is now for sale for €1.75m through Savills. Farmhouses usually start at about €750,000 but Savills also has a restored four-bedroom villa near Radda for €650,000.
Lucca is another cycling hub — like Siena and Chianti, easily reached from Pisa and Florence international airports. It is home to former professionals, including Italy’s Mario Cipollini. “With the Versilia coastline and the Abetone and Garfagnana mountains close by, there are over 50 rides, with must-do routes including Monte Serra, Pizzorne, Fiano and Passo Sella,” says Gabriel Mirra of touring company Chronoplus. “The hills around Lucca, Pieve Santo Stefano, Valgiano, Gattaiola, Mutigliano and Matraia are beautiful areas to own a villa.”
According to Gemma Bruce of agent Casa & Country, a restored farmhouse with views and a pool costs around €2m. “Or for €3m-plus, one of the magnificent Lucchese mansions.”
With its Mediterranean climate, countless flights and 1,250km of cycling routes whizzing around the breathtaking Sierra Tramuntana mountains, Mallorca has become the go-to jaunt for many UK cycling clubs.
Various estimates, including that of the Balearic Cycling Federation, suggest that 200,000 cycling tourists visit Mallorca every year, mainly from the UK, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands.
About 200 hotels across the island specialise in catering for cyclists, according to the Mallorca Hotels Federation, but some dedicated to the sport prefer to buy their own base, such as Rotterdam-born Jan-Willem Sintnicolaas who sold his titanium cycle manufacturing business in Holland to set one up in Pollensa, called J Guillem.
“Distances here are not super-long, unlike the Alps where you can spend all day climbing up one mountain, and there are plenty of coffee stops, or other pockets of interest,” he says.
Pollensa is the perfect base because it is close to the mountains and is the starting point of some good rides: Puig Major, Formentor, Sa Calobra or the Orient valley — much of which is covered in the island’s main cycling event, the Mallorca 312 (km), says Guillem.
Sintnicolaas is selling his five-bedroom townhouse in Pollensa for €1.2m to build a house nearby. Town houses in Pollensa old town start at about €350,000, according to Gary Hobson of agent Engel & Völkers: “But nearby Puerto Pollensa — where Team Sky had a training camp for years and many pro riders including Bradley Wiggins own properties — is also popular.” A two-bedroom apartment with lift costs around €250.000.
Or buyers might consider the hilly area of Campanet where a villa with garage and pool costs about €550,000.
Alpe d’Huez, France
Cyclists train all year to tackle the mountains, and Alpe d’Huez is a magnet with the 21 gruelling hairpins of its famous Tour de France climb.
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Like the Pyrenees, it offers dual-season holiday homes, says Victoria Blacker of agent Leggett Immobilier: “The majority of buyers are either cyclists who like to ski a little, or skiers who like to cycle a little. Some people come out with skis and bikes,” she says.
“As long as the road is cleared of snow, cyclists will make the most of the route from Bourg-d’Oisans up to Alpe d’Huez,” she adds.
Blacker suggests the best places for cyclists to buy is at the foot of the valley, offering them plenty of options of where to start their cycle route of the day, be it the 21 Virages or the Col de Sarenne via Les Balcons d’Auris. It is a 90-minute transfer from Grenoble airport. Currently for sale in the road-cycling town of Bourg-d’Oisans is a chalet divided into seven apartments — an ideal rental investment property — for €1.3m.
Properties cost between €2,000 per sq m for a house in either Bourg-d’Oisans or La Garde-en-Oisans, a smaller village also on the road up to Alpe d’Huez, where prices rise from €2,500 to €7,000 per sq m.
Ride like Laura Kenny
The Olympic gold medallist and GB track and road cyclist casts her vote to Mallorca for training abroad: “It delivers on everything: the great weather means you can get early starts, it’s very cycling-friendly and it’s a good mix of climbs and flats.
“The key to my training is more ‘efforts’ than overall distance, so I will do blocks of one or two hours’ high-intensity work, then take a break. Mallorca is perfect as you are only ever 30 minutes from a town so you can drop anchor and have a coffee.”
Although Kenny trains six days a week when she is in the UK, she still rides for pleasure with her husband, fellow Olympic champion Jason Kenny, and their son, Albie, in the area around her home in Cheshire. “It’s a good mix of flats and hills, with quiet roads and the beautiful Peak District close by.
“I’ve also spent time around the Lee Valley VeloPark, east London, closer to where my family are from. One of my goals is to do the big climbs of the Tour de France, but I haven’t managed to fit them in yet.”
Laura Kenny is training for the European Championships and the Tokyo Olympics in 2020
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