Think cycling in Hampshire and your thoughts probably turn to picturesque trails ambling through the New Forest.
But for serious, and less serious, road cyclists, there’s so much more.
While there is plenty of great family and leisure cycling to discover, Hampshire is also a perfect spot for a variety of more challenging routes for road cyclists.
And a series of new routes just launched by Visit Hampshire offer a handy guide to off-the-beaten track cycling through some of Hampshire’s finest scenery, using quiet rural country lanes with very little traffic.
From the steep-sided sunken lanes and short and sharp hills of ‘Little Switzerland’, to river-straddling rides through the Test Valley, the routes offer rides of between 60 and 20 miles – along with suggested cycle-friendly cafes, pubs and attractions.
As well as highlighting tried and tested refueling spots for a bite to eat, great coffee or local ale, the three new routes start and finish at a cycle-friendly hotel, on the edge of the heritage city of Winchester.
Nestling just outside the city, and on the doorstep of the South Downs National Park, the Holiday Inn Winchester has just undergone a £2.5m refurbishment, including the creation of a new five-star luxury spa that’s perfect for a post-ride deep-tissue massage.
As well as outside secure bike storage, cyclists can take their bikes to their room – if the bike is stored in a bike bag or box – while the hotel also stocks inner tubes, a track-pump and energy bars. It also offers a ‘cyclist breakfast pack’ for cyclists wishing to head out before the restaurant opens. Included with the cyclist break pack is porridge, pastry, bottle of water, muesli bar and fruit for £6.
Winchester rail station is a 20-minute cycle ride away, making the hotel – which also now boasts a spacious open lobby, new bar area, restaurant and open kitchen – the perfect base for a cycling break.
For those looking for a day’s challenging cycling, there’s the 60-mile Tour of Little Switzerland – ‘Hampshire Swiss Roll’.
Beech woodland, steep climbs with short sharp gradients of up to 20%, tree lined sunken lanes, chalk hillsides and views of the surrounding countryside have given this part of Hampshire the nickname of ‘Little Switzerland’. The route travels through picturesque villages and stunning views in and around the South Downs National Park, including sweeping vistas down to Avington Park, bordering the River Itchen, with a 16th-century country house at its heart, said to be where King Charles II found lodging for Nell Gwyn. Ride past quaint churches and through attractive villages along the way including Easton, Lower Farringdon, the Meon Valley with great downhill sections next to the river.
The 60 Mile Tour of Little Switzerland is an excellent route from early April to late September. With little traffic, it’s hard to believe this is South East England.
The 36-mile Tour of the Test Valley – covering countryside to the west of Winchester – includes stunning thatched cottages, pretty chalk stream views of the River Test, one of the world’s best fly-fishing spots, as well as the Leckford John Lewis estate home to the Waitrose Farm.. The Estate Farm Shop cafe tucked away in a quiet, secluded rural location provides a perfect place to a stop for refreshments. The route meanders through farmland and the Test Valley, so while it does not include any significant climbs, it is certainly rewarding for natural beauty
A shorter 19-mile Itchen Valley Routetakes in a northern section of the South Downs National Park which is well known for its famous watercress beds. Hampshire has been growing this salad for centuries, and while the industry’s heyday was in Victorian times, the crop – now dubbed a ‘superfood’ thanks to its nutritional benefits – is still produced in traditional waterbeds. Stop off in Alresford, a handsome Georgian townknown as the ‘Capital of Watercress’ with its colour-washed houses, riverside walks and cycle-friendly cafes Caracoli and The Courtyard Tea Rooms.
Great coffee and country pubs feature in all three routes, including Winchester Coffee Roasters at Kings Worthy (which also offers coffee courses to become your own barista at home); Woodfire X Coffee Lab in Stockbridge, a light and airy pizza restaurant-come-cafe with an authentic woodfire pizza oven; Tree House Coffee Shop at Garthowen Garden Centre; the Bush Inn, a traditional 17th century pub on the banks of the River Itchen in the picturesque village of Ovington; and The Plough, at Itchen Abbas, where Charles Kingsley is said to have been inspired to write The Water Babieswhilst staying there.
All tourist information for Hampshire can be found at www.visit-hampshire.co.uk