Have Bike — Will Travel. Top Trips for Cyclists From a Tour de France Vet

Yahoo TravelJuly 15, 2014

George Hincapie rode in the Tour de France 17 times (Photo: Hotel Domestique)

Bicyclists have become a hot new segment in the tourism industry. Cyclists are constantly on the lookout for locales with tough rides, stunning views, cooperative motorists, and good places to eat and relax.

George Hincapie should know. He’s been all over the world as a professional U.S. cyclist. He rode in the Tour de France 17 times, many of them alongside Lance Armstrong (Hincapie writes about the doping scandal and the end of his own cycling career in his new book, “The Loyal Lieutenant”). After leaving the sport in 2012, Hincapie, a native of Queens, NY, went in an unexpected direction: He moved down south and opened Hotel Domestique in Travelers Rest, South Carolina (just outside of Greenville).  


From cyclist to hotelier: George Hincapie’s Hotel Domestique brings a European flavor to South Carolina (Photo: Hotel Domestique)

“I thought it was such a special place,” Hincapie says of his new home, which reminds him of the European villages he used to fly through during his races. “I really liked the fact that if you took a shot of it and didn’t tell someone where it was, they would guess it was in Tuscany because of the views and vineyards.”


Hincapie’s hotel is cyclist-friendly, but non-cyclists are welcome too (Photo: Hotel Domestique)

Hincapie is quick to note his hotel isn’t a cyclists-only destination. “We have a really top-notch chef in-house,” he says. “We’re building our wine program as we speak. So we really make it a food and wine destination as well.” Still, his hotel is clearly cyclist-friendly. “We have a rental bike fleet so you don’t have to bring your bike. Just bring your shoes and cycling kit. Kind of like a ski-in, ski-out chalet.”

Having raced throughout the world, Hincapie knows a thing or two about good places to go cycling. Here are his top spots:

Villefranche-sur-Mer, French Riviera


Three countries in one bike ride? You can do it with a bicycle vacation in Villefranche-sur-Mer (Photo: Thinkstock)

Why it’s great for cyclists: The international variety. “The unique thing about riding here is you can basically ride in three different countries,” Hincapie says. “You can start in France, ride into Monaco — which is only a couple of miles long — go into Italy, and then turn around and go back to France. It’s not a hard ride. Also the scenery is probably the prettiest in the world.”

And if you’re cycling here, you’re cycling with the pros. “On any given day, you’ll see a handful of professional cyclists riding around because there are several that live within that area between Nice and Monaco.”

Where to stay: You can’t go wrong staying in town. “Villefranche is a very small fishing town,” Hincapie says. “The people are really friendly and there are great restaurants there as well.” He also likes some of the surrounding areas too. “Ville de Èze is a beautiful little village right above Nice. It’s a very cool town to go check out.”  

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Napa, California


The vineyards make for lovely biking in Napa (but if you’re going to sample the local product, do it AFTER your ride (Photo: Justin Kruger/Flickr)

Why it’s great for cyclists:  “Along with the great vineyards, there are very difficult, steep climbs that allow for some tough riding,” Hincapie says. “There’s a big cycling community and several bike lanes that are always helpful for cyclists.”

Where to stay: ”Solage Calistoga is probably one of the nicer hotels there.”

Advice to vacationing cyclists: It may seem obvious, but don’t go cycling after touring the vineyards. “I’ve done that — probably not the smartest thing,” laughs Hincapie. As he does with his other recommended cycling spots, Hincapie suggests you connect with a local cycling group (they’re all easy to find online). Plus, he advises: “A local guide can help you find the best roads.”

Malibu, California


Malibu isn’t just for beach going. There’s some great cycling there as well (Photo: Thinkstock)

Why it’s great for cyclists: “The scenery is beautiful,” Hincapie says. “You have the oceans and the mountains. But a lot of people don’t realize that once you go up those mountains, the riding is really incredible. You have tough terrain and not much traffic when you get away from the coast. The weather is great year-round, and there’s a great cycling community there as well.”

Where to stay: Don’t ask Hincapie. “I usually stay at a friend’s house,” he says with a laugh.

Advice to vacationing cyclists: Steer clear of Malibu’s famous ascent, the Rock Store Climb, on the weekends. “There’s a lot of motorcycle traffic then.”

Tuscany, Italy


The biggest problem about bicycling in Tuscany? The constant temptation to stop and admire the view (Photo: Thinkstock)

Why it’s great for cyclists: Because it’s Tuscany! “I love the vineyards in Tuscany — I love the food there,” Hincapie says. And the riding is pretty good, too. “Lots of roads climb up these little Italian villages. That’s why racing in Tuscany was always very difficult: because you always had to race up these mountain towns.” But he says tourists have it easier. “If you’re there as a casual cyclist, it’d be a lot easier to ride up these mountains to go there to have a glass of wine and a good meal.”

Where to stay: Hincapie doesn’t know; every time he’s been to Tuscany, it was for a race. “I definitely want to go there as a casual cyclist and enjoy all the scenery I wasn’t able to when I was racing,” Hincapie says.

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Lake Annecy, France


Want to approximate a Tour de France ride? Lake Annecy’s the place to do it (Photo: www.instants-cyclistes.fr/Flickr)

Why it’s great for cyclists: “It’s some of the best riding in the world,” Hincapie says. And if you want to pretend you’re in the Tour de France, this is the place to do it.  “The Tour de France always went near Lake Annecy,” Hincapie remembers. “It’s a beautiful lake. You can do a flat around the whole lake and enjoy the scenery. Or you can decide to go off of that road and climb up some of those iconic Tour de France climbs.

Where to stay: “If it was me, I would stay right in the city because it’s a beautiful town with lots of shops and bars and cafés. It’s also very easy to get out of town, where there are lots of activities. On the lake, there’s a kids’ park, so if you have small children, you can go there and enjoy the water slides.”

Related: Un, Deux, Trois, Quatre, Cinq! Five Tour de France Bike Trips

Girona, Spain 


You’re never far from a great biking road in Girona (Photo: Miquel C./Flickr)

Why it’s great for cyclists: Girona is near and dear to Hincapie’s heart. “I lived there for over 10 years and I really enjoyed it,” he says. “It’s a very historical town, lots of things to see.”

Needless to say, there’s a lot for cyclists as well. “Tons of roads, lots of climbs,” Hincapie says. “You can be in downtown Girona, hop on your bike and in about three miles you’re in the country riding a mountain, or riding on a flat road in the middle of nowhere.”

Where to stay: He cites Hotel Historic as a good option. 

Advice to vacationing cyclists: “There are bike tour groups there,” Hincapie says. “If you don’t know anything about Girona, you can hook up with them. There are tons of cyclists, so you aren’t alone when you go there to ride, that’s for sure.”

Greenville, South Carolina


Greenville’s great bike paths and European-style scenery are why Hincapie now hangs his helmet there (Photo: Hotel Domestique)

Why it’s great for cyclists: The other locations are great, but there’s a reason this New York-born vet of the European cycling circuit chose to make his retirement home in the unlikely cycling mecca of South Carolina. “I really enjoy riding here,” Hincapie says of Greenville, where he has fond memories of his pro days. “I trained here in the winters. I rarely had to ride indoors because of cold weather, so it’s really ideal for cycling.”

Not only is the weather ideal for cycling, Hincapie notes, but so is the landscape, with which other cyclists have fallen in love. “I’ve brought several pro riders here and they’re all amazed and shocked by how hard the riding is and how beautiful the terrain is as well,” Hincapie says.

Advice to vacationing cyclists: “There’s a bike bath that takes you from downtown Greenville all the way to Travelers Rest, which basically puts you right onto the country roads. There are several group rides that go out on the weekends. It’s definitely a very friendly cycling community.”

Where to stay: At the Hotel Domestique, of course!

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