European Bikepacking Routes

Bicycle Times Bikepacking Europe1 28Luxembourg, GR5/E2 trail

Two years ago I wondered about bikepacking routes in Europe.  After eight months of riding, researching, and blogging from Amsterdam to Sevastapol to Athens, this resource is the culmination of our efforts.  Europe is a great place to explore by bike, off-pavement, and self-supported.  Eat great food, visit fascinating cultural and historical places, and learn new languages, in between bike rides.  In Europe, there are rides and routes for every interest and skill level.  Use the search function or the archives on this page to learn more about our rides in Europe through the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Albania, Kosovo, and Greece.  Read more about our adventures across Europe in the Bicycle Times article Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea.

This is an incomplete list of European bikepacking routes.  These routes are either mapped, signed, and/or available as GPS tracks.  Many routes originate as self-supported off-pavement endurance races, multi-day stage races, or challenging routes for solo ITT.  Some are government tourism projects.  Others are the creation of avid riders or cycling organizations to promote the riding in their home country.  Lastly, some routes suggested here are repurposed walking routes, which may be done in sections or as a whole.  One route is currently planned, but is incomplete.  Additional rouetplanning resources include online retailers of maps and guides, or digital trail-finder resources.  The basic concept of this project is to awaken the world to the breadth of bikepacking possibilities in Europe, despite the lack of a single superstar route such as the Great Divide Route, Colorado Trail, or the Arizona Trail.  Bikepacking is a global phenomena, born of the passion to ride somewhere, off the beaten path, self-supported.

Use these links as a springboard to do your own research and riding.  Some routes may be easy with significant paved sections, non-technical terrain, and uncomplicated logistics.  Others are extremely challenging, with a large component of hike-a-bike.

Any assistance to improve the list is welcomed, including relevant comments about any of the listed routes and new route suggestions with links.  When possible the routes are linked to the most informative or relevant webpage, which most often originates from the route organizer or creator.  In a few cases, routes are listed without an official webpage or an official GPS route, such as The Red Trail in Poland, but the route is known to exist on the ground, is signed, and is indicated on Compass brand maps (and others).  To keep this listing simple I have chosen not to indicate the distance, difficulty, or source of route guidance (map, GPS, signs).  These features may come in the future, and if anyone wishes to host this list in further detail, contact me directly.  Start dreaming and get riding!

Please use the comment form below and check back in the future as this page develops.  Special assistance is needed to include routes from many countries, including: Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Denmark, Austria, Portugal, Slovenia, Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary (The Countrywide Blue Tour?), Serbia, Kosovo, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belorus, Russia, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg.  Israel is not in Europe, but is included due to a growing bikepacking scene.  Surely, there are many more routes in the countries listed.  Tell your friends.  Share it online.

Spain: TransAndalusTranspirinaicaTransiberia, Camino de Santiago, Camino del Norte, Transcantábrica, Via de la Plata, Camino del Cid; GR 48, Transnevada.   Many Spanish route maps and guidebooks available from labiciteca.com.

Portugal: Rota Vicentina, Via Algarviana

France: Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Traversée du Jura (maps), Traversée du Massif Central, GR5/E2 trail; VTTrack.fr for interactive MTB trail map of France

Belgium: GR5/E2 walking trail (general info); also, some images and info about the section in the Ardennes Mountains

Germany: GST: Grenzsteintrophy

UK: Bearbones 200England-Wales-EnglandLakeland 200, Pennine Bridleway, Ridgeway Double, South Downs Double, Coast to Coast, Trans Cambrian, Welsh Coast to CoastDevon Coast to Coast (Westcountry Way).  All routes and links thanks to selfsupportedUK.net.

Scotland: Scotland Coast to Coast, Highland Trail 550, West Highland Way, Cairngorms Loop

Italy: Italy Coast to CoastTuscany TrailSan Remo-Monte CarloMyLand Non-Stop (Sardinia), Alto Adige-Südtirol Extreme Bike TrailDolomiti TrailItalia TransmountainsThe Fat River (fatbike route), Transardinia.  Most routes courtesy of bikepacking.it.

Switzerland: Navad 1000National TrailsAlpine Bike #1Panorama Bike #2Jura Bike #3; Alpencross; National website for Mountainbiking in Switzerland

Sweden: Kungsleden

Poland: The Red Trail (Sudecki and Beskidzka, basic info only).  Compass brand maps show all hiking trails and cycling routes, including the long-distance red trails.  Note, the red trail is not a single trail across Poland, but a series of trails with lesser trails marked with painted blazes of other colors.  There is a route most of the way across the country E-W, mostly along red trails.

Czech/Slovakia: 1000 Miles Adventure

Croatia: Adriatic Crest

Montenegro: Top Biking Trail 3: Eastern Enchantment

Greece: Bike Odyssey

Israel: Holyland Bikepacking Challenge, Israel National Bike Trail (in progress), Israel National Trail (hiking)

Other resources: Footpaths provide the basis for many routes in Europe, most of which have developed over the past century.  Generally, these routes allow bicycles, with local exclusions, but they do not exclusively travel singletrack trails across wild lands and will pass towns, farmland, and paved sections.  The European Rambler’s Association (ERA) aims to complete a long-distance international trail system of footpaths throughout Europe, with numbered routes from E1-E12 currently in various phases of completion.  Most routes are assembled from pre-existing local and national trails. Each country may provide more detailed resources in the native tongue via dedicated websites or guides about national trail systems, such as the GR5 listed in France and Belgium, above.  Most often, printed regional trail maps can be found at local touristic centers, and commercial maps and guides may also be available.  Detailed roadmaps are also suitable for broad-scale navigation, and often show more detail than typical road maps in the USA.

Also worth mentioning is the EuroVelo network of cycling routes, fashioned much like the ERA, with international cross-continental routes numbered 1-12 in various stages of completion.  EuroVelo routes are generally ridable on a trekking bike, hybrid, or rigid mountain bike, and in some places are not recommended for a tire less than about 40mm.  Check out the EuroVelo6for the popular route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Black Sea.

If you wish to submit a route, please provide a link to the best source(s) of information and a brief description of your experience on that route, if any.  To qualify a multi-day off-pavement route for this listing, consider that it must be documented in detail, like the routes listed on Pedaling Nowhere-Routes or Bikepacking.net.

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Poland, The Red Trail

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Czech, Sumava National Park

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Ukraine, Polonina Borzhava

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France, Traversée du Massif Vosgien, Château Bernstein

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Ukraine

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Serbia

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Slovakia, 1000 Miles Adventure

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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France, TMV

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Greece, Bike Odyssey

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Luxembourg, GR5/E2 trail

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Belgium, GR5/E2 trail

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Guidebooks for routes in Spain.

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Poland, The Red Trail: one of many PTTK resources for hikers and cyclists available in the mountains, often serving hot food and cold beer.

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Maps in a Slovakian supermarket.

Bicycle Times Bikepacking Europe1 25Belgium, GR5/E2 trailNicholas Carman1 1789Albania

GR5: Stavelot to Vianden

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More of the same, which is nothing to complain about.  Climb out of Stavelot by bike, on foot, and back on the bike towards the top.  The trail often climbs steeply out of town between fencelines, sandwiched between diverse properties.  Further up, forests and farms leave room for a more generous track or trail.  Some great roads and trails exist in these forested hilltops.  It is amazing to find so many signed routes in this county– for walking, cycling, and mountain biking.  Europe is relatively dense with people and things, but an abundance of trails and resources makes adventures like this possible.  The same is true of the vast network of forest service roads in the American west, in contrast to places like Alaska that do not invite visitors by bicycle.  Access is the word.

Access is enabled by facilities and resources.  Roads and trails are required, yet maps and signage must make them known and easy to follow.  The latter require little public funds– maps, signs, and painted blazes are cheap.  Consider that the Great Divide Route is entirely a mapped resource, with no on-the-ground facilities (excepting a few errant signs).  The former, such as paved trails, can be more costly and potentially more valuable, but they should not serve as an absolute benchmark for all projects.  More affordable facilities have the capacity to enrich communities and enliven local economies, even in small towns where money is tight.  Numerous local walking and biking routes are proof that facilities are not always expensive.  

These aren’t answers, exactly, but the questions that come to mind every day in Europe are important.  Why do we have so much money for roads in America, but very little money for human-scale facilities?  Why are many American cities decentralizing, even when we love our losing ‘Main Streets’ and we travel to Europe to photograph and remark at the history?  How long before we invest in ourselves and our communities, as one takes an interest in their own health?

Climbing out of Stavelot.

   

 

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Little used forest tracks, inundated with water.  

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Except for the 4×6′ patch of ground inhabited by our tent.

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In Burg-Reuland, on the border of Belgium, Germany and Luxembourg.  Rent and E-bike!  Lots of walking and biking tourism here.

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Drying, eating, cleaning, lubing.

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And back up.

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In Luxembourg, following the Our River.  Red and white blazes have disappeared without notice, although a half-dozen other markings take their place.  Mostly, we follow the radiant sun of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, and various local walking and cycling routes.  Luxembourg is densely crumpled, rising and falling steeply.  For now, it is saturated after months of rain.  A little more like coastal Oregon than Pennsylvania around here.

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The diversity of trail surface is astounding.  Some highly rideable and pleasant, some prickly and challenging.

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Wet from days of rain, swollen rivers serve to soothe tired muscles and launder muddy t-shirts.

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And just before the skies opened again, we happen upon a free camping zone along the road.  This is the first that we have seen like this.  The timing could have not been any better.  As soon as the rainfly was affixed, it poured.

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On pavement on our way to Luxembourg City to connect with a friend.  

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Road construction nudges us back onto singletrack, and some prickly hike-a-bike around a reservoir.  Should have taken the advised road detour.  

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After some delay, we finally drop into Vianden, marked by a castle on the hill.  Finally, sunny skies for the afternoon.

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On our way to Luxembourg City for the national holiday and all-night parties in the streets.  Partying the Luxembourgish way.  

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GR5: Genk to Stavelot

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In the Netherlands, the GR5 was an interesting ramble through town and country.  In northern Belgium, the route frequently follows managed forest tracks and local mountain bike routes, often abandoned doubletrack.  Passing near Maastricht and Liège, the routes enters the famed Ardennes Mountains, famed for being the only mountains in Belgium.  If this were Pennsylvania, which is how it looks from squinted eyes atop a hill, we would joke that these are mere hills.  But the same is true both here and there, these are steep hills approaching 1000ft in elevation range, and after riding up and over a couple I am happy to regard them as mountains.  Finally, this is real mountain biking.  The diversity of the trail has not diminished, simply more time is spent off-pavement and even off-road– yes, there is a distinction.  Some hiking required, and many challenging ascents and technical descents, but mostly pleasant riding.  ‘Bikepacking the Ardennes’ may be a ready made route, and an instant classic.

These images are from the last three days, as hills turn to mountains.  Only 1550km to Nice.  Not sure if we are going there.  Always passing through tunnels.  

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We never leave at first light, but we ride until the last hour almost every night.  The sun retires past 10PM, lingering below the horizon for another hour.  As the days get warmer, evening becomes a nice time to ride.  

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Mornings are equally nice– cool and full of excitement for the day.  Change is the essence of this route, and scouting the next turn keeps us busy all day.  Shopping for food, picnicking, and swimming revive our muscles and our interests in riding.  Belgian beer, chocolate, and waffles keep our energy levels high for the next climb.   More than a few locals have been interested in our curious ‘touring bikes’.

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We share the route with a few others, including farmers, cattle, cars, hikers; nettles, raspberry brambles, deer ticks, tall grasses, overgrown trees, mud, rock, roots; and very infrequently, other cyclists.

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The Ardennes are wonderful.  Growing up in rural New York, I hunger for these kinds of landscapes.  Touring in the Rockies the past few summers and living in New Mexico, I had forgotten about humidity altogether.  Mud and nettles; rocks and steeps; cities and steps all got together. 

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Many stone buildings do not have provisions for exterior plumbing, which can make it hard to find unattended water sources.  Cemeteries are a safe bet.  In the mountains, streams are always found in the valleys.

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Camping has almost never been easier.  Much of the trail passes through public forests.  A bench, like a picnic table, is a nice feature.

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In 2009, the GR5 marked its 50th anniversary.  

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Here, our descent to Stavelot–  a half-day in the life of a GR5 thru-biker.

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 A tunnel completes the route to town.  Both natural and manufactured features make the GR routes exceptional.  The footpath shares this tunnel with a small stream.

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Riding south, hoping to reach Luxembourg City this weekend.  A friend from Tacoma performs with The Paperboys at midnight on Saturday.  

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Nouvelle Belgique

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Belgium is a good place to ride a bike.  The GR trails have been a better host than we could have even imagined.

Thanks to Jo (of the circus), Matthieu and Annelise for welcoming us back into the country.  Thanks to Scott for the fine bikepacking equipment; each day my framebag fits more 75cl beers than the last.  Between Bruxelles and the border of Luxembourg, Lael and I found some hills, soon to become mountains.  Real mountain biking, plus the usual European diversions, coming soon.

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Running away with the circus

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Jo Emmers ran away with the circus fourteen years ago.  He has been at it ever since.  He is a performer of all kinds– a comedian, acrobat, puppeteer, vocalist, and a dramatist.  He, like others in the circus, are responsible for all aspects of the operation, both on stage and off.  Circus Ronaldo has been in existence for over forty years, with a familial history even more storied, which now includes current members that count six generations of circus performance.  The circus travels from city to city, in a caravan consisting of everything needed for their performances.

Jo caught us filling our water bottles in the park.  He wandered over to have a chat about traveling by bike, as he says he also enjoys riding and traveling by bike.  Shortly, he invites us to stay for the show.  And for a simple meal after the show. And for the night, in the back of the circus’ box truck.  Jo rides a nearly original Raleigh three-speed bicycle with a pair of modern canvas panniers.  The bike features an original sidewall dynamo and lighting (which works!), and a small leather tool bag attached to the saddle that suggests many useful years.  I parted with an official pin from the Society of Three Speeds, and suggested that he may be interested in membership.  Jo is one of the nicest people we have ever met, willing to offer anything to make our day better.  There aren’t words for the kindness that Jo exudes, but he inspires us to keep smiling and to remember to be kind– simple, but profound.  Thanks Jo!

Out of the woods and into the city of Lier.  Each city offers new sights, a different history and new opportunities.

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While filling water bottles in the park, Jo invites us to the circus.  The show is sold out, but he offers to sneak us in the back.  First, he shows us around.

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The tent is divided in half– one half serves as an entrance and a bar, with standing room.

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The other half presents an ornate, and portable stage.

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We break for dinner before the show.  After a week of rain, skies finally clear.

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Dressed as an Italian bartender, Jo serves drinks and hustles some extra business from behind the bar.  Below, he is dancing atop the bar and singing in Italian.

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Amaretto liqueur, per favore.

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Most people ride bikes to the show.  Belgium is not quite like the Netherlands, although it is still home to millions of bicycles and daily riders.

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Above all, the show is a comedy, while acrobatics, marionettes and drama are involved.

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As the show ends, we embark upon an evening ride to explore the city.

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We sleep in the circus’ box truck for the night which keeps us dry without the hassle of a tent.

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In the morning, croissant et café au lait.

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We say goodbye in the morning.  Just across the street, we are back on the route, currently riding GR12 towards Bruxelles.  The GR12 connects Amsterdam, Bruxelles, and Paris.

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Within a few minutes, we are out of the city once again.

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Bikepacking Europe

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Thus far– less than a week, really– bikepacking the GR5 route has been a rich experience.  I use the term bikepacking loosely, for at times we are amidst city bicycle traffic, overdressed for the occasion.  At times, we encircle local forests along dirt doubletrack– roads to rural homes or geometrically organized forest service roads.  And sometimes, we are riding singletrack– walking, horseback riding, or sometime even mountainbiking trails.  The promise of the GR and official European walking routes is a diverse overland experience, easing from city to country several times daily, from pavement to dirt at will.  These are not wilderness trails, exclusively.  They are not exclusively singletrack.  They are always different.  For Europeans that dream of famed bikepacking routes across the globe, such as the Colorado Trail or the Great Divide Route, do not overlook the opportunities out your front door.  Coloradans and Californians should be jealous of the routes that exist here, for several reasons.

An expansive network of local and long distance routes: With the North Sea behind us, signage now points towards Nice, over 2000km away.  This location near Bergen op Zoom is the intersection of the GR5/E2, GR11, GR12, and GR17.

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Signage, guidebooks and maps are copious.  Lael and I are following red and white blazes marking trees, signposts, electrical boxes, buildings, and fences.  Most of the time this is all we need,  Occasionally, signage is faded or damaged and we are sent looking for the route.  With the right approach, even these wild goose chases are part of the fun.  We consider it like a treasure hunt for grown-ups.  Guidebooks are available.  Local maps and guides are always available at libraries and tourist offices.  Wandelnetwerk (walking trails) on the left, fietslus (bike trails) on the right.

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While we are simply following a red and white breadcrumb trail, major junctions also have public maps.  Most often, these maps show major cycling routes or local walking trails.  Even without the GR5 route listed, we can identify nearby towns and roads should we need to navigate locally.  This map actually shows the GR routes that pass through Bergen op Zoom.

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Wet weather has cordoned the camera to a dry corner of my framebag, but the riding is great!  Well-drained singletrack and doubletrack through lush forests is countered with visits to small towns with libraries, markets and bakeries.  We awoke this morning to sandy riding along these inland dunes; this afternoon, we go searching for the Westmalle Abbey, one of only seven genuine Trappist breweries in the world.  During the day, we visit two libraries to dry off and write home.

While backpacking Europe has become expensive, as the price of hostels, lodging and rail passes have increased, bicycling or bikepacking Europe presents an affordable way to travel.  Following rural routes, we find plentiful campsites in picturesque settings.  Our major daily costs are food and wine.  As we enter Belgium we add beer and chocolate to the list.  The variety of cheese, wine, and cured meats expands as we near France, and the prices decrease.  We eat better here than anywhere else, and it doesn’t cost any more.

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And unless you like the look of pit toilets, stock tanks, and barbed wire, European bikepacking offers more exciting architecture than the popular routes in the States.  We asked directions through this area and were told to turn left at the “great white house”.  Turn left here.

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There are 11 major walking trails in Europe, designated E#.  For example, we are following the E2 route, which coincides with the GR5.

Additional resources on European routes in this Wikipedia article.  France has the greatest network of trails, with over 64,000km of walking trails.  Major routes listed here.

We have also followed some of the North Sea Cycle Route, a mostly paved route which encircles the North Sea through the UK, Scandinavia, Denmark, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium.  Finally, the EuroVelo association has developed some excellent long-distance cycle routes across Europe, mostly paved or graded surfaces.  Lael and I have ridden some of the popular EuroVelo6 in the past, and found it to be well-signed, selecting interesting routes with low-traffic volumes.  The opportunities are endless.