Biking the Baltics

This item appears on page 30 of the September 2010 issue.

My husband, Fred, and I took a guided, two-week bicycle tour covering parts of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, July 21-Aug. 4, 2009.

The “Baltic Explorer” cost €1,199, then about $1,700, per person (land) and included hotel accommodation for 14 nights; baggage transport; the use of 24-gear trekking bicycles; all breakfasts; dinners on about half of the days; train/bus tickets for the transfers; admission to many museums; two city tours, and road books with detailed daily routes.

We booked the tour through Bike Tours Direct (Chattanooga, TN; 877/462-2423, This US company is the broker for many European bicycle tour companies and lists hundreds of tours. We have used them for several tours and found their offerings interesting and moderately priced.

Bicycle Tours Direct worked with Nonstop Travel to help us book a round-trip flight on SAS, Washington-Copenhagen-Riga (Latvia), for $1,650 per person.

To get over jet lag, we arrived a day ahead of the tour and stayed at the same hotel where our group would meet the next day. The extra night cost €40 per person.

We like group tours on which we bike 40 to 60 miles a day, have a guide and support vehicle and use hotel lodging. Although all riders might not bike at the same speed, there is time for socializing during meals.

For this ride, participants needed to be able to ride 50 to 80 miles a day for four days in a row. The route included a mixture of bike lanes, asphalt roads and 20 or so miles of rather rough gravel roads.

It did help to be able to speak and understand some German, as the main overview each day was in that language. The guide would go over the main points again in English, but sometimes we had to ask questions.

The road books each had a narrative overview on one page and maps showing the day’s marked route, but it was not easy to switch back and forth between the narrative and the map while riding. Each had an additional page in English, but some of the translations were unclear and we had to work out what was meant or stay with German-speaking riders.

This tour was well organized. On all the biking days, the guide who drove the support van bought snacks and picnic lunches for us for about €4 per person. He would meet us for a snack break at around 11 (after about 30 to 40 kilometers), for lunch at around 2 p.m. and for another snack around 4:30. The other guide rode along with the slower riders.

Many of the days’ routes covered 65 to 75 miles (105 to 120 kilometers), but we could opt to ride partway in the support van. Six to eight of us took advantage of this on most days.

Each of the three countries we visited has a distinct language and culture, and biking through the small towns and countryside, as well as touring the larger cities, gave us a good introduction to the area.

Special highlights included staying overnight in the beautifully restored town of Kuldiga, Latvia; riding through the forests along the Baltic Sea, around the town of Palanga and on the Curonian Split in Lithuania, and visiting Rundale Castle, a Latvian Versailles.

We also stayed overnight at two Estonian manors, Sangaste and Palmse. Sangaste is still a work in progress; the exterior has been restored, but many of the guest rooms are small, bare and gray.

At Palmse, the manor house has been restored and many of the rooms refurnished. The old distillery at the manor complex has been remodeled into a lovely hotel with comfortable rooms and a good restaurant.

Our tours of Riga and Tallinn were fascinating, and we were glad we had scheduled an extra day in Riga as there was so much to see and do.


Frederick, MD