Cycling in Europe - EuroVelo

The EuroVelo project with the Pilgrims Route as Example

Jens Erik Larsen

The EuroVelo project is initiated by the European Cyclists' Federation and managed in cooperation with Sustrans, UK and De Frie Fugle, Denmark.
The purpose is to develop a European Cycle Route Network spanning the whole continent within a time span of 15 years. Whilst designed for holiday cyclists from abroad, such a network would naturally also cater to local cyclists, for both utility and recreational purposes. The project involves aspects of many divergent fields: transport, tourism, recreation, environment, congestion and road safety, regional development, public health and fitness, cultural exchange.

The overall aim of the project is to promote a shift to the bicycle from the private car by promoting cycle touring and thereby cycling in general. In so doing, European tourism would be encouraged to develop along sustainable lines. A whole range of benefits would accrue from this, ranging from preserving the environment and creating small-scale employment opportunities to promoting European cohesion and upholding rural settlement.
The initial proposal for a European Cycle Route Network comprising 12 pan European routes, linking all European countries. Some routes goes North - South, others West - East and two are circular routes.

The network will be largely based on existing and planned routes at a national or regional level. For each route a feasibility study have been made in order to prepare the implementation phase and to get an overview of which of the routes could be opened first. The opening of the first route took place in May 2001: The North Sea Cycle Route 6000 km.

Other examples

"The Wine and Gourmet Route" going from Atlantic Ocean (Nantes) to Black Sea (Constanta) follows very popular existing routes along La Loire, Bodensee and Donau and will probably be easy to marketing.

Two other routes have good themes and thereby good marketing potentials: The Amber Route through East Europe and The pilgrims Route through western part of Europe. Both routes are partly already existing.

The Pilgrims Route
The EuroVelo route no. 3, goes from Trondheim in Norway, to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The route follows traces of old roads which were used for big pilgrimages in the Middle Ages. The route passes through seven countries: Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, France and Spain.

Most of the countries have a developed net of bicycle routes which are used in this proposal.

In the Middle Ages pilgrims travelled to the most known attractions of the Christian world - Rome in the south, - Jerusalem in the east and - Santiago de Compostela in the west.
Trondheim in the north, was one of the most important holy places in nordern part of Europe. In Trondheim the holy relics of king Olav had a central meaning for Christians in Scandinavia. It began in 1030, when King Olav lost his life in a battle. Mysterious events at his grave, spread off the legend about him throughout Norway and that was to martyrize him.

For Denmark the first guide of "Hærvejen" was made by an Icelandic munch, Nicolaus, who in the 1100-century, described how the pilgrims should get to one of the biggest attractions in Europe: Santiago de Compostela by following Hærvejen down Jutland.

Most famous however is exactly the story from Santiago de Compostela:
Christian legends tell that one of the twelve apostles of Christ (St. James the Elder) had traveled widely on the Iberian peninsula, bringing Christianity to the Celtic peoples.
His relics were supposedly taken to Spain (Asturias) and enshrined following his martyrdom in Jerusalem around 44 AD.
In 813 AD a hermit led by a beckoning star discovered the location of the buried relics. Over the tomb where St. James relics were found, the first church was built in 829 AD, and within 100 years Santiago de Compostela was attracting pilgrims from all Europe. By the twelfth century it had become the centre of the greatest pilgrimage in medieval Europe.

The Pilgrims of today
An essential background for making the Pilgrims Route today, is that this special way of travelling in the footsteps of the old pilgrims, have been getting its renaissance:
In Norway a new signed walking route between Trondheim and Oslo was made in 1997 and a union for Pilgrims have been established.

In Denmark, the national bicycle route Hærvejen opened in 1989. It follows the roads of the historical Pilgrims. In Spain a signed Pilgrims Route for people walking, between Roncesvalles and Santiago de Compostela was promoted as a tourist route in 1987 and again in 1993 with financial support from the European Commission.

Kort over Euroveloruter

An obvious suggestion for the route through Norway, would be to follow the historical pilgrimsroute for walkers (the route is marked on the map). A guide for cheap accomodation along the route is available from the Pilgrims office in Oslo.
One of the accomodations is a farm which have been a hostel through 700 years. The Pilgrimsroute passes through 29 municipals. Many of these have produced their own little guide for pilgrims. But as it is today, the route is aimed at walkers and unsuitable for a long distance cycle route, so a parallel route has been investigated.

The route through Denmark follows an old pilgrimsroad Hærvejen (means both main road as well as military road ), that lies on the top of a ridge, and goes down in the middle of Jutland. By following the top of the ridge people have for ages been able to avoid the crossings of the rivers. Hærvejen is reckoned to start in Viborg, but the national cycle route n. 3 starts in the northern part of Jutland and part of this can be used for the EuroVelo Route.

In 1987 the "Camino de Santiago" (walking route) was appointed as the main cultural road in Europe, by the European parlament.
Every year people follow the old traces of the pilgrims from Roncesvalles to Santiago de Compostela. Today ca. 60% of pilgrims use bicycle, ca. 40% are walking and few are riding by horse. The route is signed all the way for walkers with the traditional cockleshell, but there is not a signposted route for bicycles.
The suggested bicycle route follows mostly slightly trafficked asphalt roads. Near the big cities it is difficult to avoid the big roads. The suggested route also follows main roads now and then, not to make the route too long. The suggested route is 863 km.

The Theme of the route is very remarkable with the upgrated pilgrimsroutes in Norway, Denmark and Spain. Besides Belgium and France have many remains from the pilgrimsperiode and it's easy to find historical traces to be followed.
Fortunately the historic route already includes many signposted routes, so that half of the 5122 kms are ready to use tomorrow.
Besides, El Camino de Santiago in Spain is so popular, that the authorities will probably not hesitate to signpost it as soon as the EuroVelo route 3 in total is planned.
The Wallone Region of Belgium is also very positive and ready with a proposal of which 164 kms of 200 are ready to use.
France will probably be the last country to finish the route, but so many initiatives concerning cycling are taken now in France, so in total we expect that the Pilgrims Route could be one of the first five EuroVelo routes to be implemented.
It might be possible to get cultural fundation from The European Commission or from other funds to help financing the implementation, signposting and to produce guides and maps.
Besides it's worth asking the Pilgrimsorganisations etc.

  • "European Cycle Routes - a report on national and international developments".
    Jens Erik Larsen & Philip Insall.
    Published by Sustrans Sept. 1997.
  • CykelGuide. The Danish National Cycle Network.
    Road Directorate and Sustrans. July 1996.


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