AMSTERDAM — This country is ideal for cyclists. Not only is it possible to pedal alongside the canals but your hotel can meet you at a different point each evening.
Two years ago a Dutch company, Cycletours, introduced moderately priced tours that combined bicycling with canal boat accommodations. It's been so successful that a second route is being introduced this year.
About 11 million of the Netherlands' 14 million people are cyclists and, as taxpayers, have supported a 6,200-mile network of bike paths and lanes that crisscross the country.
With Cycletours, bicyclists cover 20 to 30 miles a day, either with the group and guide or at their own pace, following a specific set of route instructions.
The lodging, aboard a converted 108-foot canal barge, sails through the canals and meets the riders each evening. Cyclists, when they choose, can take breaks during the seven-day trip and relax on board.
Barges have a galley, a large dining/lounge area and two showers. They sleep up to 24 passengers in two- and four-berth cabins.
Individuals who book into four-berth cabins are charged 695 guilders (about $390 U.S.) a week. A twin cabin is 795 guilders (about $447 U.S.) per person a week. Rates include bikes, breakfasts, dinners and self-packed lunches.
The seven-night Cycletours programs leave Amsterdam each Saturday until mid-September. You'll find its office at Keizersgracht 181 in Amsterdam.
The Netherlands is also well-suited to the "do-it-yourself" cycle tourist. Rental bikes are available at more than 100 rail stations throughout the country at an average rate of $4 a day or $15 a week.
If you want to get away from Amsterdam for the day, join Ena's Bike Tours. Daily departure during the summer is at 10 a.m. from Amstel rail station.
Guided groups visit a working windmill, a cheese-making farm and take a boat ride. The $21 fee includes use of a bike. And take along a bathing suit for swimming.
A new company, Yellow Bike Guided Tours, also is offering bike programs.
Several times a day, starting at 9 a.m., it conducts a 3 1/2-hour guided, historic, city cycling tour, departing from Beurs van Berlage, Damrak 247. Cost is $14.
But don't try Amsterdam by bike right after an overseas flight. Get over jet lag first. Also, watch out for vehicles. Although most Dutch drivers respect the cyclists, it's the other drivers who contribute to the confusion.
If you prefer to cycle away from the city, join a 6 1/2-hour Waterland Tour that goes 19 miles north through a nature reserve to a windmill, a cheese-making farm and a wooden shoe factory.
The end is at Marken, famous for its colorful wooden houses and residents in traditional Dutch costumes. Participants return to Amsterdam by bus.
Cost is $22. The tour departs at 8:30 a.m. from Beurs van Berlage, or at noon from the Tourist Information Office at Amsterdam's Central Station.
More information, such as route suggestions, package tours, cycling events, traffic rules, accommodations, maps and detail on transporting bicycles is covered in the publication "Cycling In Holland." For a free copy, contact the Netherlands Board of Tourism, Suite 305, 90 New Montgomery St., San Francisco 94105; (415) 543-6772.