Amelia Langford takes on Japan’s ‘Shimanami Kaido’ cycleway, and finds it’s not all downhill.

I'm not a lycra-clad cyclist-type by any means but after hearing about the beautiful scenery of the cycling path linking the islands of Honshu and Shikoku, I decide to give it a try. Also known as the Nishiseto Expressway, it's a 60-kilometre ride along a series of bridges, offering some of the best views in Japan. The usual route is to start from the seaside town of Onomichi in the Hiroshima prefecture, but I'm starting on the opposite side.

I rent a bike from an old man at a Shikoku bike station for 1000 yen (about $14) a day. He points me in the right direction and tells me to follow the blue line, a tool to stop cyclists getting lost along the way.

It's only a short time before I reach a convenience store - surely those in Japan are the best in the world, with everything you need, all in one place. I pick up rice balls and water bottles, then find the blue line again and begin in earnest.

The first magnificent view is at the Kurushima-Kaikyo suspension bridge, which I reach after a bit of a climb. The bridge spans more than four kilometres - I stop halfway to take photos and have a chat with a couple from Tokyo. We take a group shot despite being strangers - it doesn't matter, we are all cyclists on the road.

Advertisement

I reach the beautiful Oshima island, then the smaller island of Hakatajima. The ride down from the bridge is outstanding, with wild flowers along the path and a glorious view of the sea.

I soon spot a small wooden structure by the roadside with a sign declaring it a "library". Curious, I take a short stop and find just two chairs, a pair of sunglasses and an umbrella.

Strangely enough, there is not a single book to be seen.

I've booked to stay the night at an onsen hotel in Ikuchijima, but as I cross the cable bridge and arrive, the place is deserted. I ask a passing jogger for directions and he graciously jogs back to show me the way.

The place looks a little rustic. It's run by an older Japanese couple who do not speak English. At night, I brave the onsen - a public bath built by the elderly owner - and am happy to find it deserted. Soaking in hot water surrounded by carefully placed stones and rocks, I feel confident the magic of the onsen is working miracles on my tired muscles.

At breakfast, I meet a young Mexican guy and we agree to cycle the rest of the trip together. He says he has come ill-prepared and he's not exaggerating - he is wearing boat shoes and forgot to bring sunscreen. He shows me the deep purple sunburn on his arm from his first day of riding.

Our stops along the way bring us to various attractions, including the strange Kosanji temple, built by a businessman in the 1930s in homage to his mother; and a gelato parlour famous for its citrus flavours - before reaching the last island.

By this point we are both ready to finish the bike ride and get a beer. The last 10 kilometres are a challenge but we follow the blue line to its end and finally arrive at the port where we catch a five-minute ferry to Onomichi (the last bridge is narrow and car-only).

That night we celebrate our ride by ordering moscow mules in a bizarre ocean-themed bar hidden down a back street.

There are sharks and other fish in a glass case and the owner tells me he stuffed one of the giant crabs himself.

It's a strange yet pleasurable end to what has been a memorable adventure - one I would definitely do again. The scenery is magnificent and you never know who you might meet - or what you might see - on the road.

Hot tips

● Avoid doing the Shimanami Kaido during the height of summer (July/August) when it will be hot and muggy.

● Use the courier service available at most hostels to get your luggage sent to your accommodation at the end of the ride. Travel with a small daypack.

● Give yourself time to cycle at a leisurely pace so you can enjoy the scenery and stop off to visit the attractions.

● If you get tired you can always turn in your bicycle at one of the many stations along the ride and catch a bus.