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2014 on the road and in the saddle: Staff travel year-in review

 

Celebrating the new year is a great chance to reflect on where we’ve been in the past year and where we plan and hope to go in the next. For an office full of people bit by the wandering bug, many of our team’s memories and plans are tied to travel experiences — and biking! We thought you might be interested in a year-in review from some of our staff to see what we’ve been up to in 2014, plus where we’re heading in 2015 (even if sometimes only in our dreams!).



Richie Daigle, Tour Specialist

Where I’ve been in 2014: Sedona and Flagstaff, AZ; Grand Canyon; Bend, OR; Mexico
Where I’ve biked: All of the above (except Mexico)! Plus….Old Fort NC, Dahlonega GA, Dalton GA, Birmingham AL, Anniston AL, Brevard NC, Ocoee TN, Chatsworth GA, Chattanooga TN (Can you tell I like to hit the road with my mountain bike?!)

Stand-out memory: Riding up the Rainbow Rim trail on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. As I came around a left hand turn, after pedaling up a rocky ledge, I looked up to find myself peering through an opening in the forest into the great abyss of the Grand Canyon. I felt like I was looking at a painting on a wall. It just didn’t seem real, but yet there it was, in all of its magnificence.

Where I’m heading in 2015: Peru? Slovenia? Spain? Austria?
Booked or bucket list: Nothing is booked right now, so everything is still possible!

 

 


 

Chloe Krueger, Tour Specialist

Where I’ve been in 2014: Horseshoe Canyon Ranch, Arkansas (A real life dude ranch in the Ozark Mountains)
Where I’ve biked: All ’round my favorite Southern city – Chattanooga, TN

Stand-out memory: Camping under the stars at Horsehoe Canyon Ranch with a toasty bonfire, yummy marshmallows, and new found friends!

Where I’m heading in 2015: Machu Picchu, Peru and Lander, WY
Booked or bucket list? Bucket list! Machu Picchu has been on the list for years and it’s about time I make that happen. And Wyoming – because I love the wild, wild West and exploring my home country!

 



Rachel Browder, Digital Content Strategist

Where I’ve been in 2014: Family beach trips; Italy’s Piedmont region; Hiking portions of the Appalachian Trail with my sister

Stand-out memory: The rush of going, the feeling of fleeing the every day, of creating simple adventures by jarring my normal routine. Everything is an adventure, whether it’s my morning drive along the river or a last-minute road trip to the beach with my husband, Daniel, and the kids.

Where I’m heading in 2015: In my family, we don’t make plans, but we keep intentions. I intend to make the best use of all my holidays and weekends this year.
Bucket list: An East Coast/MidWest road trip with my husband and two kids.

 

 

 



Jim Johnson, President

Where I’ve been in 2014:
International – Albania, Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia
Domestic – Athens, GA; Cape Cod, MA; Miami, FL; New York, NY
Where I’ve biked:
Albania, Ireland, Kosovo, Macedonia, and Athens, GA

Stand-out memory:
Donegal, Ireland: Climbing the steep, narrow, winding access road to the Slieve League cliffs and being rewarded by one amazing view after another. It’s at the northern end of the 1,500-mile Wild Atlantic Way, the world’s longest coastal cycling route, “where land and sea collide.” And being grateful that I opted for an electric-assist bike!

Where I’m heading in 2015:
Booked – Albania, Austria, Germany, Kosovo, Macedonia, Namibia
Bucket list – Bulgaria, India, Ireland, Malawi, South Africa



Natalie Cook, Vice President

Where I’ve been in 2014:
International – Belgium, the Netherlands, and Ireland
Domestic – San Diego; New York City; Steamboat Springs, CO; Charleston, SC; St. Louis, MO; Detroit and Great Lakes, MI
Where I’ve biked: All of the above, except NYC (because it was 17 degrees and I’m a moron in traffic!) and St. Louis (quick overnight). Plus a few trail systems around home (Chattanooga, TN) as I’ve tried my hand at mountain biking.

Stand-out memory: Watching a spectacular sunset over the Rockies from the top of Mt. Werner, Colorado, making the nausea-inducing gondola ascent totally worth it.

Where I’m heading in 2015: Chile; Peru or Brazil; Chicago
Booked or bucket list? Chile – booked (but planning to add one more South American destination). Chicago – bucket list (because I’ve never been and it seems high time!)



Brittany Williamson, Tour Specialist

Where I’ve been in 2014:
International – Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and the Czech Republic
Domestic – Washington, D.C.; San Diego; Los Angeles; Chicago; New York City; Pittsburgh; Charleston, SC; Atlantic City; Madison, WI; Destin, FL
Where I’ve biked: Belgium, Germany, Austria for a minute (I wish I could’ve figured out the traffic pattern.), San Diego, Chicago, Charleston, and Madison.

Stand-out memory:
-Riding a tandem for the first time on the boardwalk in San Diego with my sister. We should’ve had a horn, but my abs hurt from laughter.
-Riding along the bay at sunset in Charleston, smelling the air, and drinking in the moment.
-Riding to the Farmer’s Market in Madison with the pack of commuters doing the same. It felt like riding with family. 

Where I’m heading in 2015: Denver to snowboard until my legs can’t. Asheville for the craft beer and delicious food. And wherever my love of ultimate frisbee takes me.
Bucket list:
A “Fivel Goes West” road trip from Chattanooga to San Diego to Portland to Utah and back home with as many adventures in between. Plus Vermont to hike, snowboard, cuddle in a cabin, and to love on some old friends that are new VT residents.



Candice McCallie, Marketing Coordinator

Where I’ve been in 2014:
Domestic – NY Times Travel Trade Show (New York, NY); AMGEN 2014 Tour of California (Sacramento, Folsom, San Jose to Mt. Diablo, Monterey to Cambria, Pismo Beach to Santa Barbara, Santa Clarita to Mountain High, Santa Clarita to Pasadena, Thousand Oaks — all in 8 days eeck!); Los Angeles; St. Augustine, FL; Atlanta, GA; Lexington, KY; Chicago
International – Austria, Italy, Germany, Switzerland, The Netherlands
Where I’ve biked: Sacramento, Pasadena, and L.A., CA; St. Augustine Beach, Florida; Salzburg Lakes, Austria; Brixen, Italy; the downtown streets of my hometown Chattanooga and several of its adjacent trails (can’t go without saddle time on my mountain bike!)

Stand-out memory: Taking longer to travel a section of Highway 1 in a car than the pro cyclists on their bikes during the Tour of California (and the spectacular view of the Pismo Beach pier start); Beach cycling in St. Augustine; Cycling and hiking around the breathtaking Salzburg Lakes with my best friend from college; The spectacular view at the top of Mt. Dachstein; and many, many more….

Where I’m heading in 2015: Austin, Texas (one of the few major cities left in the U.S. I haven’t visited); Seattle; California (returning to work the Tour of California again hopefully!); Australia or New Zealand (They’ve been on my bucket list for two decades. Time to figure out how to mark it off the list!)
Booked or bucket list? All bucket list right now! Need to get planning….



Simon Clarke, Reservations Manager

Where I’ve been in 2014: Merida (Yucatan, Mexico), San Cristóbal de las Casas (Chiapas, Mexico), San Diego (my go-to vacation destination), Lake Arrowhead (California), Las Vegas
Where I biked: As little as possible – bikes are malicious machines that attack me without provocation! (I did ride jungle trails in the Yucatan though.)

Stand-out memories:
Cycling along a jungle path to a cave used by the Mayans for worship for millennia, and passing a Boa on the path which was digesting a meal! Kayaking to Mangoves, then having barbecued freshly caught fish on the Gulf of Mexico with literally not another person in sight. Hiking to a Cenote, then leaping 15 feet down into the crystal-clear water and swimming. Walking the cobblestone streets of San Cristóbal de las Casas, seeing Mexicans living their lives quite normally, and getting a full grasp of the country’s diversity.

Where I’m heading in 2015: The U.K. (first time home in 11 years!)
Bucket list: Mexico (again!). So many states to still visit. I’d also like to go to Chile — South America is the one continent (aside from Antartica) that I haven’t set foot on! New York (haven’t yet been!)

Slovenia: “Likely the most beautiful but overlooked destination in Europe”

 

BikeToursDirect client Karen went on the Pearls of Slovenia tour earlier this year. The beautiful views, great operator, and wonderful food were just a few of the highlights from her trip. Read more below. Remember, we love client reports! Send us your tour story at info@biketoursdirect.com.


 

Slovenia is most likely the most beautiful but overlooked bike destination in Europe. Lake Bled has to be one of the most beautiful spots in the world and the Triglav National Park is pristine and interesting. The people are maybe shy when they cannot help you in English, but they sure will try.

Helia Tours put together a most beautiful tour of the park and the areas surrounding it. There were two major climbs, but after the Dolomites, very doable. Most of the terrain was rolling hills and the only difficulty was biking on the shoulder of roads that were leading towards town and had some traffic. Most of the tour was in rural areas, which had no such problems.

A representative from Helia met us at our hotel and provided us with well detailed maps as well as cue sheets set up by distance. Each bike had a computer and following directions was quite easy. Also the cue sheets had notes about good restaurants and sights to see along the way, which were very accurate. Thanks to Helia I experienced one of the best trout dinners I have ever had!

The road bikes provided to us were Trek models– aluminum and very appropriate for the terrain we would be cycling. The final day of the tour went from Kranjska Gora ski area back to Bled through the Triglav National Park. The roads in the park were dirt and more conducive for a mountain bike so Helia dropped off mountain bikes for our use at our hotel and picked up our road bikes.

The hotel selection was very good. We elected to take the dinner and breakfast plan to save time hunting for a dinner restaurant. All meals were quite good, but Hotel Triglav in Bled and Pension Zaplata provided exquisite dinners and breakfasts, the best dining experience of our entire 6 week stay in Europe.

The entire week went by without a hitch. We loved the tour and rate Helia tours very highly.”

BikeToursDirect has 8 tours in Slovenia. See a full listing of them here.

Hotel homebase: Bike tours in single hotel a great slow travel option

 

Bicycle touring allows you to see a lot of the world from the best possible vantage point. But, it doesn’t have to mean you reach a new destination – and new hotel – every night. Slow travel is all the rage these days, and there is no better way to slow down than to set up shop in one location and explore all the roads, sights and charms an area has to offer. Hence the popularity of so-called “hub-and-spoke tours.”

Touring from le Moulin du Chemin in Western France

If you’re trying to decide on the best bike tour for you this year, consider our great collection of tours based out of one hotel. (You can read more about these tours and how they compare to point-to-point tours on our site!) We offer nearly 30 of this style of tour in North America, Europe, and Asia — search here!

Here are some reasons why a hub-and-spoke tour might be perfect for you:

  • You prefer not to pack/unpack your suitcase every day. 
    Since you’ll be staying in the same location each night, you won’t spend extra time every morning tracking down your toothbrush and that last pair of socks. Instead, you’ll be able to spend those vacation minutes relaxing, recovering, and exploring the local area.
  • You’re concerned about covering the full route distance.
    Many of our clients share their hesitation about biking set distances several days in a row on the typical point-to-point tour. But tours based in one hotel give you the option of rest days so you have a dedicated day out of the saddle to stretch your legs and recover mid-tour. Some tours even offer multiple daily route options, letting you choose the route that best fits your interest and fitness level.
  • You have non-riders in your group.
    Many of our clients ask about options for their non-cycling travel companions. A tour based out of one hotel is ideal for folks who want activities for both cyclists and non-cyclists. While the cyclist is out riding, the non-rider is able to explore the local area, take day excursions, or just relax. Meeting back up over cocktails or dinner lets you reconnect and swap stories every day!
  • You’re traveling with children.
    We have a lot of families booking bike tours these days, and tours based out of one hotel are a great option. Many of the hotels used for these tours have a pool and other great features to help keep children entertained. And, as noted above, it’s a lot easier to take a rest day on these tours when your children are tired or need other diversions.  
  • You want to visit and explore a given region more in depth.
    The point-to-point tour is a great way to span a lot of distance, but some of our clients want to really immerse themselves in one area, wandering and getting a deeper impression of a new place and culture. Tours based out of one hotel are an ideal choice if this is a main factor in your vacation.

Most of our single-hotel-based tours are built around small, locally-owned hotels and guesthouses. The tour operators are often the hotel proprietors themselves. For the duration of your tour, you are not simply a guest checking in for one night; you become part of the community around the hotel. All of these tours include detailed routes and maps, and many of the itineraries or daily rides may be shortened or lengthened to suit your riding preferences. Search all tours based in one hotel >



Suggested tours

Here are some hotel-based tours to consider if you think this option is best for you:

  • Le Moulin Cycling Routes tour, based at Le Moulin du Chemin in Scille, France, is one of our new tour additions for 2015. The charming, 5-room inn is your base for several days of exploring in the idyllic Western France countryside. The staff provides you with sample itineraries based upon your desired cycling level and also offers optional excursions or activities if you’d like an off-the-bike day. All your meals are included in the tour package, and during the right time of year, you may also use the on-site pool.

    Riding toward San Marino, Italy from Hotel Milano Helvetia

  • The staff at Hotel Milano Helvetia in Riccione, Italy, share their passion for cycling with their guests, many of whom return year after year. With this tour you even have the option of guided rides! From Riccione you may explore San Marino, San Leo, Urbino, Mondaino and other areas. The hotel has itineraries for medium distance rides as well as longer, more difficult rides if that’s your speed. Learn more about the staff and tours in their Operator Profile >

  • In Lucerne, Switzerland, discover the lakes and hills of the area known as the “gate to the heart of Switzerland.” The Hotel Seeburg is situated directly on the shore of Lake Lucerne, and you’ll be able to relax each evening with lake views from your room. The routes have been carefully researched to highlight the best small towns and scenery of the surrounding area.
  • In Evora, Portugal, enjoy the Vineyards and Olive Groves tour, where you’ll stay at Evora Guesthouse, a 4-room genuine Monte, a traditional Alentejan farm. Off the bike, you’ll enjoy the orchard and pastures or enjoy a quiet walk along the property’s paths. You have your choice of 5 cycling routes each day. This itinerary offers a built-in rest day, and you may enjoy 3 dinners at the farmhouse included in the package.

View all >

Let us help you book your tour today! E-mail info@biketoursdirect.com for more information.

portuguese farmhouse bike tour

Cozy farmhouse accommodations, perfect for relaxing after exploring Portugal's vineyards and olive groves!

 

Hawaii by bike: Why you should hop off the Big Island

 

BikeToursDirect offers 4 bicycle tours in Hawaii. Our operator partner Doug Lofland at Bike Beyond Boundaries recently chatted with us over e-mail to explain why island hopping around Hawaii and exploring by bicycle is the best way to see the state.

Why bike Molokai?

The least visited and most authentic of the Hawaiian Islands, Molokai is a treat for those wanting to explore the road less traveled. (The region is part of our Hawaii Island Hopping: Maui, Lanai and Molokai tour!)

We start at Molokai’s East End at Halawa Valley and Beach Park and the glorious cathedral valley and impressive, double-tiered 250-foot Mooula Falls providing a spectacular backdrop.

We climb 2 miles out of Halawa Valley and proceed on a 25-mile ride downhill or along the seashore flats back to the island capital of Kaunakakai, passing Molokai’s first church dating from 1833, and a myriad of ancient fishponds along the route.

Continuing from Kaunakakai, we make a steady 10 mile ascent to Pala’au State Park and the awe-inspiring overlook to Kalaupapa Peninsula and the site of the National Historic Park of the same name that was the infamous leper colony for nearly 100 years. We have the chance to ride mules or hike down to Kalaupapa and visit many notable sites associated with the colony.

This is an unforgettable day of riding and hiking, a sublime experience getting to know the Hawaiian customs of old.

Why bike Lanai?

Our Hawaii Lanai tour is an off-road and open road paradise with endless runs down to deserted beaches and seaside native Hawaiian villages, cool upland runs through misty fern forests reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, and all based around Lanai City, a small, sleepy, former pineapple plantation village reminiscent of the American South.

Lanai is a gigantic mesa of an island, with drop-offs to paved and dirt roads to the Pacific in every direction.

Across the mesa are beautiful wide open paved roads. At the edge of the mesa are thrilling paved-road descents to Shipwreck Beach and the remains of a WWII tanker marooned offshore in one direction, and a native Hawaiian village and late 19th Century Hawaiian Church at the water’s edge.

Another descent takes us off-road through the Garden of the Gods and the surreal red rock formations reminiscent of Moab, Utah and deserted beaches accessible only by 4-wheel-drive.

Ascending the cool uplands of the Munro Trail takes into the incredible off-road terrain from which all 6 Hawaiian Islands can be viewed on a clear day, and which loops around to beautiful Hulopo’e Beach Park and a wonderful end to the day with snorkeling and swimming with the dolphins.

Lanai is one of the undiscovered gems of the Hawaiian Islands that you absolutely can’t miss!

Why bike Kauai?

Said by many to be the most beautiful of the 6 Hawaiian islands, Kauai is indeed a feast for the eyes of a cyclist! (See details of our Hawaii Kauai Garden Isle Bike Tour.)

There’s the ride on Kauai’s South Coast around Allerton/National Tropical Gardens with towering rainforest trees with tall curving roots near bronze mermaids. There’s the grove of swaying golden bamboo, a cut-flower garden, and tropical fruit trees where the focus is on landscape design. And among the plantings are botanically important species of the tropics, including varieties of palms, ki (ti), heliconias, and gingers.

And returning along the South Shore back to the the spectacular Spouting Horn blowhole, one of the most photographed spots on Kauai where the Poipu surf channels into a natural lava tube and releases a huge spout of water during large swells. You’ll hear the hiss and roar that is the basis of a Hawaiian legend.

There’s also the ride through the beautiful South Shore uplands to the breathtaking Wailua Falls, which, like other spectacular spots on Kauai used as film locations, is most recognized in the opening credits of the long-running television show “Fantasy Island.”

And then there’s the Alekoko Menehune Fishpond, minutes from Lihue, which, built nearly 1,000 years ago, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Ingenious ponds like this were built to catch fish, and the Menehune Fishpond is one of the finest examples of this type of ancient Hawaiian aquaculture.

The outstanding scenery of Kauai continues with a ride up to the tranquil Wailua River Overlook, weaving by gorgeous waterfalls such as Opaeka’a just across the street, and lush, jungle landscapes along the island’s East Side. Kauai has the only navigable rivers in Hawaii, and the Wailua River is one of the most popular.

The Wailua River Uplands ride continues up to the flanks of Mt. Waialeale, the wettest spot on earth and around the Wailua Homesteads with spectacular mountain scenery at every turn, and a lovely coastal trail from Kapa’a along the shoreline back to Wailua.

The iconic Na Pali Coast at Haena State Park is the beginning of one of our rides on Kauai, returning along the coast through the lovely town of Hanalei, with the film location site for “South Pacific” at Lumahai Beach, and the Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge, located in the beautiful Hanalei River Valley on Kaua’i's north shore.

Saving the best for last, the ride from Waimea Canyon, the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, and the famed Kalalau Lookout, down through Kauai’s West Shore coffee plantations, and the beautiful backcountry to Old Koloa Town is an unforgettable end to a week of breathtaking scenery on the Garden Isle.

Kauai is a can’t-miss destination for those seeking out the most breathtaking sights of the Hawaiian Islands!

Why bike Oahu?

It’s beautiful…..maybe not the most beautiful, but when you’re talking about the Hawaiian Islands, spectacular vistas are everywhere you look, including Oahu! (Check out the self-guided Hawaii Oahu tour here.) 

There’s the ride around Diamond Head at sunset, with surfers teeming in the offshore breaks below waiting to catch the next incoming rollers.

There’s one of the greatest rides in the Hawaiian Islands up Tantalus capped by one of the most beautiful overlooks in the Pacific, with Honolulu/Waikiki/Diamond Head and the broad, immense, expanse of the Pacific Ocean spread out below. 

There’s the Pali Loop ride over to Oahu’s Windward Coast, with the breathtaking view from the Pali Overlook and notable landmarks such as Makapu’u  Point and Lighthouse, great snorkeling at Hanauma Bay, and deluxe beach time at Bellows Beach.

Or the Northern stretch of the Windward Coast with the spectacular backdrop of the Koolau Range all along the ride, the heavenly setting of  Byodo-In Temple and the Valley of the Temples, and countless film location sites at Kualoa Ranch, with the chance to ride or take a 4WD Jeep Tour into the backcountry.

And who hasn’t heard of Oahu’s famed North Shore with the world-renowned Banzai Pipeline at Waimea Bay/Sunset Beach, Waimea Falls and Valley just next door and the beautiful historic town of Haleiwa with great shopping, restaurants and a beautiful oceanfront setting.

And because you’d be lucky enough to be biking with us in Oahu, you end your ride in wonderful Waikiki Beach at the end of every cycling day, with endless dining and shopping, world-famous sun-bathing at Waikiki Beach or Sans Souci State Park, hanging out at beautiful Kapiolani Park and the Honolulu Zoo, and cultural sites of interest around the city, such as Iolani Palace and the home of Hawaiian Royalty, the Honolulu Museum of Art, the picturesque Aloha Tower, and excursions to Pearl Harbor National Historic Park.

The rides around the island mostly follow the coast and are therefore relatively easy, with a small number of challenging uphill rides.

Learn more about our Hawaii tours >

See all tours operated by Bike Beyond Boundaries >

7 Hot cycling destinations to keep your saddle warm this winter

 

Winter doesn’t have to mean taking a break from cycling. In fact, it’s a wonderful time to explore a warmer locale around the world.

Here are 7 of our most popular winter bike tours, offering great cycling, warm weather, unique culture, and charming villages and towns. (But, be sure to check out our full listing of tours available in January and February.)

1. Algarve Coastal Route (Vila Real de Santo Antonio, Portugal)

This is a very popular, leisurely, 7-night self-guided tour along the coast of Portugal, featuring charming old fishing towns and beautiful beaches. Price starts at €785 and departures are available any day of the week, throughout the year, with a minimum of 2.

2. Best of Catalonia Cycle Touring (Barcelona, Spain)
This 8-night tour takes you along a converted railway from Ripoli in the Pyrenees to Sant Feliu de Guixols on the Mediterranean Sea. Stunning scenery, pine and cork forests, and bucolic farmlands dot the landscape. Price starts at €1300 for a self-guided tour (private guided tours also available). Departures available daily.

3. Land of the Maharajas (Rajasthan, India)
This 10-night guided tour will take you through the princely states of India-along dusty roads, beneath towering camels, and beside women adorn in brilliant colors. Price starts at: $2,154. Departure available daily for groups of 2 or more.

Riding in Cambodia on the Angkor Wat Experience tour

4. Angkor Wat Experience (Siem Reap, Cambodia)
This 4-night guided tour of the beautifully haunted and sprawling temple complex in Cambodia is the perfect add-on tour to any trip in Southeast Asia. But, Angkor Wat should not only be an add-on. It’s a fantastic main event, boasting one of the most remarkable and impressive sights in all of Asia. Sitting on more than 500 acres, it is truly best seen and experienced by bicycle. Price starts at $615 and tours depart every Monday with a minimum of 2.

5. Costa Rica Multi-Sport Adventure (San Jose, Costa Rica)
This 9-night guided multi-sport tour in Costa Rica takes you cycling, hiking, zip-lining, sea kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding and more through its famously beautiful landscapes. Price starts at $1,500 and tours depart on Saturdays year-round with minimum of 2.

6. Yucatan Bike Adventure (Cancun, Mexico)
This 6-night guided tour through the Yucatan Peninsula is the perfect antidote to winter, offering cycling, snorkeling and zip-lining in beautiful weather, while staying at luxurious and upscale accommodations each evening. Price starts at $1,985. Departures are Jan 19; Feb 1, 22; Mar 8; Nov 8; Dec 5, 2015.

7. New Zealand Alps to Ocean (Christchurch, New Zealand)
Experience the majesty of Aoraki, Mt. Cook and the Mackenzie Basin in this 5-day guided cycling trip out of Christchurch. Experience the quiet rural roads through gentle hillsides and flat easy riding on New Zealand’s South Island. Price starts at NZ$1,498 and departures are Jan 12; Feb 9; Mar 9, 23; Apr 5, 13; Oct 5, 19; Nov 9; Dec 7, 27, 2015. 

Operator Profile: Discover beautiful Riccione, Italy with Hotel Milano Helvetia

 

Bike tours based out of one hotel are on the rise. With this increase in popularity, BikeToursDirect Vice President Natalie Cook recently spoke with Steve Myers, from Hotel Milano Helvetia, over e-mail.

They operate the popular, flexible, and affordable Riccione Bike Tour (based out of one hotel) in Riccione, Italy. Here is what they had to say about their location, tour, and why you should discover their region by bicycle.

Relax ride-tired muscles here

Tell us about your location (as a destination) and your hotel property.

The Milano Helvetia enjoys a prime location in Riccione, Italy, literally a minute’s walk from the beach and only a couple of hundred meters from the famous Viale Ceccarrini shopping precinct. Riccione is close to Rimini on the Adriatic Coast so you have the beach life but within minutes after heading inland you have beautiful countryside with spectacular landscapes and views.

The hotel has more than 70 rooms and can trace its history back more than 100 years, to this day retaining its traditional style. It is family managed with the hotel manager Emiliano Carlini also working as one of the guides. His mother is responsible for the delicious food the kitchen serves. The hotel is a genuine Italian hotel run by genuinely friendly people…the staff are the same after many years so you know by that it’s a great place not only to holiday but to work also!

How did you get into the hotel business, and at what point did you decide to make your property into a cycling hub?

The Carlini family have been hoteliers for many years — it’s in the family genes! It was a natural progression to run a larger hotel and the location is a great cycling area, scenic and full of history. Emilaino and his father Piero are both enthusiastic cyclists, so it was not a hard decision to start offering bike holidays so that they can share their passion with others.

Hotel manager/guide Emiliano and guide Steve

Your tour is offered as guided or self-guided. What are the benefits of riding with a guide? How does GPS help on the self-guided option?

With a guide, you don’t have to worry about anything! The guide can easily adapt a ride and give advice and safety warnings along the way…a map or GPS won’t tell you where there is a steep descent or bad road surface approaching!! A guide will look after the group ensuring no one is left behind and also be able to show you not only the best destinations in the area, but take you there on the best roads with the nicest views and the fewest cars!!

The only con is that if it’s a group ride, you might have to wait for the slower riders but the hotel usually offers at least 2 levels of daily ride to cater for differing levels. If you like to sightsee, then this not so easy when with a group of others as most don’t want to stop too long or too often…they come mainly to ride.

However, if you come on a quiet week when the hotel does not have any/many other cyclists, you may have a guide to yourself and they can do whatever you like! Alternatively, the hotel can arrange a private guide (at extra cost) who will tailor a ride to the guest’s requirements and time would not be a factor.

If you choose a self-guided tour, GPX files are available. During the last 2-3 years, I’ve spent a lot of time compiling a folder of nearly 70 rides, each with a written description of what to expect, the distance, climbing meters and a difficulty rating along with the GPX file so guests who don’t book a guide or just wish to ride alone can do so knowing they will find their way on the best roads in the area. It’s easy to get a map and plot a route but without local knowledge you maybe won’t see the best the area has to offer. There are tours from 24 miles/40km to 87 miles/140km available.

Tell us about your guides.

The management employ only experienced, mature guides, nearly all of whom speak English. Our main guide is actually from the UK and plans most of the routes. He has been holidaying and working in Riccione since 2007. He knows even the small roads and often shows our local Italian guides new ways to go! The guides are very safety conscious and considerate and are strong riders. However, they spend equal time with all guests, not just the strong ones at the front of the group! They use their experience to control the groups’ pace yet still make it fun for all.

How do you choose the routes for your tours? What do you look for when designing the daily rides?

View of San Marino from the saddle

It is easy to choose destinations for our tours as there are so many great places in the area to visit and many ways to reach each area. We focus on designing our tours based on several factors: Great views, fantastic destinations and as many car-free roads as possible–which is a lot as we have an intricate network of roads so it’s not too hard to find the small pretty ones. Th

ere is an abundance of pretty towns, hilltop castles and churches and, combined with the beautiful natural scenery and rolling countryside, it’s a great place to cycle!

Describe your favorite route to ride personally.

All the guides love Urbino. It’s not the hardest 62 miles/100km you will ever ride but it’s truly a beautiful ride and destination. If you have a group that can manage it, then there is also the option to see The Furlo Gorge with its spectacular natural scenery.

What special programs do you offer during the Nove Colli Gran Fondo? 

We have some themed weeks available including the Nove Colli Gran Fondo in May. Gran Fondos are timed mass participation rides with between as little as 500 riders to as many as 13,000 on The Nove Colli. We arrange everything for our clients: registration, transportation, a member of staff to meet and greet at the end and often some of the guides will ride too!

During the Nove Colli week we make a nice program to include some recovery days so the participants are not too tired for the big day itself! We can arrange massages and help with off-the-bike activities for non-riders as sometimes the riders bring partners who are not cyclists themselves. Usually around this time the Giro d’Italia passes through the area so we always arrange a ride or bus trip to see how the pros do it.  

However, The Nove Colli is not the only Gran Fondo available. If a client asks, we can usually find one most times of the year and arrange everything for the guest. There are other challenges in the region, including Gran Fondo Pantanissima (dedicated to the late great Marco Pantani) and in May there is the Challenge Rimini Triathlon. (Contact BikeToursDirect to book a special package.)

Why is your area best seen by bike?

Easy question to answer…it’s beautiful and by bike you get to see it while breathing in fresh air and soaking up the sun! It’s a great way to travel and we have a lot of traffic-free roads. There is nothing quite like reaching the top of a long hill then enjoying a coffee in a picturesque Italian village to savor the moment. You then also get to enjoy the exhilarating descent!

Entering San Leo

Book your stay at Hotel Milano Helvetia

Stay for 7 nights with full board (with meals cooked by Emiliano’s own la Mama!) and use of property amenities (including a beautiful pool and Turkish bath) for less than €500! Choose whether to ride with a guide or self-guided. Rental bikes available. Bonus for solo travelers — no single room supplement.

Book your stay now >

Two approaches to the Florida Keys by bike

 

One of the best parts of working at BikeToursDirect? No two days in the office are ever the same when you’re working with almost 150 bicycle tour operators all over the globe. The people behind the tours we advise our clients on are based in Vienna and Bangkok and Cancun and Seattle and Rome and villages in between. They are operating tours appealing to a wide array of travelers and cyclists, from the leisurely-yet-active vacation crowd to die-hard enthusiasts. This spectrum of attitudes and travel styles across our many operator partners was perfectly illustrated for me recently.

Jim and Lucy reach the Southernmost Point of the U.S.

A South Florida run-in

I was chatting with our buddy Alex Graham from Charleston Bicycle Tours and he told me about running into another of our partners in the Florida Keys this year. Alex and his wife, Karen, were scouting a new tour program from the Everglades to Key West when they ran across Jim Sayer, Executive Director of Adventure Cycling Association (ACA), who they knew through industry events.

Jim was in the home stretch of an epic self-contained bike tour from Charleston, SC (coincidentally, Alex and Karen’s home!) to Key West, FL. Jim was joined by his 14-year-old daughter, Lucy, on this 19-day, 1,062 mile journey. They rode through South Carolina, Georgia, and the entire length of the Florida peninsula, first with an organized ACA group tour and then independent with the use of ACA’s mapped bike routes.

Travel styles diverged

The final leg of Jim and Lucy’s trip covered the territory of ACA’s own Florida Keys bike tour. It’s a guided group tour, but it truly adheres to the “adventure” in the Association’s name as a self-contained tour. That means you bring your own bike, haul your gear, share food prep responsibilities with the group, and overnight at campgrounds in tents. It’s a true adventure with the camaraderie of a group ride and mutual support to be collectively self-sufficient. 

By contrast, Alex was riding through the Keys to hand-pick the finest accommodations and dining for the fully-supported tour he was designing. Guests on this Florida Keys: Everglades to Key West bike tour will enjoy van support, luxury accommodations, catered meals and fine dining. Your only job on this tour is to get to Florida, relax, and pedal — everything else is anticipated for your comfort before, during, and after the leisurely daily rides.

Alex and Karen in Key West

Alex and Jim saw each other on the road a couple of times on sunny riding days, but as sometimes happens in such lush, tropical destinations, they encountered one day of driving rain. Alex quickly called on his support van to load his and Karen’s bikes and shuttle them to the hotel to dry out. As they drove through the downpour, though, they spotted a couple of cyclists enduring the elements — Jim and daughter Lucy!

The van stopped and Alex insisted that they throw bikes on the rack and join him and Karen on the short drive (but longer ride) to a dry haven — a perfect expression of the generous hospitality and reliable support provided to every Charleston Bicycle Tours guest.

Jim, though, turned down the transfer offer. He and his daughter were committed to making the full trip on human power alone and were, of course, equipped with rain gear and fortitude, embodying the hardy attitude of the Adventure Cycling Association and its mission to “inspire and empower people to travel by bicycle.” 

Having the pleasure of knowing both of these gents, I’m confident I can summarize what they were each thinking:

“He’s nuts to be riding in that VAN.”

“He’s nuts to be riding in that RAIN.”

And they’d probably both be at least a little bit correct! But I love this story because it really illustrates the spectrum of bike travel experiences that BikeToursDirect supports. Most of the tours we offer fall somewhere in the middle of these two Keys tours in terms of support and services, but these extremes of luxury vs. self-contained are a great example of the diverse experiences we work to bring to our clients to help you find the adventure of *your* dreams.

Ready to ride the Florida Keys?

Read on…

Read more about Jim and Lucy’s epic Tour de Southeast in Jim’s own words! Check out his blog post “Cycling the South: A Top 10 List.”

 


 

By Natalie Cook, Vice President at BikeToursDirect

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Operator Profile: An adventure of a lifetime with Portugal Nature Trails

 

BikeToursDirect now offers 6 guided and self-guided bike tours in Portugal with operator partner Portugal Nature Trails.

Atlantic West Coast and Sintra (Guided: May 11; Aug 17, 2014; Self-guided: Daily: Year round)    
Madrid-Lisbon, the Challenging Mountain Tour (Guided: Jun 13, 2014; Self-guided: Daily: May-Oct 2014)
Mountain Bike Madrid to Lisbon (Portugal half) (Guided: Jun 21, 2014; Self guided: Daily: May-Oct 2014)
Mountain Bike Madrid to Lisbon (Spain half) (Guided: Jun 13, 2014; Self-guided: Daily: May-Oct 2014)
Portugal’s Wild Coast (7 days) (Guided: Mar 17; Oct 25, 2014; Self-guided: Daily: Year round)
Portugal’s Wild Coast (9 days) (Guided: Mar 29; Oct 10, 2014; Self-guided: Daily: Year round)

Whit Altizer, a staffer in BTD’s Asia satellite office, recently spoke with Portugal Nature Trails’ operator António Gavinho to find out more about what has made PNT a Certificate of Excellence holder from Trip Advisor. Following is an interview Whit conducted with António over e-mail. António shared what makes PNT a quality company and why you should book a bike trip to Portugal this year.

Antonio Gavinho left his job as an engineer to pursue his passion for cycling.

Tell us about where you are located?

We are located in Lisbon/Sintra region. It is a great place for a hiking tour. A fantastic coast of wide bays of golden sand rugged cliffs, the Westernmost point of Europe – Cape Roca and Unique cultural and historical sights makes this a great place to visit! I can say that we are very lucky to live in a great place like this!

How many people are on staff? Who guides your trips?

We are 5 persons, two at the office with marketing and reservations and 3 designing, organizing and running tours! Then we have 5 more guides that occasionally work with us.

We always try to have the person who knows and designed the tour running the tour with the clients to increase the client’s experience. 

How did you choose the tours that you offer? What do you look for when creating your tours? 

We are always looking for the perfect ride. We want to show the most beautiful places of Portugal, but especially and with our knowledge and expertise, we want to show the parts of Portugal off the beaten track! This is the biggest difference from other tours and companies! Then we look to every details to give our clients the best experience ever – accommodations chosen by their genuine character, service and charm. Good and well-maintained bikes. The best and the most genuine places to eat. Every detail tested by our experienced team!

What tour that you offer is the most popular? Why?

On bike is Portugal Wild Coast (or 9 days). This is as an incredible hybrid cycling route along one of the most beautiful sections of Portugal’s long coastline. From the outskirts of Lisbon to the tip of Europe, you’ll discover and admire the natural beauty. We promise small fishing villages and abandoned fortresses from the time when this coast was ravaged by pirates. The trip finishes at the most south-westerly point in Europe, Cape Saint Vincent, which adds a dramatic and historical full stop to this wonderful trip. This route can also be done on a touring bike or, using more difficult trails including some single-track, on a MTB.

What tour do you offer do you consider to be a hidden secret?

We use our years of experience and insider knowledge to help you explore and discover our best hidden treasures. We introduce you to places normally off limits to the individual traveller!

Our Atlantic West Coast tour is close to Lisbon and passes by beautiful scenery that people usually don’t see as they travel mostly by car. Cycle on scenic small roads mixing coast and farming areas passing by typical fisherman villages and the most well-preserved medieval village in Portugal, Óbidos. Discover Sintra – UNESCO World Heritage, a land of castles and palaces and the western-most point in Europe”Roca” Cape!

Describe some of the accommodations you stay in. What are the most interesting places to stay?

The charming guest houses – and we have a lot of the same on our tours! We always try to get the most charming and imaginative hotels on our tours. Places with a special character and well incorporated into their surroundings with a unique personality and good service. 

What is the food like? What are some of your favorite dishes you have had on your tours?

Portuguese food is one of the most pleasant surprises for tourists. With a vast coastline, seafood plays a major part in our cuisine and the quality of our seafood and freshly caught grilled fish is beyond compare. Why not try one of the mainstays of our cuisine? Dried and salted cod from the Atlantic? And to round off your meal, don’t miss one of our delicious desserts, made according to the ancient recipes of monks and nuns. A great variety of very good cheeses and our wines are of exceptional quality too. Our Port and Madeira wines are already world famous, whilst our table wines are one of the best-kept secrets.

Who is an ideal client for your trips?

Everyone can be our client. We have tours with various grades and interests. And if we don’t have what a client is looking for we are always ready and happy to tailor-make a tour. On a tailor made tour everything is designed to meet clients’ demands: the sky is the limit, we know basically every single road, mountain, beach, city and village in the country, and we are so passionate about our country that it is our mission to provide the adventure of a lifetime.

What did you do before Portugal Nature Trails? Did you ever dream of you would start your own bike tour company?

I’m a Chemical Engineer that worked in management for almost 20 years. With management training skills and experience in companies leadership for over 20, it was 10 years ago that I started this company. This is really my great passion – cycling and hiking and that culminated in the Company “Caminhos da Natureza” founded in 2004 whose development has filled in an incoming brand Portugal Nature Trails.

Why do you think Portugal is best seen by bike?

Portugal is a warm, welcoming location that provides travelers a little taste of everything. Offering a perfect blend of climate, culture and landscape, visitors here get the unique opportunity to experience outdoor adventure, rich traditions and serene relaxation all in one fascinating place. One of the very best ways to experience Portugal’s unique charm is to cycle there. Portugal is well-known for its food and wine. When travelling by bicycle, using back roads at low speeds you will stumble upon some hidden secrets, the small village restaurants where the food is made from fresh, local ingredients and cooked in the old traditional ways.

In Portugal you can also cycle all year round – spring and autumn are the best, but you can even cycle during summer in the mountains or in some fresher coastal areas. November, December, and January are our rainy months, but we still get plenty of visitors because the temperature is so moderate compared to many other countries in Europe – in these month’s we run our tours in the Algarve, where you can almost enjoy an African climate!

Operator Profile: Discover Coastal Portugal with Algarve Bike Holidays

 

BikeToursDirect now offers four self-guided bike tours in Portugal with operator partner Algarve Bike Holidays. All four tours are available to depart daily, year-round, for parties of 2 or more.

Whit Altizer, a staffer in BTD’s Asia satellite office, recently spoke with Algarve Bike Holidays’ operator Paul Beesley to find out why Portugal should be your next destination. Following are highlights from their email interview, including the delicious Portuguese cuisine and why you should cycle Portugal while it is still a well-kept secret. 

Why do you think Portugal is best seen by bike? 

The road network is not always so developed here and sometimes the bike can take you to places that you wouldn’t get to by car or by foot. There is a tremendous variety of routes and places to see along the way and you are never far from a great sea view, a delicious café, or a point of interest you’ll want to stop and see. It’s a scenic location with plenty of variety and a bike tour is one of the best ways to have the most complete experience on a visit here.

Tell us a little bit about your location. Why are you located there? 

Algarve Bike Holidays is based in the central Algarve region. The Algarve region is about 200 kms wide from the Atlantic Ocean at the west coast to the border with Spain designated by the Guadiana river. We are close to Boliqueime and Albufeira, right in the middle of the Algarve. By motorway we can be on the west coast or in Spain in around an hour, so at times it doesn’t feel like that big a place.

What did you do before Algarve Bike Holidays ? Did you ever dream of you would start your own bike tour company?

No, this is something that evolved as a business idea after I came to live in the Algarve. I realized what a great location this is for cycling, but it was relatively undeveloped as a cycling destination. This still remains the case to a certain extent, but while we’re trying to change this bit by bit, our clients can still feel a bit of the pioneering spirit as they explore on one of our holidays.

How did you choose the tours that you offer? What do you look for when creating your tours? 

Tours have a tendency to evolve from a variety of sources, perhaps a newly created cycling route, a walking/hiking route or just from a bespoke holiday created for a particular client with a specific set of criteria for a cycling holiday.

We have to think about our criteria for creating an interesting holiday: high-quality accommodations, appropriate cycling distances for the type of bike to be used, safety of routes, scenery along the way — these are all factors that we have to take into account.

What tour would you choose to do over and over again?

There is one tour that we do regularly and this is the Algarve Coastal Route.  Many of the guided tours that we offer utilize sections of this route on a regular basis. We have also completed our “Algarve Coastal challenge” twice in the last couple of years when we complete the entire route in two days. (That’s 230km in 2 days, quite a challenge!)

However, the route that I would prefer given a choice would be our “Best of the Algarve” as I believe the tour does what it says. It combines the best of the coastal cycle route with some interesting inland sections to truly offer the “Best of the Algarve.” We offer this as a 7-night/6-day tour and this provides what I would consider a great sample of the region for our clients!

Note: BikeToursDirect sells 3 versions of this “Best of the Algarve” program:

Describe some of the accommodations you choose for clients. What are the most interesting places to stay? 

We try to provide interesting and high-quality accommodations on all of our routes. Usually a hotel is located within walking distance of a number of good restaurants and the town centre where there is plenty to explore. A few favorite hotels on our various tours are Hotel Vila LidoViLAFOÎA and Marés Residencial.

What is the food like in Portugal? What your favorite dishes that travelers should be sure not to miss? 

Naturally being close to the sea, there is usually a tremendous variety of fish and seafood available throughout the Algarve. Sardines in season, clams, prawns, octopus, squid, sea bass, sea bream and tuna are amongst the wide variety of specialities available fresh everyday. Often simply cooked on a charcoal grill, these items are typically accompanied by a simple salad or seasonal vegetables.

Also available are a wide selection of locally hunted meats such as wild boar and lamb. The local restaurant scene is constantly developing and evolving and there is a growing number of quality gourmet establishments, which, combined with the traditional local places, provide visitors with a comprehensive choice of food to suit a wide range of tastes and budgets.

The Algarve is famous for its cakes — especially the dangerously addictive pastel de nata (custard tart) which is a favorite accompaniment for the morning café throughout the region. There are many cafes in the region that offer great snacks and toasted sandwiches for a quick lunch break out of the saddle.

The food is so good here — it’s a good thing that I do so much cycling, as this helps burn off some of the calories consumed along the way! 

Who is an ideal client for your trips? 

An ideal client should be inquisitive, open-minded, willing to explore and experiment with local cuisine and go with the flow if any surprises come up along the way!

Algarve Bike Holidays co-owner, Paul Beesley.

How many people are on staff? Who guides your trips?

Algarve Bike Holidays is jointly owned by me and my colleague, Fred van der Meer.

Fred and I are both involved with guiding of clients on holidays and we also offer many different half-day tours. We also have a number of locally available freelance guides that we can call upon to help from time to time. One of our part-time guides is Samantha Diamond and she also helps out with some of marketing and sales activities

 

Riding options for all in Switzerland

 

Surprisingly easy riding options

While dreams of Switzerland can often conjure up images of snow-capped mountains, steep Alpine ascents, and free-falling descents, crossing the country by bicycle can be surprisingly easy. This is thanks to geology (lots of east-west valleys) and infrastructure (an extensive network of well-planned bike routes). Of course, challenging options abound as well for those of you out there who dream of steep climbs in a good way.

But you don’t have to be in super-fit shape to take on a Swiss bike tour. John Klemme, owner of one of our local operator partners, Bike Switzerland, agrees. “The country has built a network of more than 2,000 miles of dedicated bike paths, and routes through river valleys offer the spectacular mountain vistas that bring travelers to Switzerland–but without the lung-busting climbs.” (Learn more about John and Bike Switzerland in this blog post >)

E-bikes

For those of us who prefer a more leisurely tour, electrically-assisted bikes (or e-bikes) are particularly popular in Switzerland and are available for riders seeking an extra boost. Small, nearly undetectable engines give riders a boost by providing up to 150% of their own power with each pedal stroke, helping less fit or confident riders (or those slowed by joint injuries or surgeries) maintain the same pace as their riding companions or get an assist up a challenging slope. More on e-bike tours >

Recommended tours

Here are a few tour options to help you start planning your Swiss adventure, or search all tours in Switzerland now.

leisurely biking in switzerlandThe Swiss Crossing “Lite” tour program follows the “Mittelland Route” (through the “middle of the land”) from Geneva near the French border across the entire country to Rorschach, near the German and Austrian borders. Cyclists ride through a river valley with views of the Jura mountain range to one side and the Swiss Alps on the other. There are rolling hills but no significant climbs, and the daily distances are kept to an average of about 35 miles. This is an ideal bike tour for travelers wanting to experience the splendor of mountain landscapes at a leisurely pace. Rental e-bikes are available on this and the more challenging version of this bike tour.

The Locarno and Lake Maggiore bike tour takes travelers on daily loop rides from a single hotel and through the “Swiss Riviera” along the Italian border. Palm trees and endless mountainside vineyards set the Italian-speaking Ticino region distinctly apart from the French- and German-speaking areas.

By contrast, the Aare Cycle Route tour follows a leisurely itinerary along the Aare River from the popular destination city of Interlaken and through the capital city of Bern, ending at Lake Constance. Another great option, the Constance – Zurich – Interlaken tour, winds its way around many picturesque lakes and presents riders with postcard-perfect vistas along each mile.

bike tour switzerland

Cyclists who do want a true challenge should consider the Tour of Mont Blanc, a mountain bike tour that travels a loop around the full 165-mile (265-km) base of the massive mountain, passing through three countries.

Have a question about any of these tours? Be sure to e-mail us at info@biketoursdirect.com.

 

Search all Switzerland bike tours >

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