Winter will be here any day, but in Europe cold weather just means things are heating up for the traveler. While the coming ski season will not see a single new luxury hotel of note open at a major resort in this country, new openings are coming to the Alps at a frantic pace.
The fervor started last winter with the debut of the top tier Alpina Gstaad in one of Switzerland’s most venerated “old money” mountain towns, Gstaad, where chalets routinely run into the 8 and even 9-figures, yet there hadn’t been a new luxury hotel opened in over a century. Now deep pocketed visitors without their own home have a place to stay worthy of this see-and-be-seen destination. Read more at Forbes.com
By Larry Olmsted
There has been a lot of talk the past six months about rising airfares, here and abroad, but summer vacation season to Europe is when leisure travelers typically get sticker shock, with peak season fares ratcheted up.
The bad news is that fares are higher this summer to the most popular western European gateways. But the good news is that in most cases the increases are pretty small, not enough to make travelers change plans. For instance, according to leading travel booking website Orbitz.com, flights from the US to Dublin jumped all of 1% from summer 2012 to summer 2013, meaning you will pay on average $8 more than last year. Hardly a game changer.
But the most notable thing for summer travel is that in some European markets hotel rates are down so significantly they make up – or even surpass – any airfare increases. Read more at Forbes.com
She Said; She Said
By Geri Bain & Jenny Keroack
Inspired by the grand tours of aristocrats past and the more recent adventures of TV’s Gilmore Girls, 18 year old Jenny Keroack proposed that she and her mom, travel writer Geri Bain take their own grand voyage. This summer the two set out to share as much of the Old World as thirty days would allow. Setting out from London and finishing in Barcelona, they recorded their favorite places and activities. Jenny’s are in italics while Geri’s are in regular type. Read about their adventures, explorations and all the schleps in between. The following is their first installment, logged from London, England.
We decided to jump right into our new time zone with a busy first day in London and neither jet lag or the on-off drizzling rain were going to stop us. After a quick check in at our hotel, we walked to Westminster Abbey, continued on to the Imperial War Museum and kept going until 10 p.m. that night.
Settling In: From the May Fair Hotel, we walked everywhere–from Bond Street (about five minutes) to Trafalgar Square (about 20 minutes) to the Globe Theater (about 45 minutes). We loved the location, but the best part of staying at the May Fair was its feeling of intimacy and pampering. The front desk clerks and concierge greeted us each time we returned “home” and pitchers of flat and sparkling water and apples in the lobby were a welcoming touch. We never made it to the spa but we enjoyed the international mix of fellow guests at breakfast and afternoon tea and keeping our eyes peeled for celebs at the bar. It was also fun knowing that the Bachelorette TV show had filmed a recent episode here and celebrities like Pink have made this their base in London.
Imperial War Museum (IWM London). We entered a grand atrium filled with fighter planes hovering in the air and war vehicles on the floor– some open to exploration. My reason for coming was the “Secret War” exhibit, where the double lives of England’s undercover agents are revealed in the guns, gadgets and other personal items along with film snippets and interactive displays. Jenny was drawn to the walk-through World War I trench exhibit, realistic to the stench and sounds of war. Having just seen the movie War Horse, the recreation of trench life with life size model soldiers and video clips, felt quite impactful.
The National Gallery: I’ve always been captivated by Greek and Roman mythology, especially the more romantic characters like Zeus, Cupid and Minerva. I found a ton of paintings depicting these and other characters at the National Gallery. One room actually had three versions of Paris awarding the apple of beauty to Venus. If I lived in London, I’d spend a lot of time here. The collection spans from the 13th century to the present, and amazingly, as in most London museums, there’s no admission fee..
Shakespeare’s Globe: When the narrator of Henry V spoke about “this big wooden O” (referring to the circular wooden theater) Jenny poked me and said, “this wouldn’t make sense anywhere else”. She was right. The Globe is a special place to see Shakespeare’s work and, as in the Bard’s time, seeing plays there needn’t be expensive. Standing room, which fills the center of the open-air theater, costs only £5. More expensive seating under the thatch roof keeps viewers dry and comfy. Since it rained quite heavily the night we went, we were glad we’d bought seats. The music–lyres, recorders and drums–added to the historic feel. All that was missing was spectators in period dress and ripe fruit being thrown on stage to make us really think we’d traveled back to Elizabethan London.
Piccadilly Circus: Not even kidding, I would go to a place called Piccadilly Circus just because it’s called Piccadilly. That said, its name is not the main attraction. It’s essentially a much more charming version of Times Square and in the center of a great shopping area. What struck me most about the Piccadilly area was that you would come out of a store, bags in hand, and be staring at some black marble statue and behind that would be some neon sign and behind that would be a strikingly beautiful Victorian building. The blend of old and new—and the shopping–definitely warrant a trip.
London by Bike: We used the same company, Fat Tire Bike Tours, as on our last trip to Europe and were not disappointed either time. The owner told my mom that their tours consistently use a basic script that each guide personalizes. The guides are funny, nice, and take you to the main sites such as Buckingham Palace and Westminster. They also tell interesting stories, such as one about the statue of George Washington at Trafalgar Square that actually stands on Virginian soil because Washington said he would never set foot on British soil again.
Next stop, Oxford.
Geri Bain, a widely published travel writer and editor, has written about more than 60 countries and contributed to publications including inc.com, N.Y. Daily News and Robb Report. While travel editor at Modern Bride magazine, she wrote an acclaimed guide to Honeymoons and Weddings Away. She is a past president of the New York Travel Writers Association and former editorial director of Endless Vacation magazine.
18-year-old Jenny Keroack wrote for the Observer Tribune from 2009 to 2012 and has been published in the Riverdale Press and Elegant Lifestyles. She was a researcher/blogger for the N.Y. League of Conservation Voters last summer and will be studying political science at the University of Chicago this fall.
By Everett Potter
Maria Elena Price of ExperiencePlus! is one of those rare people who actually grew up in the world of adventure travel. As a five year old, she helped translate ice cream flavors on the first Venice to Pisa tours of Experience Plus!, the company her parents founded in 1972. She’s led tours in more than 10 countries, specializing in Spain, where she lived for more than a year. In 2011 she and her sister Monica were named as two of the Top 10 Guides in the World by National Geographic Traveler. With a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and International Affairs and an MBA from the Leeds School of Business at University of Colorado, Boulder she manages the business and its development from the Fort Collins office in Colorado. I run into Maria Elena every year at the tribal gathering known as the Adventure Travel World Summit and managed to get a few words from her after the last summit in Chiapas, Mexico.
Everett Potter: Maria Elena, you’re the second generation of a family business. How did ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours start?
Maria Elena Price: Our parents founded ExperiencePlus! in 1972 as a way to get back to Italy so they could visit my mother’s family. They moved to the U.S. after getting married in 1969 and knew that trips to Italy would be few and far between if they couldn’t find a reason (and financing!) to help the travel back to Italy. They had cycled on their own in 1971 between Pisa and Forli (my mother’s home town) after my mother graduated from the University of Pisa –– and my father, ever the entrepreneur, wondered if they could find a few willing adventurers to join them on the same bike ride and in turn have their flights back to Italy paid for. They sold 12 people on that first 10 day camping and cycling tour! The cost was $245, per person, after all, you could get a full 3 course meal (with wine) in Italy for $1.50 back then…After that my parents operated a few more tours before they decided to finish their college degrees, travel on their own, and start a family. In 1985 they decided it was time to resurrect the Bike Across Italy tour – and we have been operating every year since. My sister, Monica, and I have been guiding tours since we were 14 and 15 and finally took over as directors in 2008!. Today ExperiencePlus! offers cycling tours in more than 10 countries
EP: How did you become an adventurous traveler?
MEP: As a kid, I’m guessing? I don’t think I knew I was an adventurous traveler at the time – but we certainly started traveling and cycling early! My sister and I were heading out on tour when we were 4 and 5 years old… We would join our parents for a few days at a time and help with very important things like translating ice cream flavors. As we grew older we started to join them for longer periods of time, and many of our family vacations became an opportunity to bicycle and scout new itineraries in Italy, France, Norway, Greece, and Costa Rica. The full realization that adventure travel, or active travel as we call it, was so important to me was when I was studying in Spain in college. I had already been in Spain for over 2 months and I remember distinctly feeling like I still didn’t know much about this large complex country – in fact I felt like I knew almost nothing. I had seen the main “tourist sites” on our group excursions but I didn’t feel like I had actually experienced or knew how people lived. I realized it was because I hadn’t seen the ‘everyday’ pieces of Spanish life I was so used to seeing when I traveled by bike. Fortunately after that I spent many summers guiding our bicycle tours in Spain so I was able to connect with locals and see all the places in between the typical tourist sites. In fact, I now consider Spain a third home (after Italy and Colorado!)
EP: How would you define the essence of an ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours trip — how does it differ from what your competitors offer?
MEP: The essence of our tours is best described as one of “guided independence”. We’ve found that most people interested in adventure travel and cycling trips don’t necessarily want to feel like they are on a “guided tour.” Most cyclists like the sense of moving at their own pace and not being tied to a group schedule. People choose to go on tours like ours because they want the expertise and local knowledge that is important to creating engaging itineraries, they care about quality equipment, group camaraderie, knowledgeable tour leaders – but there is also an important element of freedom in the way one travels – the ability to make the day their own experience. Our Tour Leaders are also on the road offering van support and cycling but we do our best to stay away from group shuttles because they eliminate flexibility and that way our riders can decide for themselves if they’d like to ride their bike or in the van. We also have a unique navigation system, literally putting chalk dust arrows on the pavement to show riders the way. This means that our routes can be very complex and truly off the beaten path, and cyclists spend their time enjoying scenery not trying to decipher complicated instructions or maps. Each day the arrows lead you to the best places for a snack, point out a particularly lovely view, encourage you up the hills – it makes you feel like the tour leaders are with you every single pedal stroke. In the afternoon the arrows will lead you a very comfortable hotel, often located in the center of town, so you can explore a before a fabulous dinner together.
EP: Why should someone choose an ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours trip over that of another operator?
MEP: We were the first US based company to offer cycling tours in Italy and are still one of the few operators out there who specializes in bicycle tours and bicycle travel exclusively. This means we are able to focus all of our energy and resources to cycling… cycling routes, cycling equipment, cycling friendly itineraries… All of our employees ride and are passionate about cycling and traveling by bicycle. We’ve spent years perfecting our systems to offer the finest cycling itineraries and have invested in some of the best touring bicycles and equipment out there. We have always worked with local tour leaders and they are a very important part of our staff – many companies are just now starting to add the “local” element. Our chalk dust arrow navigation system, and centrally located three and four star hotels round out all the elements you need for a perfect cycling trip. Oh and including wine with dinner doesn’t hurt either!
EP: Do you attract recreational riders, hard core riders, or those who seek cultural immersion? Or all of the above?
MEP: We have tours that cater to all of the above. One tremendous advantage of traveling by bicycle is that you are a part of the landscape, riding along roads and paths with locals, stopping in small towns. There are no barriers (car, bus, train) between you and a conversation with a local. Also, because our tour leaders are typically from the area they provide an enormous amount of historical and cultural information. Each itinerary includes a number of special visits –it may be to a 14th century fort in Croatia, a wine cellar in France, or a cheese maker in Italy it isn’t something a traveler could have organized on their own. As far as the type of rides, we offer 5 levels from 101 to 501 so have something for everyone no matter their experience or interest. A 101 tour is perfect for people who prefer gentle terrain or those who are just starting their cycling career or active traveling experiences. At the other end of the spectrum is our 501 rated ExpeditionPlus! tours which have you riding across continents! Overall though I’d say our clientele are recreational cyclists who are there to get some exercise, meet some fun companions, learn about an area, eat some fabulous food without feeling too guilty. The nice thing about our trips is that no matter what you prefer…ride hard and get to the next destination in record speed, or take a 100 pictures along the way, it’s possible.
EP: Tell me about three places you go as a company, places where you’d gladly drop everything and go this afternoon for an extended stay?
MEP: Emilia Romagna, Italy – where our headquarters is, will forever be my second home and I would drop everything and go there this afternoon – now that I spend more time in the office I don’t spend as much time there as I used to. My sister lives there and now I have a new niece there so it’s even harder to be far from them. I don’t know what it is about Italy that is captivating, but the food, people, history makes it special. I would do the same for Southern Spain. After having lived there for a year it is my second home away from home, I wouldn’t go there in July or August – but any other time of year it is special! Finally I would say the Lakes District in Patagonia, it’s just a stunningly beautiful place (the Chilean or Argentine side – we happen to have a trip that rides from one to the other!)
EP: What destinations are new for ExperiencePlus! Bicycle Tours this year?
MEP: This year we’ve added new destinations within countries we already know well. We’ve added a trip in the Languedoc in France (a region just West of Provence, known for its wine – surprise – and beautiful medieval towns). We’ve also added two trips in Italy in the Lakes District region, it’s a stunning region with some great bike routes and very unique “off the beaten path” cities, and a new Culinary Delights tour that is based very near our headquarters in Emilia Romagna which includes some gentle rides, and very special visits with our favorite Parmesan cheese and Balsamic vinegar makers.
EP: Where are you scouting for future trips?
MEP: In 2013 we’ll be adding a new tour Catalonia Spain – our 11 day tour will take advantage of a great bike path that will allow us to pedal straight into Barcelona on the last day of cycling! And we’ve had numerous requests to resurrect our trip to Ireland which we retired several years ago. We’re also beginning to scout a tour around the Italian/Slovenian border region.
EP: Do you think adventure travel is becoming less adventurous and more focused on creature comforts?
MEP: I think the brand “Adventure Travel” is becoming an ever increasing broad label. To a certain extent, if a traveler feels like what they are doing is adventurous then who is to say it shouldn’t be considered adventure travel? We generally think of ourselves as more of an active travel company – some might not consider it adventurous unless we were bicycling through lion infested forests – but bicycling 30 – 50 miles a day is very active! I think that travelers just need to make sure they know there are different styles of travel that fall under the broader title adventure travel. Some might like the luxury eco-lodges and high-end safari camps while others may prefer a backpacking trip in Peru – and hopefully others like a trip by bicycle across Spain or Scotland!
EP: With all of your travels, where do you find your center of gravity?
MEP: In Fort Collins, a little town in Colorado at the foot of the Rockies. I’m getting married in August to the most wonderful person possible who helps keep me grounded. He has taught me that there are plenty of adventures just here in our backyard – between the hiking, skiing and mountain biking we are never bored. We have a house and dog – all three are hard to leave when I travel, but it makes coming home that much sweeter!
By Eleanor Berman
I had never been a great fan of cruises—too much food, too little time anywhere used to be my mantra. But itineraries like my recent 14-day sailing on Regent’s Voyager have changed my mind.
The ports were irresistible—from Rome to Cinque Terre in Italy, down the Mediterranean to Marseille, Barcelona, Granada and Seville. Then, we rounded the Spanish coast, sailing past Gibraltar to Lisbon before cruising up the Atlantic to Bilbao, Bordeaux and LeHavre, the gateway either to a day in Paris or to the beaches of Normandy. Finally, we docked in Southampton for a bus ride to London’s Heathrow and the flight home.
The logistics of planning a land trip to even half of these great destinations are daunting, not to mention the thought of all those airports and security lines. While we didn’t visit in depth, we got a sampling of so many wonderful places—and only had to unpack once. As a plus, we had three relaxing days at sea between sightseeing.
Bilbao was a highlight for me. A day was ample time to appreciate Frank Gehry’s masterpiece museum, which proved to be greater in person than any photo can convey. Another favorite stop was Bordeaux, where we docked in the center of town and had two full days to savor the city’s stately 18th century architecture and lively riverfront, as well as the beautiful surrounding vineyards. My partner, a World War II buff, was thrilled at the chance to make the trip to Normandy, and no one can fail to be impressed and moved there at the museum that brings the fateful landing to life.
Big cities are more of a challenge in a day, but I’ve learned that you can make the most of the time if you skip the ship’s tightly scheduled packaged tours in favor of the local hop-on hop-off bus. These provide an overview but also time to linger, have lunch in a cafe and walk around on your own wherever you wish. The bus works very well in Barcelona, where it allows visits to the city’s most famous sights, architect, Antonio Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia cathedral and playful sculptures at the Parc Goeull, as well as the splendid Miro Foundation museum on a distant hilltop. An 11 p.m. departure time and a frequent free shuttle back to the ship meant there was still time to join the crowds promenading on the city’s colorful Ramblas and have a look at the old Gothic quarter and the Picasso Museum, which stays open until 8 p.m.
Regent has become my favorite cruise line for several reasons. The size is right, 700 passengers, small enough, for example, to sail the 70 miles inland on the Garonne River to the heart of Bordeaux. Standard cabins would be luxury suites on many ships. Even the smallest is 300 square feet with a balcony and a walk-in closet. While the rates sound high, they compete surprisingly well with less luxurious ships when you see what is included—airfare to and from Europe, a hotel night in Rome before we sailed, transportation into Rome and later to the port of Civitavecchia, most daily excursions, all tips, and limitless drinks, both hard and soft. Days at sea could be filled with talks and games or classes, but I was perfectly content to relax in a chaise on deck with a good book and sea views to savor.
Cruising isn’t always ideal, but with travel so often a hassle, it still probably comes closer than anything else to fulfilling the old slogan: Getting there is half the fun.
For more info: Regent Seven Seas Cruises
Eleanor Berman, a New York freelance writer and award-winning author of a dozen travel guides, has covered 82 countries and all 7 continents. She has written for many national publications, including Travel & Leisure, Ladies’ Home Journal, Diversion, Robb Report, Boston Globe, Atlanta Constitution, Denver Post, Miami Herald, and the New York Daily News. Among her guide book awards are a Lowell Thomas award for Traveling Solo, Thomas Cook Book of the Year for Eyewitness Guide to New York, and Independent Publishers IPPY award, best guide of the year, for New York Neighborhoods.
Story and photos by Denise Mattia
A pale wintry light pierced the Vienna sky at dawn, revealing the tops of roofs and the silhouette of the Hofburg Palace Dome. I returned to my room ready for a journey by train from Vienna to the Wachau Valley in Krems, traveling on to Salzburg, Basel, Zürich and lastly Paris. Prior to this trip I’d reached all destinations directly by air and hadn’t traveled throughout Europe by train since 1964.
Thanks to the Internet, most transportation tickets can be purchased online from Rail Europe prior to travel. I bought the Select Pass, which allowed me to travel into each country over a one-month period. Still, the brochure, “Helpful Tips for Train Travel,” didn’t prepare me for the changes in the rail system.
To my disappointment, gone are the stationmasters who ushered passengers to the appropriate cars, helped them up the high steps and assisted with luggage. Replacing those guardian angels of train travel are computer boards specifying track numbers and arrival and departure times. Additionally, there’s no signage indicating where the first- and second-class sections are located when the trains come into the station. Doors don’t open automatically; they slide apart when a button is pressed. Locals have the knack and share information willingly. They also understand the difficulty of lifting luggage onto the train and provide assistance. Accepting an offer of help with my bag, I left Vienna for Krems.
Outside the window, wide expanses of snow-covered flatlands punctuated by church spires and farmhouses flickered by as the train sped past remote villages called Absdorf Hippersdorf and Kirchberg am Wagram. The noise this manmade predator made didn’t bother horses, which were busy nibbling grass in the snow, but it disrupted the peaceful winter scene and caused deer and rabbits to scamper. Nearing Krems, rows of grape vines cut through the snowy landscape uniformly. Once the harvest was over, vineyard keepers cut back the vines, leaving squat stumps topped with bursts of odd-shaped branches.
With impressive museums, wineries and spas, the Krems and Wachau valleys are anything but sleepy, even in winter. After an enjoyable stay in this region, I was off a day later to visit the Baroque city of Salzburg, a lively place where palaces crowd the skyline and where Mozart was born.
In Salzburg, there are several dozen cafes where Mozart and Hayden were reported to frequent. When I wasn’t scurrying from the chill winter wind to visit museums, castles and crypts, I was ducking into a sweet shop to have coffee and the decadently delicious chocolate Venusbrüstchen (Venus breast) — Mrs. Mozart’s favorite. Several days and pounds later, I boarded the train to Basel via Zürich.
Not having reserved a seat, I was displaced by a couple who had purchased the one I’d assumed. Fortunately, the train was only half full and a conductor showed me to a private compartment, albeit a messy one. The restaurant car waitress bore no responsibility for cleaning the containers and papers left behind by preceding passengers, nor was she willing to find the appropriate personnel for the job. Since the detritus detracted from my enjoyment of the pristine turquoise-blue water cascading from the mountaintops outside, I tidied the compartment.
Before long, the crisp clear sky turned cloudy, enveloping the train in a white fog that nearly obliterated the towns from Bludens to Sargans. Although it was eerily beautiful, I imagined being caught in a snowdrift – the setting for a modern-day who-done-it. The next stop should have been Zürich. It wasn’t. Minutes away from the city, the train reversed inexplicably and returned to Sargans, which made making my connection from Zürich to Basel doubtful.
When the train finally did arrive in Zürich, my connection was at the other end of the station. A mad dash and a different kind of guardian angel of train travel – an unsuspecting young man – got me on board and into a seat. For the next hour my Basel friend and I talked about banking, European and American politics and the future of the world. Upon arrival, he escorted me to the appropriate tram and, when I couldn’t find my Basel pass, bought me a ticket and refused reimbursement. We parted, as people sometimes do when traveling, as happy companions, likely never to see each other again.
Having become enamored of a town that loves art, architecture and fun in equal proportion, I left Basel vowing to return. The impeccably clean ICE rail sped without a hitch to Zürich, a city that’s an amalgam of church spires, narrow, hilly streets, business and culture centers and Swiss watches (but not the cuckoo clock – that originated in Germany).
On my last day in Zürich, I stopped off at the Stadelhofen to confirm a seat on the train to Paris (a must any time of year). With help, I’d gotten the knack of train travel and had avoided the “pat downs,” liquid checking, passport scrutiny and baggage invasion prevalent at airports. Looking up, I noticed that flying high in the rafters was a sculpture, which I learned later was by Nikki de Saint-Phalle. It was titled Guardian Angel. “They’re not gone at all,” I thought. “They simply take on different forms.”
# # #
Travel prices and tips:
Only non-European residents can purchase a Eurail Pass. I purchased a first-class adult select pass, which allowed seven travel days within a two-month period and cost $569.
Excellent public transportation systems make getting around European cities easy. Most cities offer discount cards or city passes (usually with unlimited rides and discounts to museums, shops, restaurants cafes and more), which go a long way. Once in Vienna, I purchased a regular 72-hour public transportation ticket (euro 13,50, about US $17). The 72-hour Vienna Card (about US$25) offered only 5- or 10% discounts to museums, cafes and restaurants and didn’t seem worthwhile. For more information, visit www.wien.info. Salzburg is small and many attractions are within walking distance of your hotel. For that reason, I chose the 48-hour Salzburg Card (about US $41), which offered free admission to all of the city’s attractions (museums, use of the funicular, cableway and transportation). Visit email@example.com. Warning: Control officers board trams and buses. Fines are steep for riders without a paid fare.
Since I was only traveling from Basel to Zurich, with a side trip into Germany to visit the Vitra Design Museum (about $US 5 roundtrip), I purchased a single, one-way ticket to Zurich, which cost about US$26.
For more information, visit Rail Europe.
Denise Mattia is a freelance writer and photographer (underwater and topside) whose works are published nationally and internationally and include all aspects of leisure travel: art and architecture, culture, resorts, spas hotels, food and wine and sports’ activities. Her outlets include print publications for upscale professionals, web e-zines and trade magazines. She holds two degrees in theatre and art and was awarded a grant from the Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation in 1990 for her work in reef conservation. Visit www.nytwa.info/DeniseMattia
I first met Erik Blachford at a dinner in Whistler a couple of years ago, when we got into an extended discussion about the merits of the Burning Man Project. He is a devoted attendee while the jury is till out as far as I'm concerned. No matter, Erik is not the type one might think of when one thinks of the desert free-for-all called Burning Man. He's currently the Chairman and CEO of Butterfield & Robinson, the pioneer of upscale biking and walking vacations, as well as Chairman of Terrapass, Inc. He was formerly president and CEO of Expedia and CEO of IAC/InterActiveCorp's travel division. Very early in his career, Erik spent several years guiding and developing trips in Western and Eastern Europe for Butterfield & Robinson, as well as managing the company's student travel division.
On the other hand, maybe this is exactly the guy you'd expect to find at Burning Man. I recently got around to asking him some other questions in his new leadership role at Butterfield & Robinson, where founder George Butterfield is now the self-styled "CEO of all things slow."
Erik, you did a stint at B&R years ago. What were you up to then?
I started guiding for B&R in 1988, and spent four great seasons guiding bike trips in France as well as in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I also managed the B&R student trips for those years. Four weeks, 30 kids, carrying all their gear in pannier bags –quite an adventure.
Clearly, the company, and the world, have changed mightily since then. What kind of changes have you seen in the luxury biking and hiking market?
Back when I was first guiding, the whole idea of getting a little exercise while on vacation was still a bit revolutionary, especially when combined with the idea of arriving in athletic gear at some of Europe's finest hotels.
Andy Levine says that he created DuVine Adventures at his kitchen table with a website and a glass of wine in 1996. Fifteen years later, Levine has built the Boston-based DuVine into one of the leading biking companies in the US, offering wine-infused cycling trips to Italy and France, the Czech Republic and Argentina, not to mention Croatia, Utah and Napa/Sonoma. Levine is serious about the bikes he uses, about the wine his guests drink, and about the hotels where they sleep. He’s clearly doing something right. National Geographic Traveler singled out DuVine's Mendoza, Argentina trip as a Tours of a Lifetime in 2009 and National Geographic Adventure dubbed DuVine one of the Best Adventure Travel Outfitters for 2009. I recently had a chance to ask the perenially enthusiastic Levine about his company.
Andy, I like your new mailing piece, a spiral-bound catalog that's part calendar, part postcard collection, with lots of great color photos of castles, wine bottles and shiny, happy people on bikes. I even like the photo of you in the red Alpha Romeo. What's your background and how did you get into this business?
I am an adrenaline junkie. I love moving fast. I am not a fan of sitting still and I love competing. I am on a mission to learn every day, yet I fully understand the rewards of enjoying a peaceful moment in a gorgeous location.
I have always been a planner and producer. I have always loved putting on events and shows. I did it in college –bicycle races, film festivals and so on. Although during that time I never made a dime and usually lost money, I had a blast seeing people enjoy and connect. This laid the groundwork for my future. I wanted to bike around Europe and to be a stranger in a foreign country. While I was doing this, the internet started and I put up a website, simply wanting to share the love. Fifteen years later, with hard work and great people, we are making an impact in the travel industry and a major impact in the lives of our guests and our vendors. Never will I buy lists or trash my competition. I like my business like my food – organic, real and simple.
If you're a Europhile, as I am, you've probably been cringing as the dollar is again sinking lower and lower against the almighty euro. One euro was worth $1.45 this morning, which has effectively made moderately priced European hotels very expensive and vaulted deluxe hotels into the stratosphere. But here are five ways to make a trip to Europe a bit more affordable this winter.