I’ve been writing on active travel for decades, but the category has never been as popular as it right now. Thank to huge increases in outdoor pursuits, exercise and physical activity during the pandemic, cycling participation (along with hiking, running, golf, fishing, etc.) spiked during the first lock down stages of COVID-19, and the majority of Americans who took up new athletic pursuits say they plan to continue doing them. As a result, there are more people cycling then ever before, and with the recent surge in travel as vacation floodgates reopen, that has meant a huge bump in the active travel industry, with many outfitters reporting record bookings.
Personally, I have been preaching the merits of cycling vacations for as long as I can remember, and it is one of the best ways to explore a place and culture at the perfect pace. You cover a lot more ground than you could walking, but still go slowly enough to take in all the scenery, local color and stop whenever it suits your fancy to check something out. Being active on vacation makes you feel better about indulging in local delicacies (I think of bike trips as a fun way to get to the next gelato break) and wine and food is more enjoyable with a well-earned appetite.
The recent widespread availability of e-bikes on these trips has also made cycling vacations far more accessible, welcoming even novices. The last couple of trips I’ve done have been in locales with big mountains and lots of climbing, but anyone who wasn’t experienced or physically prepared enough simply opted for an e-bike, still had a great time and conquered all the hills. To be clear, e-bike have electric motors that assist pedaling. The are not motorcycles, and you still pedal, and still are active, but if you turn the throttle up you get a lot of help and climbing a hill with an e-bike can be like riding a flat road on a traditional bicycle. They also are great for multigenerational trips, where maybe grandad could not keep up with the younger generations – or vice versa – and all the major tour operators now offer e-bikes.
All the major tour operators also offer the same “standard” trips, and if you want to pedal through Tuscany, Burgundy, Provence or the Napa Valley, you have many solid quality options to choose for booking a tour, because pretty much every company that does cycling trips does these classics. But if you want something completely different – like an awesome three-in-one cycling vacation plus much more – you need to look at DuVine.
Named the World’s Number One Best Tour Operator this year by Travel + Leisure Magazine, DuVine scored a whopping 99.12 out of a possible 100 points in the annual World’s Best Awards. As T+L noted, “A tour with DuVine goes far beyond just riding a bike – it’s a way to really see the character of a destination. Case in point: even those who say they’re not necessarily cycling fans have been converted.” It was the Boston-based company’s fifth appearance on the World’s Best list in the past five years, and that is among all sorts of tour operators, not just active travel, which is quite a feat. That makes DuVine a great choice for the classic trips mentioned above, but they offer a lot more. There are a couple of reasons for the company’s ongoing success and much of it comes down to focus and thinking outside the box.
Firstly, ever since the company was founded it has had a deep connection to regional food and wine, with more of a culinary bent than most other outfitters, and this really resonates with today’s traveler, as gastronomic interest is at an all-time peak. This also really adds to both the luxury experience and the immersive sense of place you get on cycling trips, whether it’s homemade pasta in Italy or tagines in Morocco. Travel with DuVine and you know before the first pedal stroke that you will eat and drink very well.
Secondly, while most competitors have veered into every imaginable sort of “active” (and sometimes not-so-active) travel, from safaris to snowshoe trips, DuVine has remained faithfully cycling-centric, and while it does offer cycling plus multisport trips with hiking and kayaking added, it has not branched into non-cycling travel.
But at the same time, DuVine founder Andy Levine has pushed boundaries into areas overlooked by other companies, including more difficult “Challenge Tours,” surprisingly rare in an industry where luxury is often synonymous with ignoring real cycling enthusiasts. But that’s for another day.
One of these new directions has led to some of DuVine’s most impressive offerings – its one-of-a-kind Cycle + Sail collection. These are unlike anything else in the marketplace and a fantastic choice for everyone from avid cyclists to first timers – especially if they love food and a great vacation experience.
I have been on many high-end, white glove cycling trips around the globe, but none have been like the Greek Isles Yacht + Bike Tour I just completed with DuVine. There’s so much to love about this cool concept, which has been extended to other locations as well, that it is hard to know just where to start, but here goes.
Gulets are traditional Turkish sailing vessels from the country’s southwestern coast and especially Bodrum, the Turkish Riviera. While under the radar to Americans, Bodrum is one of the most popular beach resorts in the entire Mediterranean basin, a huge draw from Continental Europe, and home to many top tier luxury hotels including Mandarin Oriental. Like villa rentals in Tuscany, gulet cruises from Bodrum are a popular category of vacation unto themselves and many people go here specifically for these charters, exploring the many gorgeous Greek and Turkish isles in Aegean Sea, since the maritime border between the two countries is just offshore. Gulets are large, wide, stable and very comfortable ships, usually with four to eight staterooms, and again, there is an entire vacation industry in gulet trips from Bodrum – but DuVine is the only American tour operator that has used the concept for cycling. So, the first part of what makes this trip so special is that you get a great sailing (they also have motors) vacation to enchanting islands and impossibly beautiful waters, a trip that other people dream of – but there’s lot more, including the cycling.
To facilitate this, DuVine uses highly experienced local guides and takes its fleet of high-quality road bikes, hybrids and e-bikes on board. The company regularly uses the same sister ships from the same owner, impeccably maintained and fully crewed with captain, mates, service staff and especially vital, an incredible chef. Because they use the same ships regularly, the crew is thoroughly experienced in the dynamics of the cycling tour.
The trip begins with every participant met at the Bodrum airport (or their hotel if arriving early) and transported to the boat for welcome drinks and dinner on board. The group then sails from Bodrum into Greece, stopping each day to cycle and explore a different island. On each, there are special activities such as visits to wineries, dinner with local families, historic ruins, all with full van support and cycling and non-cycling guides. On most days after returning to the ship, there is time for leisurely swimming, snorkeling or kayaking in the amazing Aegean waters. Breakfast is served onboard before each day’s departure, lunch and dinner are a mix of on island and on the ship, and in between, the open bar (included) is open and passengers can read, nap, sunbathe or sip Greek and Turkish wines while watching the world slowly move past.
The result is really three great vacations rolled into one: a charter sailing trip, a cycling trip and an immersion into a much less visited part of Greece. In a season where tourist magnets Santorini and Mykonos saw record crowds and record prices, the islands we visited, like Kos, Leros, Kalymnos, Simi and Nisiros, while still full of charming towns, great food and historic sites, were nearly empty with uncrowded roads and friendly welcoming hosts in local tavernas.
The gulets DuVine uses each have six staterooms, all en suite, and on the group departures, there is a surprising amount of privacy for a shared boat – one that is 115 feet long. The food and drink were exceptional throughout, and each festive dinner on board was better and more opulent than the one before it, stressing local specialties like whole fresh caught fish, shellfish, lamb, olives, and endless mezes. In addition to the scheduled group trips, which can be booked by individuals or couples, these trips are offered as private charters, so if you have a few couples or friends you want to travel with, that’s another option.
The Cycle + Sailing model has proven so popular that the product has been expanded to other locations, and DuVine currently offers these trips in Croatia, Sardinia, Italy’s Amalfi Coast (these three use non-gulet sailing yachts) and a very similar trip to the one I did but entirely in Turkey. Because Turkey is an exceptional travel value right now, this is reflected in trip prices, and an 8-day Turkey Yacht + Bike Tour begins at just $6,595 per person, all-inclusive, while the 8-day Croatia version is $11,995. Greece, Amalfi and Sardinia fall in between these two price points. In addition to accommodations, excellent food and great guides, DuVine’s rates include quality bikes, helmets, premium adult beverages throughout, complimentary keepsake bike jersey and t-shirt, pre and post tour airport transfers, and all entry fees, activities and gratuities for hotels, porters and drivers. All offer the same unrivalled combination of active travel, great cycling, amazing food, a shipboard adventure and an in-depth exploration of regions that are best experienced from the water.
I get asked about vacation planning all the time, and recently, one recurring theme has been the search for “something different, something I haven’t done before.” This might just be the answer.