An increased appetite in healthy living and the age-old desire to explore are satiated by companies crafting custom journeys for active travelers.
By Sarah Binder
In his autobiographical book Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness, American writer Edward Abbey wrote, “A man on foot, on horseback or on a bicycle will see more, feel more, enjoy more in one mile than the motorized tourists can in a hundred miles.”
With an increased focus on health and wellness, a need to unplug from daily life, and a desire to go off the beaten path, more and more travelers are booking active luxury vacations. Once centralized around destinations where physical activity is inherent, such as Machu Picchu or Alaska, active journeys today combine fitness and culture in unexpected locales such as Spain’s Mallorca Island and Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast.
Through their worldwide luxury tours that engage all five senses, award-winning travel providers such as Gray & Co. and Trek Travel live by Abbey’s timeless observation and help their adventure-seeking guests do the same.
To Cari Gray, founder and director of Gray & Co., active journeys surprise and delight, causing guests to wonder what they will see just around the corner.
“When you’re biking and kayaking, you’re actually watching a living museum. You’re listening to the birds, looking at the constellations, looking at the people in all of their glory. You’re wondering what fruit it is that is hanging off of the trees,” Gray says. “The world is unfolding in front of you and you see it in a very flowing and beautiful way.”
Gray, who spent 14 years with Butterfield & Robinson, noticed a developing niche — an opportunity to serve a clientele seeking higher-end active trips than what was available on the market. Gray & Co. hosted its first trip in 2009 and has focused since its inception on luxury-level service and a higher ratio of drivers, vehicles, and guides to guests.
All of Gray & Co.’s trips are private and designed from scratch — from the drinks guests want in their cooler to the type of hotel room they prefer. Throughout their itinerary, guests dictate the pace that works best for them.
“Whether that means only riding in the morning or the afternoon, or only having bistro-style meals, we get to know our travelers very well to anticipate the needs they don’t even know they have,” she explains. “We don’t design a trip for anyone thinking that it will be the only trip they will take with us.”
Gray & Co. regularly visits new destinations so the team is posed to craft well-rounded itineraries. A trip to South Africa in early January featured a visit to Timanfaya National Park to explore the lava fields and an optional round of golf at Arabella Golf Club. Numerous bike rides highlighted South Africa’s picturesque villages, coasts, valleys, and vineyards, with accommodations in Lanzarote, Canary Islands; Hermanus; Franschhoek; and Cape Town.
“South Africa is not highly popular from a biking perspective; however, from our perspective, it has good pavement, amazing hotels, and super-high-quality food,” Gray says. “When we were in Cape Town we managed to go on a behind-the-scenes tour of the new Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa. It was a big highlight to see this mega project that is not going to open until September.”
Even with its heavily researched itineraries, the Gray & Co. team occasionally has to improvise to take its customer service to the next level. “We were touring with a family all around Sydney. To get them out of traffic, we chartered a jet boat to pick them up close to Bondi Beach and drop them off right at the Park Hyatt Sydney. It was a neat opportunity for them to see the harbor and have a jet boat all to themselves, making the transfer a bit of an adventure itself.”
As for new adventures, the team recently took journeys to Bergen, Norway; Sri Lanka; and will visit Australia’s Sunshine Coast Hinterlands this spring. “We’re eagerly awaiting the new lodges that will open in Bhutan; Six Senses is opening up amazing new lodges there later this year. And the Galápagos Islands is definitely on our list as well; we want to check out Pikaia Lodge,” Gray notes.
Photos courtesy of Gray & Co
Suitable for travelers of all riding abilities, from beginners to experienced cyclists, Trek Travel, born of Trek bikes, offers luxury biking vacations around the world. Each guest is provided with an award-winning Trek bicycle, such as the all-new Trek Domane SL 7 carbon fiber road bike with electronic Di2 shifting, the Trek FX hybrid, and the electric-assist XM700+.
Trek Travel’s expertly guided trips can be booked privately and modified to suit guests’ preferences. Alternatively, the company’s trip design team can work with travelers to create completely customized tours. For example, the team recently designed a 22-person trip to Switzerland, intended to celebrate the family’s heritage and introduce everyone, from ages 6 to 80, to the town their matriarch and grandmother hailed from.
“When you slow down and get on a bike you are able to immerse yourself in a region more than if you’re on a bus from point A to point B. You can feel the terrain, stop on the side of the road and take pictures, and smell the lavender fields you’re riding by,” explains Meagan Coates, Trek Travel’s trip design manager. “How you’re welcomed by locals when you arrive in a tiny town in Italy on a bike is a different experience. You’re able to connect more easily.”
While some destinations, such as Yellowstone or California wine country, sound ideal for a cycling vacation, others may surprise. “Time is of the essence to get to Cuba,” Coates explains.
Launched early this year, Trek Travel’s eight-day, seven-night Cuba itinerary welcomes all abilities for a trip that starts in Santa Clara and ends in Havana. One day’s ride, for example, covers approximately 40 miles with 1,200 feet of climbing, pedaling through the Valle de los Ingenios, the lush green valley once the center of the island’s sugar industry. The trip’s wide variety of non-cycling activities includes visits to the Bay of Pigs museum and Manaca Iznaga Sugar Plantation, people-to-people exchanges such as meeting a local author in Trinidad, and savoring traditional homemade dinners at paladars — private, family owned restaurants.
All tours allow guests to set their own pace — it’s encouraged to skip a ride in favor of a spa treatment, if desired. Last May, the company launched a new collection of trips designed to maximize the relaxation portion of one’s vacation. A partnership with Scenic luxury river cruises allows Trek Travel to offer tours on the Danube and Rhine rivers.
“The ships are like floating luxury hotels, and at every port there is a spot where you can get off and ride,” Coates says. Day three of the Rhine River Cruise, for example, features an afternoon ride through Germany’s romantic Neckar Valley to the foothills of the Odenwald Forest, followed by a classical concert in the Baroque Mannheim Palace.
“With the support that we offer, you don’t have to worry about anything,” says Coates. “The biggest thing I tell beginner or non-riders is ‘Just go.’ More often than not, when you want to start doing anything new, the hardest part is just getting started.”
Photos courtesy of Clockwise: Norway ©Tony Ferlisi; Ojai courtesy of Trek Travel; Yellowstone ©Zack Jones Photography; Cuba ©Leanne Welbourne