If your idea of a vacation is conquering the next mountain, Backroads is for you. This luxury company arranges biking, hiking and multi-sport vacations around the world, for families and adults. We spent six days cycling through Italy, gorging on pasta, wine and desserts, and didn’t gain an ounce. Plus we explored small towns, vineyards and farms in Umbria and Tuscany, for a unique perspective on the foodie culture.
Some people dream of spending their vacation in a lounge chair, sleeping late and reading books. This is not us. My family likes to ski, bike, hike and explore, and we have taken three cycling trips with Backroads, a company which defines luxury adventure travel.
Our most recent bike trip was an adults only Tuscany & Umbria Bike Tour. When we biked with our children, rides were shorter and when we got to our hotel, we have to entertain them (though a Backroads leader would also play soccer, or games with all the kids for awhile). On this trip, though, we were up at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast, and on the road by 8:15 or 8:30 a.m.; we generally stopped biking for the day around 3 or 4 p.m. Our hotels were spectacular, with great food, amazing views and indulgent service.
Active Travel Still Lets You Relax
You know that planning that goes on when you take a vacation? With a Backroads trip, you don’t have to do a thing. Just show up. A bicycle is waiting for you, with a helmet, water bottle, bike bag and GPS. Backroads even suggests hotels for before and after your ride. We spent a couple of days in Florence before and after our biking trip, and though we didn’t stay in one of the recommended hotels, my sister did and it was a great choice.
Foodie Delight Bicycle Trip
Our bicycle trip kicked off on a high note. We had lunch at the Agriturismo Ma’Falda, where the goats provided the milk for fresh ricotta cheese and three other varieties of cheese, all served with fresh bread. Our energetic and friendly Backroads leaders, Casey and Dean, made a picnic lunch that included local specialties like panzanella (bread salad) and artichoke frittata, chickpea salad, roasted eggplant, and plenty of meat for the non-vegetarians. Backroads made sure that the gluten-free member of our group had a wide range of choices at every meal.
In the Italian way, there was also wine at lunch and dinner, and though drinking wine and biking don’t really go together, the leisurely and filling lunches ensured that even those who sampled the wines could ride safely.
One of our dinners was at the Agriturismo Il Borghetto, where we drank homemade biodynamic orange wine, a white wine that is produced like red, with the skin on. We toured the vineyards to work up our appetite, important since the dinner included some 20 courses.
You Will Never Go Hungry on This Bicycle Trip
Our days started with a hearty buffet breakfast, and then we loaded up at a snack bar set up by the Backroads team, with fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts and peanut or plain M & M’s. Culture shock: the M & M’s in Europe aren’t as vibrantly colored, since some of the dyes used in the United States are illegal. Makes you pause, just a bit, before you reach for that mid-day candy pick me up.
We would generally cycle for an hour or three, stopping for the occasional photo of breathtaking scenery, then have a snack break, or a town to explore. After a particularly brutal climb for views of Lago di Trasimeno, we fortified with Italian hot chocolate, more like a pudding than a drink.
One day, we took a cooking class at a vineyard, La Braccesca, which meant we had about four glasses of wine (conservatively) before the final ride portion of the day, another 10 miles to our spectacular villa for the night. Most of us opted for a shuttle van ride, figuring that no amount of pasta and salad could absorb all that wine.
Sometimes it wasn’t clear if we were biking to eat, or eating to bike. No matter; both were supremely enjoyable.
We biked through live groves and past vineyards, to cities like Assisi, and Montefalco.
Luxury Hotels: You Need Your Rest After All That Food (and Biking)
Backroads has trips where you stay at premiere inns or casual inns. Our trip was the higher end premiere inns. One hotel had a Relais Todini, had a cypress grove announcing the entry and 14th century vineyards surrounding the lush property; another, Relais La Corte dei Papi, was a 17th century villa. All had outdoor (undated) pools, deluxe bedding and baths; at La Corte dei Papi, our last stop, our room had its own steam shower and two person jacuzzi.
The luxury hotels also had destination restaurants, so once we were done biking for the day, we could relax and then walk downstairs for a five star meal with lovely local wine.
More Than Just Active Travel
There was also time for sightseeing, and a lunch on dinner on our own (with suggestions from our crackjack crew). We found leather goods at a great price in Cortona, and a gourmet food shop in Spoleto where we loaded up on truffle salt, truffle honey, anchovies and local amaro so we could continue our gourmet experience at home.
Note: Backroads gave me a discount for posting on Instagram. Opinions and sore muscles are all my own.