In 1966, the term adventure travelers meant astronauts and explorers. Today it refers to the fast-growing segment of the leisure market that wants something more challenging from a vacation. Now you can raft, climb, hike, bike and even go to far-flung polar regions in the lap of luxury. And for that just about every upscale adventure travel provider owes a debt of gratitude to George Butterfield, who invented the category 40 years ago when he launched his white-glove bike tours of France. Four decades later, his family-owned company, Butterfield & Robinson, runs biking, hiking, walking and private boat trips in exotic locales such as Vietnam, Morocco and Patagonia, as well as classic mainstays like Burgundy, the Loire Valley and Tuscany, all in a style that is the envy of the industry. And while plenty of competitors have come and gone, the original is still the gold standard, garnering repeat customers who have notched dozens of B&R tours.
Why is the company so beloved? Its attention to detail starts with a help line that guarantees rapid answers from a knowledgeable operator. B&R finds the very best back roads and lesser-known routes, which combine gorgeous scenery with lightly trafficked medieval towns. Equally compelling are the deluxe hotel choices, including the likes of Four Seasons, Orient-Express and Relais & Chateaux. Then there is the food: on a recent five-day bike tour of Italy's Piedmont, I ate at three Michelin-starred restaurants and enjoyed a gourmet picnic in a hilltop castle. Every trip includes private special visits, from VIP wine tastings at world-renowned wineries to cooking classes to special museum tours and truffle hunts, leaving just enough time for shopping and spa treatments. The guides are multilingual and their people skills and knowledge of bike repair are surpassed only by their local expertise. (Custom Italian-made Pinarello fleet bikes are lent on a complimentary basis.)
B&R rates every trip from easy to challenging, and options run from flat pedals or walks along the canals of Holland to re-creating famed climbs from the Tour de France and steep hikes in the Dolomites. The company also offers family-specific itineraries that are kid-friendly. Every trip offers multiple route options every day to ensure the ideal level of exertion. The B&R van gives tired trekkers a cushy alternative and provides a bottomless supply of snacks, water and even Champagne for all travelers, whether they've sagged or not.
And Butterfield & Robinson remains vigilant for hot new destinations, such as Vietnam, where it locked up exclusives deals with the country's best small hotels. B&R's Bespoke division has offered customized, private excursions for families and small groups since 2003.
Call 866-551-9090 or visit www.butterfield.com.