Anyone looking for a luxury mountain bike tour with seriousness and five-star accommodation combined with extraordinary meals and noteworthy wines will finally meet DuVine Cycling + Adventure Co. The much celebrated DuVine was started more than 20 years ago by the Bostonian Andy Levine, whose energy and vision have created incredibly memorable journeys. Recently I met Andy while DuVine headed for 2018 with new trips to Japan and South Africa.
Andy, many tour companies offering bicycle trips branch out for walks and hikes. You have been constant in following the cycle path. What makes a bike trip so special – and DuVine in particular?
While there are some multi-sport family outings that offer other activities (such as hiking, kayaking or horse riding) in addition to cycling, the decision to focus exclusively on bike tours was intentional. I think focusing on one thing allows DuVine to do what we do best. Traveling on a bicycle makes you part of the landscape. You are passing through the olive groves in Puglia and sniffing the steaming wood after harvesting. You’re feeling the breeze as you fly down a sea to Majorca. You stop spontaneously when your guide slows down the group to taste the cherries that grow along a country road in Provence. You could walk in these places, but you will not cover so much ground or you will not get that sense of euphoria. You could get on a tour bus, but a window separates you from the world and the feeling of accomplishment is over. The bike ride hits the perfect balance between exploration and immersion.
Our luxury mountain bike tours focus on exceptional food and wine experiences, carefully selected accommodations, high quality bicycles and full support for vans. The price of our tours is inclusive, so our guests feel supported and cared for in the most complete sense. I’m obsessed with local characters: my vision of every DuVine itinerary is to always show our guests how authentic a character can be found if we know where to look.
What are some of the other unique differences for DuVine?
We owe a lot of the DuVine experience to the expertise of our local guides. They are often locals, because anyone can learn Italian, but only someone born in Piedmont will know it as our guide Guido. When you go with him to Italy, he will introduce you to his old friends in his hometown, he will invite you to shake the summer plums from the fruit trees on his family farm and take you to his mother’s kitchen to make pasta.
Michelin starred restaurants and luxury hotels occupy a prominent place on our tours, but our goal is to form meaningful human connections through cultures. Our guides not only know these regions within them, but offer their personal community to our guests and are exploited in family run restaurants, less busy routes and boutique accommodation – such as farms or live yachts – that you could not otherwise find. All this deepens the understanding of a region that transcends tourism. For me, these experiences are just as luxurious as five-star hotels and gourmet dinners.
These are simple, genuine and intimate moments that best represent what we do in DuVine. I made the conscious decision to limit the number of participants to all the scheduled departures of DuVine, not only because the guests receive individual attention, but also because there is only so much space in the best tables in the world – Guido’s home among them – or drink a rare bottle of sweet red wine made by our friend Vittorio in his cellar in Montefollonico.
At DuVine, you have a reputation for luxury and serious driving. But honestly, how serious should a pilot be to go on a trip with DuVine? Are there trips for both weekend warriors and hard core pilots?
I firmly believe that cycling is for everyone. To give all our guests options, our tours are classified according to driving level, with 1 being the easiest and 4 being the most challenging.
Even beginners can enjoy a level 1 trip. There are a few miles and above all a flat driving and an excellent introduction to cycling trips. The weekend warriors will be happy at levels 2 or 3, which offer quite long riding days and the possibility of adding some climbs or more challenging sections if desired. For our most avid cyclists, our travel tours focus on the famous hills of the Alps, the Dolomites and the Pyrenees, the type of to-do list to which the intense cyclists aspire. Each of our tours has the full support of the van, every mile of the route.
By the way, our guests love electrical assistance. E-bikes and electronic wheels are great equalizers and are offered on most of our tours. Allow couples who can have mixed riding levels to travel together. They make a dream vacation a reality for someone who wants to go where the guide may be otherwise outside their comfort zone.
Tell me about your trip to Japan this fall, your first in that country and also in Asia. What is the path and what makes Japan particularly attractive for cyclists?
There were many surprises in store for me in Japan. Of course it is, but Asia is very different from any other DuVine destination. Culturally, I had to get used to making miso soup for breakfast, bathing in an onsen, and the habit of sleeping mats were kept until after dinner. We were greeted with charisma and warmth wherever we went, and this is the most important aspect of global citizenship that comes from travel.
For open, adventurous and curious travelers, this trip is the best. The roads we have explored in Japan are car-free and silent; they are in the shade of cedar trees or are shared by pilgrims who walk to a temple or a sanctuary. Bicycles allow us to expand in the countryside, where bullet trains do not go. We arrive at these tiny villages or mountain towns where to get on anything but a bike would be out of place. The food is clean and tasty. Our guests will have the opportunity to meditate with Buddhist monks and go behind the scenes of a sake brewery. This journey is a way for guests to understand Japan in ways that transcend tourism.
South Africa is another place you’ll go, a country that may not be the first on anyone’s list for a bike tour. Why should it be?
South Africa should definitely be at the top of everyone’s list. DuVine is a luxury cycling company, but we have a rotation oriented towards food and wine, and South Africa is an exceptional culinary destination. Think of Cape Winelands. Think of luxury hotels with hectares of orchards and botanical gardens on site. It’s paradise! You also have a coastal charm in Cape Town and Hout Bay. So, imagine trying all this by bike. It makes it easy to experiment, smell and perceive the landscape. Go mountain biking in the fynbos, then go to Chapman’s Peak Drive, which has the reputation of being one of the most spectacular roads in the world. Cycling here is not on people’s radar because they do not know what they’re losing, but it should be!
Most weekend riders are looking for level terrain, so I’m quite impressed that you’re on a Swiss trip. Are the climbing really so difficult? What are the prizes?
Switzerland is a totally underrated cycling destination, but it is also incredibly versatile. To this end, yes, there are flat outings, which you will see on our family cycling tour in Switzerland. Easy cycle paths, lake circuits and long stretches through the valleys are easy. On the other hand, our Switzerland Journey Bike Tour offers those arduous climbs between Lake Geneva and Lake Como that cyclists dream of. It’s not easy! The most difficult day of this tour reaches an epic elevation of over 3,000 meters. And for those who fall in the middle, we also offer a classic tour in Switzerland. It’s a great way to see desirable destinations like Interlaken and Lucerne, with rides that perfectly fit weekend riders. There is something for every type of cyclist in Switzerland.
Tell us about your travels with Chef Seamus Mullen and Master Sommelier Carlton McCoy of The Little Nell in Aspen.
Seamus and Carlton are both my great friends, whom I respect and admire for their respected culinary and oenological genius. Both are also great cyclists. In our Chef or Sommelier on Wheels tour, our guests come to ride with these experts, chatting with the bike about everything and everything they have always wanted to know about nutrition, wine pairings, travels. Then, when they arrive in these world class Burgundy Grand Cru cellars, they have a Sommelier Master who jumps off the bike to guide the tasting or explain the terroir. It is priceless. With Seamus, he really knows what cyclists need to feel full and energetic, so having them cook for our guests prepares them for their best rides ever. Moreover, his culinary curiosity makes it fascinating to see him at work when he goes shopping in the local markets in Tuscany or in the Valle del Douro in Portugal. These trips are a must for people who prioritize food and wine experiences when traveling.
I also want to listen to the collaboration of the DuVine collection and the villas.
The villas are very attractive for families or large groups, for which the packaging and change of housing can be a great effort. We are launching this capsule in Tuscany and in Provence, where DuVine has deep roots and long-standing local connections. It allows us to accommodate almost everything that our guests wish, maybe they wake up and decide to go hiking, take a cooking class or face a particularly demanding race. Whatever they want, we will deliver. We can also arrange for super-pampering services like a private chef at home or soigneur. The properties have spectacular pools, wonderful views and shaded terraces, so you can enjoy the villa all day. The goal of this collection is to offer maximum flexibility from a single home base, for groups that may have mixed levels of driving or even non-rider among them. In this way, everyone will have their ideal vacation.
You always seem to be moving. How does your personal travel plan look like in 2018?
My life is so closely intertwined with DuVine that my personal journey is often indistinguishable from professional travel. My season starts in April with the guide of DuVine. Every year, our guides from all over the world come together for an intensive training week, this year in Provence. From there, I head to Sicily to drive with a group of Pan Mass Challenge friends who are also customers of DuVine, then will be in Israel to see the Giro d’Italia in its first year out of Italy (DuVine will be hosting some followers greedy competition). I like spending the summer visiting our tours in France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. I’m back in New England in August because it’s my favorite time of year on Martha’s Vineyard, but then I’m back in September and October. This fall, I can not wait to take a trip to Greece on a Turkish caique with some friends. I end up hitting the Aspen slopes every year.