Backroads has long embraced the philosophy that, after a day spent biking or hiking in off-the-beaten-path corners of a new and beautiful region of the world, an outstanding meal is the perfect way to immerse ourselves even further in the local cuisine and culture. For this reason, our guests in Europe and the United States enjoy exquisite meals at over 30 Michelin-starred restaurants, including California's Madrona Manor, Italy's Ristorante Villa Crespi, Spain's Marqués de Riscal and France's Auberge de l'Ill.
Imagine icebergs illuminated by pale sunlight at midnight, the sunrise at 2 a.m. over a thundering waterfall, or a day of hiking that ends with an 11 p.m. soak in a natural hot spring. These things are a reality in Iceland where, for about two months every year, the sun never sets. This is the “midnight sun,” a legendary peculiarity of Iceland’s far north, where the sun might set a little—dipping below the horizon at, say, one in the morning, and rising again at two—but the sky remains light and night never falls.
In a country as magnificent as France, where class and style are as prevalent as the grapes in the endless vineyards, selecting our favorite Backroads hotels is a nearly impossible task. But we’ve done our best! Here are seven exceptional properties visited on Backroads trips in this remarkable country. To stay at any of these incredible accommodations is to immediately recognize that you’ve arrived somewhere truly special. Whether enjoying a Michelin-starred meal, vistas of imposing mountain peaks or the scent of immaculate gardens, each of these hotels promises a complete sensory tableau.
When my kids were small, I poured over Backroads catalogs while they slept. I dreamed of exotic vacations where I’d bike through amazing scenery and eat better food than the boxed macaroni and cheese my children liked. But those were just pleasant daydreams.
I’m not a fan of buzzwords, especially when it comes to travel. “Experiential,” “curated,” “transformational…” Labels like these often dictate what the traveler should be getting out of the experience, ironically building limits around what is and isn’t possible on a trip. An experience that embraces the individual gets lost. In contrast, the most important outcome at Backroads is that our guests have the freedom and support to seize unexpected opportunities, to go whatever pace feels right at any given moment, to craft their own adventure with no limits or boundaries and have a genuine, one-of-a-kind experience.
Our friends, Mike and Kathi, broached the subject once again. "You guys really should think about coming with us on this Tuscany biking trip." As I lowered my head and peered at them over my sunglasses, I remember musing: "Are you insane?" "We'll think about it," is what came out of my lips.
I raised my children in a blur. I was in my early twenties when they were born and divorced before they started school. I completed college, launched a career and elbowed my way up the career ladder--rung by rung--as a single mother. Needless to say, transferring values was the last thing on my mind, followed closely by teachable moments. Survival was the order of the day.
Since very early in the Backroads days, we have run annual staff rides that gather our employees in one place for a multi-day adventure. These trips get everyone in the same space after being spread out across the globe for much of the year to revel in our strong community and just plain have fun together. Last month, it took place in Vietnam--right in the middle of one of the biggest typhoons in decades.
The one thing that has always attracted me to New Zealand--and what I continue to search for while I'm leading Backroads Trips here--is the feeling of living in the moment. In New Zealand there are so many ways to escape and be present with the people that you're traveling with. I recently had the opportunity to tour the country with my family, and while everything was truly incredible, there were three unique experiences that stood out above the rest.
Over the course of history humans have embarked on adventures and expeditions to discover new territories, gain wisdom and question the known. In the 1200s Marco Polo was the first explorer to set out on a ground-breaking journey to Asia and China. The Portuguese Vasco da Gama was the first European to reach India. Sir Francis Drake was the first to circumnavigate the world in 1580. But it wasn't until the mid-1800s that adventurers began to push the limits of mountain climbing and river rafting, ascending famous peaks and mountain passes, inspiring people to attempt their own expeditions and experience the unknown.