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Tuscany, Italy - Our luxury family bike trip

Eating my chocolate torte and having it, too  

My husband Eric and I had grown quite addicted to luxury bike trips before we started building our family. On these trips, we'd ride over stunning terrain from one 5-star hotel to another while being loosely trailed by a van filled with chocolate, fresh fruit, biscotti and, oh yeah, water. At night, we'd sip wine late into the night with other trip members and the following morning, stumble out to breakfast whenever we chose to rise.

When we decided to start our family, we assumed we'd need to put our addiction to luxury bike trips on hold until the kids were old enough for us to leave them in someone else's care.

A week after our son was born, however, we received a brochure on family trips from Butterfield & Robinson (B&R), the tour company with whom we had already taken several bike trips. They had read our minds! They were introducing a new format for people with kids 0-plus called "homebase," in which guests stay in one place, ride as a family in the morning and then split up in the afternoon to do adult and kid activities separately from one another.

As a new mom (read "neurotic"), I was dubious of anyone's ability to meet our needs away from the comfort of our own home. At the same time, the idea of my trying to plan and execute a vacation in a foreign country with a baby made my head spin. Thus, I was relieved that someone was offering to shoulder all of the logistics related to traveling with kids.

Before I could feel comfortable signing up for the trip, I had a ton of questions: Could they provide quality childcare? Did they have the organic produce and baby food for our infant? Would the facility have a kitchen? How about a separate room for the baby? What was the scoop with car seats? And most important, how would they handle naptime?

They fielded my questions well and even used them to further hone the trip logistics. After having most of my concerns addressed to my satisfaction, we registered for a five-day/six-night trip to Tuscany that would start just before my son turned 1.

From the rendezvous spot in Florence, a bus took us to a little town called Sinalunga outside of Sienna. On the trip, there were three other families as well as the guides and the B&R nanny.

As advertised, we had the best of both worlds on the trip. In the mornings, we did mellow rides to interesting destinations with Sid in a trailer off the back of one of our bikes. In the afternoons, while Sid was being taken care of, we got to go on really long bike rides or do other activities that would have been untenable with kids. (Note: for older kids, there were fun activities such as pizza-making, a gelato factory tour, pottery and painting). And in the evenings, they helped us with babysitting.

We had a great room with two bedrooms, a full kitchen, living room and bath. When we first arrived, properly-sized diapers, a crib and organic baby food and yogurt were waiting for us. They even addressed my need for a baby bath by getting a blow-up baby tub to set in the very Italian shower.

Sure, there were issues that arose or times that were less than perfect on the trip, but fundamentally it was awesome to be able to take a luxury bike trip AND bring the kids. So much so that less than a year later, we went on another Butterfield & Robinson kids trip to Provence where, towing our son in a Burley in the middle of the Mistral (with the famous and very strong wind coming down from the mountains), we were transported into Van Gogh's famous twirling fields of lavender and wheat. But that's a story for another day...

Suzi LeVine, a former vice president for Expedia, Inc., spends her time enjoying her two kids, volunteering in the community and planning her next biking trip.

Bike tour resources

Bike tours for families are available from a number of vendors in a variety of price ranges. A couple of the top companies include:

Butterfield & Robinson. Conde Nast winner, B&R is known for 5 star service, lodging and dining. "With the Kids" trips are for families with children of varying ages - from infants with their Homebase format up to age 15-plus on some of their classic trips. Pricing on Butterfield "With the Kids" bike trips ranges from $4,995 per adult, but pricing varies by length and location of trips. Kids' pricing depends on ages and whether people will avail themselves of the Butterfield & Robinson nannies. More information can be found at www.butterfield.com or by calling 1-866-551-9090.

Backroads. Incorporates "Family" accoutrements into many of its existing trips rather than having pre-designated family trips. The recommended ages vary from 3 and up, depending on the destination. Pricing on Backroads bike trips ranges from $2,598 per adult for their "Casual Inn" level trip or from $3,498 per adult for their "Premiere Inn" level. But pricing varies by length and location of trips. Kids' pricing depends on ages. More information can be found at www.backroads.com or by calling 800-GO-ACTIVE (800-462-2848).

Note that the respective prices shown are not apples to apples. They are for different locations, different lengths of travel and different levels of service. Trips can also be booked through travel agents.

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