When one selects a hotel, whether for business, leisure or bleisure, one of the underrated factors for travelers is getting in touch with their surroundings. In real estate, it’s referred to as “location, location, location.” Hiking trails, walking tours, and even the conspicuous bus tour through the city around the hotel may be enjoyable – but often do not hold a candle to the experience of bicycling along the winding roads of new discoveries.
Besides the cardiovascular benefits of riding a bicycle, two-wheelers allow travelers to encounter their destination in much more personal interaction. Experiential travel is the buzzword right now, so a shoulder-eye view of the people and places you’ve only seen in 2D on an itinerary would make for a truly memorable adventure.
The bike ride-seeking tourist and business traveler need to consider certain factors before they decide to hop on and pedal off:
• How challenging are the biking trails (single lane, paved, length, slope, elevation, terrain)?
• What safety measures must be taken in unfamiliar locations?
• What are the costs of the rental? Is it by the hour? The day? Does it include a helmet?
• What’s interesting along the routes (shopping, sites, scenery, water)?
We’ve discovered a few hotels, both at home and abroad, that provide unique bike rental experiences.
Royal Park Hotel, Rochester, MI
With nine miles of serene paths down the Paint Creek Trail, city biking through downtown Rochester, or heading south alongside Michigan’s Clinton River Trail, the Royal Park Hotel’s bike rental program offers small town Americana at a reasonable price – just $20 per person per day including lock and helmet, bottled water and a map of the Paint Creek Trail. What makes this hotel so appealing for bikers is the varied terrain which starts out a bit hilly and evens out once the tires roll onto Main Street. There, the attached bicycle basket can quickly become filled as quaint shops offer a variety of goodies for sale. Or perhaps a picnic could be paired with a relaxing bike ride; Paint Creek Park is the perfect spot to lay down a blanket and shoo away the ants. Open, bright spaces and tree-shaded spots allow the traveler to slow down and appreciate the way we used to pass the time.
Borgo Pignano, Tuscany, Italy
As if it weren’t enough that travelers to the Tuscan countryside feel like they’ve stepped into an Impressionist painting, the experience of biking amongst the 750 acres of organic farmland, an 18th century estate and the remains of a much older Etruscan village can make even the most ordinary bike ride transformational. The trails, however, are not without some challenge, as the terrain can be hilly. The treks are not so much lengthy as they are arduous. Still, all beauty comes with some cost – and benefit. The biker’s legs might be tired, but the surroundings are magnificent. Birds common to the area include partridge, pheasant, cranes, storks, kestrel, osprey, swifts and swallows. Wildlife one might see include wild boar, roe deer, badger, fox and porcupine. But don’t let the porcupine near the bike tires!
Ashford Castle, Connaught, County Mayo, Ireland
It is rare that a hotel which offers a bicycle rental program actually pre-dates the development of the bicycle itself. In the case of Ashford Castle, that gap spans about 600 years. Once home to the Guinness family, Ashford Castle dates back to 1228, and was founded by the Anglo-Norman de Burgos family. Currently, the castle/hotel has 83 rooms and sits on 26,000 acres of lush greenery. Bike rides can be reserved to the hotel grounds and still offer enough scenery for any bucolic connoisseur. Full day (€40/$45) and half day (€25/$28) rentals are available, as well as a private 90-minute cycle tour (€55/$62). There are a variety of routes, and all a biker’s paradise. As one pedals through the grounds, other guests might be skeet shooting, trying their hand at archery, falconry, fishing or horseback riding.
The Brazilian Court, Palm Beach, FL
For a combination of a beautiful property and beautiful surroundings, travel/biking enthusiasts can always rely on The Brazilian Court in Palm Beach. With its Spanish Colonial architecture and palm tree-lined courtyards, a ride around the grounds is pretty enough, but when the bicyclist truly puts the pedal to the asphalt, the vistas become endless. Ride north and make the Flagler Museum a part of the memorable ride. Henry Flagler, the brains behind Standard Oil, is probably the most influential man in the development of Florida. Whitehall was Flagler’s winter home, and would be a wonderful rest from an afternoon bike ride. Fabulously wealthy in his later years, Flagler started out earning only $5 a month working in a grain store. At that rate it would have taken Flagler three months’ salary to rent a bicycle for an hour at The Brazilian Court. The rates for the bicycles are $15 per hour or $29 for a half day (sunrise until noon, or noon until sunset). Perhaps the best deal is the full day for $39 from sunrise to sunset. Whether riding along the inlet or the ocean shore, pedaling through stately residential streets or passing by Mar-a-Lago, it goes without saying that the Palm Beaches offer bicyclists some of the most striking landscapes on the East Coast.
Hotel Rose, A Stayapple Hotel, Portland, OR
Portland is a leader in transportation, especially modes that are environmentally friendly. For instance, the city was one of the first to re-institute electric streetcars as part of its growing coverage of light rail systems. Although free streetcar rides were phased out in 2012, Hotel Rose kept the faith with their own version of enviro-friendly transport – free bicycle rentals. From the city that brings you the naked bicycle tour (this year on June 29), free bike rentals as a guest of Hotel Rose are for those with less skin in the game. From the hotel, it’s not quite two miles to the Willamette River Greenway Trail, which offers bicyclists a wonderful view of the Willamette River. A bit closer to the hotel is Tom McCall Waterfront Park which delivers a clear view of the river, the Burnside Bridge and a plethora of cherry blossoms to embellish the ride.
Hotel Estheréa, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Sometimes the place from which one departs is as important as the excursion itself, because knowing what awaits upon the return makes the ride that much sweeter. So it is at the Hotel Estheréa, a 17th century edifice that oozes European elegance and luxurious charm. One might not think that a hotel with ornate decor and crystal chandeliers, brocade embroidery and a Northern Renaissance style would also have a free bike rental program. But this is Amsterdam, a cyclist’s paradise, where three-quarters of the population bike to work and school, and the streets are among the safest in the world. So travelers should revel in the fact that they can rent bicycles from the concierge at Hotel Estheréa, and be able to pedal along the canals, stop at the outdoor cafes and hop back on the bikes to tour this bicycle-friendly city.
None of the bikes available for rental have on board GPS, Onstar or lithium ion batteries. They do not run autonomously, feature lane departure warning, or come with a Bluetooth infotainment system. The time spent cycling through the streets and country lanes, shorelines and trails of our world is a time for reflection. The transport that brings us to our destination is heavy with anticipation, but the bicycle ride that awaits can be the most rewarding part of the trip.