The Tour de France has cycling on many people’s minds, and for luxury travelers, there has never been a better time to tour the world on two wheels. Ditto for those who prefer hiking.
When the 2016 edition of the popular Travel + Leisure Magazine World’s Best Awards came out recently, tour operators were stunned. A little known company that had never appeared in the rankings before took the coveted Number One spot as the World’s Best Tour Operator. But I wasn’t surprised.
Gray & Co. is a high end, 100% custom road and mountain bike (and hike) tour operator out of Canada, created in 2009 by a longtime industry veteran specifically to address the demands of deep-pocketed, experienced travelers who had “been there and done that.” I’ve cycled twice with Gray & Co. while writing about bike tours, and was so blown away I included them here at Forbes.com in my 2013 feature “6 Best Bespoke Tour Operators,” covering cycling, safaris, culinary trips, etc.
Almost all cycling tour operators offer catalogs with what are called “scheduled departures,” or group trips you can join on certain dates. Gray & Co. doesn’t do that. Every trip you go on is yours and yours alone. And while they will gladly take you to heavily visited classic cycling hotspots like Tuscany and Burgundy, their clientele has usually done that already. Owner Cari Gray’s forte is finding awesome places to ride, with great scenery, hotels, food, and most of all, fantastic pavement with little traffic. She raves about places that are off of many traveling cyclists’ radar, such as northern Argentina, parts of Australia and the Canary Islands, or Chile’s Atacama desert for mountain biking enthusiasts, all handpicked because of the quality of the cycling. Before running a tour to a new area, she gathers her team of guides, support drivers and mechanics, and does the trip, in advance of paying clients, to make sure everything from road conditions to the hotels is perfect.