The Slow Cyclist in The Telegraph

In the summer of 2016 I had a great time hosting travel journalist Will Hide for a few days of cycling in Transylvania. Like most folks who visit this special place with us, Will was keen to soak up local curiosities, eat and drink well and work up a bit of a sweat on the bike.

He seemed to enjoy himself and I was so pleased. His excellent article was published in The Telegraph last Saturday and he does a brilliant job of describing the place and what we do here. 

To paraphrase, Will says that "the cycling here isn’t that tough, but you’re on the move most of the day and there are enough uphill sections to require a decent level of fitness. Couch potatoes need not apply, but on the other hand you don’t need to be a pro." 

I couldn't have put it better myself. You can read the full article here and if you are inspired to come and have a look for yourself, get in touch.  

The Saxon village of Copsa Mare, Transylvania

The Saxon village of Copsa Mare, Transylvania

Rwanda: A Cyclist's View

In September 2016, lawyer David Jones joined ten other Hope & Homes for Children supporters to take part in Ride Rwanda, a journey from the country's capital, Kigali, to its north-western border with the Demoratic Republic of Congo. In doing so he helped the charity raise more than £36,000. Here he tells us what he thought of a country he's long wanted to visit and explains why he's desperate to return. 

David on his way through a village in the Northern Province.

What made you sign up to join this adventure in the first place?

I did a politics degree in the 1990s when the genocide was taking place, and ever since I've taken an interest in Rwanda. Hope & Homes for Children are a charity that are based close to where I live so I've known about their work for a while. I’ve travelled a fair bit but never to Africa and I have been waiting for the opportunity to do something a bit different, away from the usual tourist hot-spots. When I heard about the ride, the idea of combining cycling and Rwanda seemed like a perfect fit.

How would you describe Rwanda to someone who has never been?

Hilly, absolutely beautiful and home to some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met. It was like an African version of the Lake District, without the tourists. Lakes, rivers, mountains, volcanoes. If I had the money I'd go back tomorrow. The riding was just amazing.

Was the adventure what you expected?

I expected it to be good but all the extras were brilliant. On one of the days everyone else went into the jungle to track gorillas but I stayed behind and got the chance to cycle with members of Team Rwanda, the national cycling team, on the Olympic mountain bike qualifying trail. It wasn't commercial like it would have been in England, it was just an amazing trail through villages, jungle. I couldn't have asked for more and it was surprises like this that made the trip for me.

Rwanda's hills make for a decent test.

Did you feel safe?

When I started telling people I was going cycling in Rwanda, I got all the usual ignorant comments like "why do you want to go there, aren't you just going to get attacked." But yes, I felt safe.

One of The Slow Cyclist’s core principles is to help our guests get under the skin of the places we travel through. Do you feel like we achieved that?

The first thing to say is that the only tourists we saw were gorilla trekkers. When we were riding, for 5 days we didn’t see another foreigner. That was pretty special. Lots of things you provided and arranged, from the reading list we were sent us in advance, to the chance to ride with members of Team Rwanda, helped me understand the place. I read Romeo Dallaire’s Shake Hands With The Devil and Land of Second Chances, about the Rwandan cycling team, before I arrived. Six months later I’m still reading about Rwanda, currently the very moving We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families.

What would you say to someone thinking of cycling in Rwanda in 2017?

Don’t think about it. Definitely go!

Hope & Homes are returning with more fundraisers from 16-23 September 2017. If you would like to be part of another epic adventure in support of a wonderful cause, read more about Ride Rwanda 2017

The Transcaucasian Trail

This week The Slow Cyclist trotted along to the Royal Geographical Society where a friend of ours, Tom Allen, gave a talk about the past year of his life. Luckily, he's spent it doing something interesting, and we think you should know about it; perhaps even watch the film of his talk, at the bottom of this post. 

Tom won the Jaguar Land Rover Bursary in 2016 and subsequently set off for Georgia and Armenia with a group of adventurers, cartographers and outdoor experts to explore and map, in unprecedented detail, the remote wilderness of the Lesser Caucasus Mountains. Their aim is to create the The Transcaucasian Trail, a world-class trail network across the Georgia, Armenia and Azerbajan, linking a number of existing and proposed national parks in the region.

Look, it's Team Slow Cyclist, at the RGS! Can you spot us?

What an endeavour, and what an adventure! We think you should know about The Transcaucasian Trail because it's huge news for the Caucasus, and the Caucasus is somewhere that really needs to be on your 'I'm going there soon' list. It is an incredible land of mountains, steppe, forest, grassland and, most importantly, hospitality the like of which you've almost certainly never received anywhere else, ever.

If you'd like to know more about what Tom and his team are doing we recommend you watch his fascinating talk below. And if you can't wait for the trail and want to get in and have a look around before others do, then we still have a few spots available to join us this June to cycle through the winelands of Kakheti and walk amid the high pastures and mountains of Tusheti. 

Join us for Vineyards, Mountains & Wildflowers of Georgia, 10-18 June 2017
Learn more about The Transcaucasian Trail

Transylvania: 10 Reasons To Visit Now

Blood-thirsty vampires, ferocious packs of wolves and castles clinging to craggy, forested cliffs. Ask your average person what they think of when they hear the word ‘Transylvania’ and they are likely to come up with plenty of wild inaccuracies. So don't listen to them. Go see for yourself; there really is no better time. Transylvania, a historical region in central Romania and made famous as the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is a land of extraordinary cultural and natural beauty. Our Founder Oli Broom spent 6 months there in 2016 and, in between hosting cycling guests, has been exploring the best of one of the loveliest, light-filled and magical places in Europe.

 Here is the lowdown on why Transylvania should be on your hit list!

1.     THE NATURE IS AWE-INSPIRING

Romania's Carpathian Mountains are home to Europe’s largest populations of bear, wolf and lynx, as well as huge numbers of other wild animals, from wild boar to eagles, red deer to kestrels and buzzards. These animals live mostly in vast, ancient and little-visited beech, oak and pine forests that are simply extraordinary to pedal or walk through. 

Transylvania Forest

2.     CHARMING SAXON TOWNS & VILLAGES

In the 12th Century, when Transylvania was ruled by Hungary, King Geza II invited Germans from Flanders, Luxembourg and the Mosel Valley – so-called Saxons – to settle, farm and defend the region from invading Ottomans and Tatars. They stayed for 800 years until they began returning after the second world war, and later after the fall of communism. In that time they built over 200 villages and several larger towns and cities that today are home to magnificent houses, fortified churches and some of Europe’s best-preserved medieval citadels. Many are UNESCO World Heritage Sites; visit the right one and you’re likely to have it all to yourself.

Mesendorf, Transylvania

3.     IT'S A STEP BACK IN TIME

If you have ever wondered how your ancestors lived two hundred years ago, book yourself an airline seat bound for Transylvania. Horse drawn carts rumble along dirt roads, women bake bread in huge ovens, shepherds watch their flocks by night and cows trundle into villages and find their owner’s home when their day of grazing is over. It is magical to see that simple lives still have a home in a modern European Union.  

Photo credit: Daisy Honeybunn

4.     WILDFLOWERS, WILDFLOWERS, WILDFLOWERS

Quite simply, if you visit Transylvania at the right time of year (May or June) you will be amazed by the flowers: ragged robin, cowslips, hellebore, wild orchids. They're everywhere and they're incredibly beautiful.  

Wildflowers Transylvania

5.     HILLTOP CHURCHES & CASTLES

If you've ever imagined Transylvania, you've probably imagined castles clinging to a cliff face. Well, there are a few of those, but the best and most interesting look more like this. They're everywhere, except this one isn't a castle. It's a church, albeit a fortified one, built in the 11th Century in a village called Viscri, a picture-perfect collection of pastel coloured houses surrounded by magnificent meadows and forests.  

Viscri Fortified Church Transylvania

6.     BEARS

Did we mention bears? Transylvania is home to thousands of brown bears and Romania as a whole is said to have the largest population in Europe. And the government are on the right track, having recently banned the trophy hunting of many of the country's most iconic animals including wolves, wild cats, lynx and . . . brown bears. 

Bear Transylvania

7.     TRUFFLE HUNTING

From September to January you can sample the wonderful, secretive world of truffle hunting in one of the most prized truffle regions in the world. Although the French and Italian truffles are better known, expert ‘trufflers’ agree that those found in Romania are of equal or superior quality. These truffles are so exquisite because the soil is rich and the temperate climate perfect in their ancient, pristine forests. And the experience - led by trained dogs - is wonderful, especially once the leaves have turned in late September. 

Truffle Hunting Romania

8.     IT'S GOOD ENOUGH FOR A PRINCE

HRH The Prince of Wales first discovered Transylvania back in 1998. A passionate supporter of the countryside and a keen amateur botanist, he fell in love with the place. He even bought himself a cottage in the tiny Saxon village of Viscri and has recently set up a charitable organisation, The Prince of Wales’s Foundation Romania, which aims to support heritage preservation, traditional agriculture and sustainable development. He has donated the house in Viscri to the charity and now has another guest house (below), in which visitors to the region can stay.

Prince Charles House Transylvania

9.    IT'S INCREDIBLE CYCLING COUNTRY

Over the past couple of years some imaginative locals have built over 80 kilometres of cycling trails from Sighisoara to Viscri. They enable riders to get well off the beaten track and see the best bits of some incredible countryside, including the celebrated forests. And if you choose your route carefully the cycling doesn’t have to be tough.

Cycling Transylvania

10.     NO MEAL STARTS WITHOUT THE LOCAL TIPPLE, 'PALINKA'

Rural Transylvanians like to start a meal with a slug of double-distilled brandy, called ‘palinka’. This fiery aperitif sometimes reaches 60% alcohol content and is the perfect accompaniment to a traditional ‘ciorba’ or soup, some perfectly grilled pork and a plate of homegrown salad. Did we mention that if you spend a week staying in local homes and guest houses in Transylvania, you won’t eat a thing that hasn’t been homemade? The food is to die for . . . just like the place! 

Noroc Romania

To get the best out of a region that should be enjoyed at a slow pace, join The Slow Cyclist on a cycling adventure through the Saxon region of Transylvania later this year, or enquire about our schedule for 2018.