MATT Westcott speaks to Oli Broome of the Slow Cyclist company which offers guided rides around the world

The Northern Echo:

The Slow Cyclist team in Transylvania

For many cycling is about speed and how quickly you can get to places, tell us why we should become a Slow Cyclist?

The Slow Cyclist is all about slowing-down, looking-up and enjoying the journey – we have a firm belief that travel is worth taking time over, and that a great holiday means getting under the skin of a place. Our guests can fully switch off from the busy lives they lead, and escape the frenetic world we live in; fully immersing themselves in these beautiful, off the beaten track destinations. ‘Slow Cycling’ is a way of life, and whether guests like pottering along dusty back-roads, inching up soaring mountains or winding through wildflower meadows, The Slow Cyclist hosts make sure they get the most out of their time on – and off – the bike.

Lots of people have thought about quitting their job and upping sticks, but cycling to Australia? What made you do that and what did it teach you?

I was going down a path I knew was wrong for me. I knew I should be doing something other than selling office blocks, but I didn't know what. I thought a bike ride would give me space and time to figure out my future. I was right, to an extent, although it took me longer than the year and a half I spent on a saddle to make decisions that led me to what I do now. The ride itself taught me many things, but chief among the gems I gleaned was that I'm good at standing on my own two feet; although I enjoy company and camaraderie more than anything, I don't need it to survive and thrive. That lesson was useful when I sat down at a writing desk on my return home and got started on my book, ‘Cycling to the Ashes: A Cricketing Odyssey from London to Brisbane.’ Writing the book was far harder than cycling to Australia.

Do people need to have the same wanderlust and spirit of adventure as you in order to enjoy a Slow Cyclist break?

We describe our guests as curious travellers with a bit of juice in their legs; a discerning bunch who appreciate the company of local experts that help them discover the food, customs, history and people that make a place so special.

A touch of wanderlust certainly helps, but you don’t need to be ready to up sticks! I always wanted to take the spirit of my journey to Australia and marry it with some of the comforts I missed along the way. So we don't provide our guests with a set route before we set off, and we don't advertise every detail of every day – these are journeys of discovery. We celebrate the meals we enjoy together and provide really comfortable places to stay. No tents with The Slow Cyclist! That mix, I believe, helps our guests immerse themselves in a destination and a culture.

A typical Slow Cyclist guest is a sociable traveller, between the age of 50 and 70. They travel more now than ever and appreciate the high level of service we provide. Many of our guests choose us because of the off-beat destinations we cover, and the comfort we provide. They’re open to new experiences, to meeting and spending time with local people and occasionally to challenging themselves on our bike rides. That said, few wear Lycra, preferring to approach the trip in a more relaxed way. We encourage this, and it’s why we’ve seen more and more guests opt for electric bikes, to ensure we are open to all levels – even the slowest cyclist.

Give us an insight into the kind of experiences people can expect?

Guests can expect expertly guided cycling and walking holidays, alongside up to 12 like-minded souls in Rwanda, Transylvania, off-beat Tuscany and Zagori in Northern Greece. We work to put together the perfect trip that uncovers the food, culture, history, people

and landscapes that make them special. We run scheduled trips departing between February and October with a fixed itinerary and focus, however many guests choose to travel privately with family or friends, usually in groups of between eight and twelve, though sometimes fewer, and for anything from four to fourteen days. The company’s mission is to go the extra mile to give guests incredible, slow travel experiences, all with impeccable service. Think gourmet picnics in hilltop pastures, experts that guide them through the stories of the region and charming, comfortable accommodation in homes, guest houses and farm stays. Accommodation is chosen for its charm, not its number of stars, and our guests appreciate this, paying for authenticity over a hotel. We also have a network of experts, from botanists to ornithologists, historians to sommeliers, so that travellers can be sure they will receive the very best insight into the country they are travelling in.

Is this kind of holiday dangerous? You can take your life in your hands cycling in the UK, what is it like in far flung destinations and how do you limit the dangers?

Our guides are absolute experts in their fields and all trips are trialled and tested to the max. There are many misconceptions about Romania, but the most frustrating is that it’s unsafe. The people in Romania are some of the friendliest and most hospitable I’ve found anywhere in the world, from the humble gypsy who drives your horse and cart onto a hill to the nobleman whose house you’re staying in.

Rwanda – again people’s concerns are often safety, off the back of the genocide that happened 24 years ago, but is still at the forefront of the minds of every visitor to Rwanda. It’s understandable; the last time many people last heard about Rwanda was in 1994, at the height of the genocide, and it is sensible to be cautious. But I lived in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital, for two years in 2011-13 and would say it’s the safest place I’ve ever lived.

We don’t spend much time on busy roads at all – a mile or two maybe, just to get to the next amazing part of the country. So cars are never an issue at all.

What has been the response to the rides from people who have taken part?

We have had wonderful feedback over the years, with many repeat bookers. I’d say most people comment that they weren’t expecting such beautiful landscapes, amazing food and wine and to be looked after so well. Here is an example of the sort of things people say about their time with us: “The most perfect trip. I don’t know how you’ve managed to find all the incredible behind-closed-doors secrets that you have, but there were just neverending delights. Wonderful.”

Finally, where in the world would you like to Slow Cycle to that you haven’t?

I’ve got a thing about Armenia at the moment. It’s remote, beautiful, the people are supposedly really friendly and hospitable and it’s history and culture seem fascinating. I’m considering taking my dad cycling there for his 70th birthday in March, just to take a look at first, but it might lead to us taking Slow Cyclist guests out there soon.

How can people get in touch?

Through our website or by calling +44(0)20 7060 4487. At the moment I’m most excited about our journeys through Zagori, a remote but beautiful and majestic region in north-west Greece. Our 5-night journeys through the region cost £1,550 per person. This includes airport transfers for recommended flights and a support vehicle, Slow Cyclist host and English-speaking guides, all accommodation, meals, snacks and drinks, all activities, bicycle and helmet hire. International flights are not included.