A Taste of Southern France

Vincent Reboul is the trip specialist for our Cro Magnon tour, which takes us from Lyon to Bordeaux. Apart from being incredibly passionate about prehistory, he is also a man who loves the tour’s gastronomy.

Vincent says “The gastronomy of the many regions crossed during this Cro Magnon tour is exceptional. Faced with the richness of the dishes offered and the absence of cardiovascular diseases, the Anglo-Saxons wonder and speak of “French Paradox”. How in this country of gourmets, they say, where you can find so many foie gras, confits, duck breasts, rillettes and cheese specialties can the inhabitants reach such a great age, while spending so much time at the table? It is a mystery that lives from the depths of the ages. Only Cromagnon knows.

Between the famous quenelles of Lyon and the cannelets of Bordeaux, the sweet wine of Monbazillac and the walnut cakes of Dordogne, the choice is vast and shows in all its splendor the culinary diversity of the south West of France.

There is one dish, however, that fascinates more than another. This is the Aligot ! Imagine a large copper pot, where a mashed potato expertly mixed with pepper, butter, fresh cream and fresh Tomme as well as garlic is simmering. You get a dough so tightly bound that a knife cannot cut it. Only a chisel allows the separation of the immense thread. You can eat the aligot accompanied by a very good smoked sausage and a Cahors wine. The best time to taste the aligot during this Cro Magnon Epic is halfway through in the city of Rodez. With the aligot, you have enough energy to cross all the passes.” 

ALIGOT RECIPE



A Taste of Mallorca

Our Trip Specialist for our Mallorca tour is the venerable Alessandro Allegro. Below, he presents one of his culinary favourites – Tumbet – alongside his favourite Mallorquin tipple.

Alessandro says “The tumbet is an outstanding example of traditional Mallorcan food. A dish cooked with fresh seasonal vegetables from Mallorca’s diverse garden. A tasty dish that leaves no one indifferent and that will delight vegetable lovers. Its preparation is based on frying eggplants, potatoes, peppers and adding a tomato sauce. The tumbet can be eaten alone or as an accompaniment to a meat or fish dish, or even with two fried eggs.”

The Tumbet – A Summer delight

Ingredients for 6 persons

6 potatoes
3 aubergines
3 courgettes
3 red peppers
4 garlic cloves
Tomato sauce
1 laurel leaf in each aubergine frying
Salt

Preparation

– Peel the potatoes and cut into slices. Put it in salted water
– Cut the aubergines into slices and put it into salted water.
– Do the same with the courgettes.
– Then cut the red peppers into pieces.
– Fry the potatoes (with the garlic cloves), aubergines (with bay leaf), courgettes and peppers, each separately. Place all the slices in layers in a casserole or similar.
– Cover the total frying with tomato sauce that you will have to do separately.
– The tradition wants that you have to lay the potatoes first, then the aubergines, followed by the courgettes and red peppers, finally covered by the home made tomato sauce.

Bon profit! (in Majorcan language enjoy your meal )

And the wine accompaniment: Anime Negre

Alessandro says “Anime Negre is the wine most symbolic of the homonymous winery, a wine in which we discover the effort and sacrifices of many years by Miquel Àngel Cerdá & Pere Obrador in understand the callet grape, reinforcing its typicity and achieving each time a wine more expressive, alive and balanced. It is a very singular wine, authentic, mineral, wild and powerful.”

The wine stays for 14 months in new fine-grain French Oak barrels that have a medium to medium long toast, with racking taking place half way through. A further 2 months of stainless steel tank ageing prior to bottling.
Grape Varieties: 95% Callet, 5% Mantonegro-Fogoneu

The winery Ànima Negra, situated in the south-east of the island of Mallorca makes its wines in the ancient Estate of Son Burguera. This location, close to Felanitx, dates from the 8th Century & counted on since its beginnings with a dependence to make wine, destined at first to supply the demand of those living in this place. This activity has continued to blossom until today and has contributed to form the landscape of the Island, geographically integrated in the Mediterranean, and making wine an emblematic product of our gastronomy.



A Taste of Morocco

 

Nathalie is our trip specialist for the Morocco leg of Reconquista and has delighted in researching menus and doing tastings for the culinary component of the tour. Below, she shares a menu and preparation suggested by Fatima, our local guide in the beguiling blue city of Chefchaouen.

“Morocco is a most inspiring country food-wise. My foodie heart beats fast walking through Morocco’s vibrant, chaotic, and exotic souks. The smells, the colours, the fresh products—it’s overwhelming, but in the best way possible!

Eating in Morocco is not just about what you’re eating, it’s about sharing a meal, sharing the experience and sharing a good time with your friends, families or guests. The relationship to food in Morocco feels like something we can all learn from. The realness, authenticity and tradition breathes through all the dishes and the way they are so carefully prepared. It’s stimulating!

To pick my favourite recipe amongst all these exciting dishes, is a very, very hard task. But I am very happy to let you in on the family recipe that Fatima shared with me while buying some stunning pottery in her lovely shop”

Moroccan Tajine

Take your tajine (or other suitable Moroccan pottery), pan or pot and put it on a low fire. Add some roughly chopped onion and loads of garlic. Chop some carrots and toss them in. Add your chicken, fish, meat (beef or lamb), or other protein-source and top it off with any vegetables to your liking. Make sure to put the softer vegetables (like tomatoes and potatoes) on top.

TOP TIP: If you like the mixture of sweet and savoury, mix in some raisins, dates, dried apricots or prunes! Mmm, I love that!

Add some fresh cilantro, lemon and chili pepper (if you like some spice). Mix a glass ½ full of water and ½ full of olive oil and your tajine, ras-el-hanout, or any Moroccan spices you like (don’t be afraid to use a lot) and pour it in your lovely filled tajine. Put the lid on and cook it on low fire for 1-1,5 hours when you’re preparing the tajine with fish, chicken, or other protein sources, and for 3 hours when you’re preparing it with beef or lamb.

After the first 15 minutes, check if the water level has gone down more than halfway down the pot/tajine. If so: add more water.
Serve with some nice fresh bread or couscous.

Top it off with some chopped up almonds or other nuts, pomegranate, sesame seeds and/or fresh herbs.

Get creative! ENJOY!

 



Reconquista: A Day in Tangier

Tangier, situated on Morocco’s northwest coast, overlooks the Strait of Gibraltar, linking the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. With a history dating back millennia, Tangier has been a crossroads of civilizations, attracting literary figures like Paul Bowles and William S. Burroughs in the 20th century. Its cultural allure, strategic location, and literary associations have made Tangier a magnet for artists, writers, and travellers seeking inspiration and adventure. That is why we are here!

We’ll have a walking tour on the first day of the second stage of Reconquista, but if you arrive early, take some time to wander into historic Kasbah, a maze of narrow alleys and charming squares. Discover the Kasbah Museum, housed in the former Sultan’s palace, showcasing Moroccan artifacts and stunning views of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Continue to the Grand Socco, the city’s bustling square, where you can immerse yourself in the vibrant atmosphere and shop for local crafts and souvenirs. Don’t miss the Mendoubia Gardens nearby, a tranquil oasis with lush greenery and towering palm trees. The Grand Socco, Tangier’s bustling square, pulsates with energy and vibrant activity. Surrounded by historic buildings and bustling markets, it serves as a vibrant hub where locals and visitors converge. Here, the aromas of spices mingle with the sounds of commerce, creating a sensory tapestry that epitomizes Tangier’s rich cultural essence.

For a taste of Tangier’s culinary delights, head to the Petit Socco, known for its authentic Moroccan cafes and street food vendors. Indulge in flavorful tagines, couscous, and pastries like msemen and chebakia, accompanied by sweet mint tea or freshly squeezed orange juice.

After lunch, explore the American Legation Museum, housed in a historic building and showcasing Tangier’s role in American diplomatic history. Wander through its galleries and learn about the city’s cultural significance as a meeting point for artists, writers, and diplomats.

On your walk around be sure to experience Tangier’s local ambiance with a refreshing mint tea at Café Hafa or Place de Parc. Join the locals in savouring this traditional drink amidst the lively atmosphere, soaking in the city’s vibrant energy and cultural charm.

As you wander through Tangier’s vibrant streets, you’ll encounter remnants of its storied past, including its connection to the Reconquista. Tangier was briefly under Spanish control during this period, serving as a strategic outpost in the Christian reconquest of Spain from Muslim rule.

Before concluding your day, take a leisurely stroll along the picturesque promenade overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Enjoy panoramic views of the coastline and watch as the sun sets over the horizon, casting a golden glow over the city.

In just one day, Tangier offers a captivating blend of history, culture, and culinary delights, leaving visitors enchanted by its timeless charm and rich heritage. It serves as a great starting point for stage 2 of the Reconquista.



Reconquista: A Day in Cordoba

Cordoba, Spain, is a captivating destination steeped in history, culture, and architectural splendour. It is an enchanting starting point for your tour as it played a pivotal role in the Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of Spain from Muslim rule. Captured by the Christians in 1236, the city’s Great Mosque was converted into a cathedral symbolizing the triumph of Christianity. Cordoba’s strategic location and cultural significance made it a key battleground in the centuries-long struggle for control of the Iberian Peninsula.

That Great Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba (Mezquita-Catedral) is the jewel of the city and symbolises the city’s rich heritage, blending Islamic and Christian influences. On our first day, we have a guided tour of the city that culminates at the Mezquita. We have secured tickets that need to be dated and time-stamped in advance. You’ll be spellbound by its mesmerizing arches, intricately carved columns, and serene courtyards, offering a glimpse into Cordoba’s diverse past.

The winding alleys of the Jewish Quarter (Judería), where whitewashed buildings adorned with colourful flowers line the streets, are also worth exploring. Discover hidden squares, quaint shops, and the medieval Synagogue, reflecting Cordoba’s multicultural tapestry.

And if you have extra time before the tour start the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, a fortified palace with lush gardens and striking Moorish architecture, is well worth a visit. Explore its majestic halls, towers, and tranquil ponds, offering respite from the bustling city.

Andalusian cuisine is celebrated for its rich flavors and diverse influences and reflects the region’s vibrant cultural heritage. Cordoba boasts a culinary tradition characterized by fresh ingredients, aromatic spices, and hearty dishes. Indulge in local specialties such as salmorejo, a refreshing cold tomato soup, and flamenquín, a breaded pork roll. Andalusian cuisine also features an array of seafood delicacies, Moorish-influenced desserts like pestiños, and the world-famous tapas culture, inviting diners to savor the essence of southern Spain.

Taberna Salinas, serving traditional tapas with a modern twist is a favourite of ours for indulging in flavorful dishes like salmorejo (cold tomato soup), rabo de toro (bull’s tail stew), and flamenquín (breaded pork roll), accompanied by local Montilla-Moriles wine or refreshing Tinto de Verano.

And finally a leisurely stroll across the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) at dusk, admiring the illuminated Mezquita-Catedral and the Guadalquivir River, which reflect Cordoba’s timeless beauty. With its rich history, captivating sights, and delectable cuisine, Cordoba invites travellers to immerse themselves in its enchanting allure. It is a very apt city to embark on our Recinquista tour.

 



Soul Ride: Solvær to Reine (Lofoten Islands, Norway)

One of our highlight rides from the Norsemen Tour in Norway is on the Lofoten Islands. It comes early in our tour but really serves to set the scene for the riding ahead. The ride from Solvær to Reine truly is one for the ages!

As you pedal away from Svolvær, you’ll find yourself engulfed in a symphony of mesmerizing landscapes. Majestic mountains stand tall, their snow-capped peaks seemingly touching the heavens, while deep fjords glisten like jewels under the endless Arctic sun.

The coastal road gracefully winds along the rugged coastline, revealing one stunning panorama after another. Passing through the quaint fishing village of Henningsvær (below), the picturesque charm of colourful houses against the backdrop of vast blue waters will leave you spellbound.

As you venture further, Reinefjorden comes into view, a stunning masterpiece of nature that beckons you closer. Arriving in Reine, you’ll be welcomed by its iconic red rorbuer perched on the water’s edge, mirroring the grandeur of the towering mountains.

The journey is not just a visual feast but a spiritual experience too. The crisp air carries the salty scent of the sea, while the gentle whispers of the wind become your constant companion. Each pedal stroke becomes a communion with the untamed nature surrounding you.

Embrace the adventure and explore hiking trails leading to breathtaking viewpoints like Reinebringen, rewarding your efforts with panoramic vistas that resonate deep within your soul. Along the route, friendly locals welcome you with warm smiles and captivating stories, making you feel at home in this remote corner of the world.

This cycling odyssey between Svolvær and Reine celebrates nature’s magnificence, a harmonious blend of serene coastal charm and awe-inspiring wilderness. It’s an unforgettable voyage into the heart of Lofoten’s enchantment, leaving an indelible mark on your memories and forever igniting the wanderlust in your spirit.



Who was Kōbō Daishi?

The Japanese Buddhist priest Kūkai, (774–835 CE) continues to be one of the most popular historical figures in Japan today. He introduced Shingon esoteric Buddhism into his country during the early Heian period, (794–1184).

The emperor awarded him the posthumous title of ‘Kōbō Daishi’, (Great Master Who Propagated the Dharma). Kūkai also exerted major influences on the development of Japanese calligraphy, poetry, and literary theory. He drew the plans for what has become one of the major spiritual and tourist destinations in Japan, the Mount Kōya Temple complex, which is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. He also constructed ponds and irrigation systems still in use today, on his native island of Shikoku.Kobo Daishi (Kukai), via Tricycle Buddhist Review

Due to his significance in Japanese Buddhism, Kūkai, (meaning air-sea) is associated with many stories and legends. One such legend attributes the invention of the kana syllabary to Kūkai, with which the Japanese language is written to this day.

In another legend, Kūkai was welcomed by two Shinto deities, (a male named Kariba and a female named Niu) whilst searching for a place to build a temple on Mount Kōya. Kariba was said to have appeared as a hunter and guided Kūkai through the mountains, with the help of two dogs; one white, one black. Later, both Kariba and Niu were interpreted as manifestations of the Buddha Vairocana, who was the central figure in Shingon Buddhism and subject of Kūkai’s lifelong interest.

Early life

His first name is generally believed to be Mao, (meaning true fish). He was born on June the 15th, Houko 5, (774) in the precinct of Zentsū-ji temple, in Sanuki province, on the island of Shikoku. His family were members of the aristocratic Saeki family. The family home was very religious. One day, his father and mother had a simultaneous dream, of an Indian Buddhist monk riding on top of a glittering violet-coloured cloud, which entered into the mother’s chest. At Shingon, June 15th takes the name of ‘Aoba Matsuri’ (Fresh Leaves Festival) and marks Daishi’s birthday.Portrait of

His childhood involved making Buddhist images in the dirt, collecting grass, or wood to make shrines and worshipping the Buddha. At seven years of age, he ascended the nearby Shashin ga Dake Peak and prayed to the Buddha: “When I become big, I want to aid the ailing. If I shall have that power, please bless me with a long life,” and then he jumped off a high cliff into the ravine. From below, a beautiful sound manifested, along with a celestial maiden. Young Mao was saved. He was overjoyed and thus became even more zealous in his studies.

By the age of 14, he was studying at Sanuki. When he was 15, he left for the capital (Nagaoka) and studied the writings of his uncle, the Confucian scholar Ato-no Otari, and entered university at the age of 18. There he encountered a monk who first raised his interest in Buddhism by revealing a technique of repetition to better remember texts.

At age 20, he overcame the resistance from his family and entered the priesthood at Makino Osanji in Izumi no Kuni (Osaka) and adopted the name Kukai. His deliberations on the merits of the three main schools of thought – Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism – are set out in his ‘Indications’, a fictional discussion, written circa 798 CE, between three men. Each man represents one of the three branches of philosophy. Needless to say, the Buddhist is the more convincing of the three.Statue of

Shingon Buddhism

Kukai’s studies of Chinese classics at the capital allowed him to visit China as part of a diplomatic embassy between 804 and 806 CE. He studied there under the master Hui-kuo, abbot of the Ching Lung, (Green Dragon) Temple and was chosen as the master’s successor. Thus he became an advocate of esoteric Buddhism, or mikkyo, which meant that only the initiated, (only those who gave up their worldly life and resided in a monastery) could know the Buddha and thus achieve full enlightenment.

The Shingon (True Word) Sect, which Kukai studied in China, stipulated that ideal leadership should not be based on Confucian principles, (as was hitherto the case) but on the teachings of the Buddha, which would be revealed to an emperor on his succession, following certain esoteric initiation rites. Consequently, priests, (with their privileged knowledge) had the highest status in the state according to Kukai, higher even than emperors.

Crucially, Shingon Buddhism proposed that an individual could achieve enlightenment in their own lifetime and need not wait for death. Rituals included meditation carried out while the body was held in various postures, sacred hand gestures, (mudras) and the repetition of secret mantras. Great importance was given to the power of prayer.

Despite Kukai’s own aristocratic background, he was known to have practised what he preached and lived the life of an ascetic, as reflected in this poem from the Seirei Shu, ‘Collected Inspirations‘, an anthology of his works compiled by his disciple Shinzei:

Valley water – one cup in the morning sustains life;
Mountain mist – one whiff in the evening nurtures the soul.
Hanging moss, delicate grasses suffice to clothe my body;
Rose leaves, cedar bark – these will be my bedding.
Heaven’s compassion spreads over me the indigo canopy of the sky;
The Dragon King’s devotion passes round me curtains of white clouds.
Mountain birds sometimes come, each singing its own song;
Mountain monkeys nimbly leap, displaying incredible skill.
Spring flowers, autumn chrysanthemums smile at me;
Dawn moons, morning winds cleanse the dust from my heart.Danjō-garan, head temple of Shingon Buddhism, Mount Koya

Mount Kōya

In 816, Emperor Saga accepted Kūkai’s request to establish a mountain retreat at Mount Kōya, as a retreat from worldly affairs. The ground was officially consecrated with rituals lasting seven days. Kūkai’s vision was that Mt. Kōya was to become a representation of the Mandala of the Two Realms, that form the basis of Shingon Buddhism. At the centre of the temple complex sits an enormous statue of Vairocana, who is the personification of Ultimate Reality.

The project was not fully realised until after Kūkai’s death. The temple remains the headquarters of the Shingon Buddhist Sect.

Death

Kūkai believed that rather than use this short life to promote the teachings, he should enter the next realm and help rescue those suffering throughout eternity. Daishi passed away on March 21, Jouwa 2, (835) at the age of 62 and left future matters to his students. For one week, until his passing, he purified one room of his dwelling. He ate nothing and purified his body with perfume. He sat in the lotus position, put his hands in a mudra form and entered into the meditation of Maitreiya. Legend has it that Kūkai has not died, but has entered into an eternal samadhi, (meditative trance) and is still alive on Mount Kōya, awaiting the appearance of Maitreya, the future Buddha.

Shikoku henro

The Shikoku Pilgrimage, also called the ‘Shikoku henro (四国遍路)’ or the ‘88 pilgrimage’ was established over 1,200 years ago. Inspired by Kūkai, the standard walking route, (approximately 1,200 kilometres, or 750 miles long) can take anywhere from 30 to 60 days to complete. The pilgrimage is traditionally completed on foot, although modern pilgrims use cars, taxis, buses, motorcycles, or bicycles. The pilgrimage and its customs are deeply ingrained in the people of Shikoku. Visitors are often moved by their legendary hospitality of the local people and the osettai culture. *Osettai is the act of giving gifts to pilgrims on the henro. Shikoku Henro (Shikoku Pilgramage)



The Romans in Britain

For more than 400 years, the Roman Empire had a profound influence in Britain. The Romans called the British Isles ‘Britannia’. The actual occupation lasted from 43 AD to 410 AD, although the Romans first entered Britannia in 55 BC under the leadership of Julius Caesar. He crossed the channel and landed his forces in Kent. The ancient Britons fought valiantly and Caesar was forced to retreat and spend the winter in Gaul, (France). He returned in 54 BC with five Roman legions, (around 30,000 soldiers) They marched across Kent and eventually crossed the River Thames. Caesar was successful in forcing some of the barbarian tribes of Britannia to pay tribute to the Romans in return for peace, but he didn’t actually conquer the lands.

John Deare’s marble relief of Caesar’s invasion of Britain, on display at the V&A, London

Emperor Claudius wanted to gain more power, by controlling more lands. In 43 AD he sent his trusted general, Plautius, with four legions of Roman soldiers, to conquer Britain and once again, the barbarian tribes of Britannia fought back. The Romans managed to defeat the Catuvellauni, (the most powerful Belgic tribe in ancient Britain) and then began organising their conquests, progressing north and west. By 47 AD, the Romans held all the lands southeast of the Fosse Way.

In 60-61 AD, an armed uprising by native Celtic Britons took place, led by Boudica, the Queen of the Iceni tribe, (who were based in present day Norfolk). The uprising was motivated by the Romans’ failure to honour an agreement they had made with Boudica’s husband, Prasutagus, regarding the succession of his kingdom after his death.

Boudica led an army to Camulodunum, (Colchester) and burnt it to the ground. The city had been made into a ‘colonia’ for Roman military veterans. These veterans had been accused of mistreating the locals. A temple had been erected  to Claudius, (a former emperor) in the city, at great expense to the local population, which also caused much resentment. Boudica’s forces then went on to destroy Londinium, (London) which, since 43 AD, had grown into a thriving commercial centre, containing a large population of traders and Roman officials. She then led her army north, to Verulamium, (St Albans).

Print by William Sharp, from the engraving by Thomas Stothard, displayed at the National Portrait Gallery, London

Around 61 AD, Gaius Suetonius Paulinus, the conqueror of Mauretania, (modern day Algeria and Morocco), became the governor of Britain. After conquering Wales and ultimately the island of Mona, he marched towards Verulamium, (St Albans) for what would be the final battle against Boudica and her army of rebels. Paulinus only had two legions available to him, (12,000 men) The Britons outnumbered the Roman forces by twenty to one. Although the Britons were gathered in considerable force, (more than 230,000) the Iceni and other tribes had been disarmed some years before and it is thought they may have been poorly equipped for battle.

The Roman army was well-trained, well-armed, highly skilled and heavily protected. Native Britons were skilled at riding two-wheeled battle chariots and using spears, but they wore very little armour. Paulinus chose to engage the Britons in a defile, (a narrow gorge) with a wood behind. The defile opened out into a wide plain in front of his legionnaires. The walls of the gorge protected the Romans from surprise attacks and the forest behind prevented Boudica from deploying chariots and attacking from the rear. Paulinus defeated the rebels in the ‘Battle of Watling Street’. Boudica died soon afterwards. Tacitus, (a well-respected Roman historian and politician) states that 80,000 Britons fell that day, with the loss of only 400 Romans.

10 things you might not know about Roman Britain

1. Roman cruelty was the cause of the rebellion in Britannia. Prasutagus, (the king of the Iceni tribe), thought he had secured independence for his people, by leaving his lands jointly to his daughters and also to the Roman emperor, Nero. However, when he died in AD 61 his will was ignored. The Romans seized his lands and violently humiliated his family: his widow Boudica was publicly flogged and her two daughters brutally raped.

2. The island of Mona, (Anglesey) off the northwest coast of Wales, was a refuge for British rebels and a stronghold of the druid community. It was regarded as the spiritual centre of Britannia. Druids had a variety of functions outside of the temple. They were teachers, scientists, philosophers, and judges in equal measure. Druids were the arbiters of the British justice system at that time. The Roman emperor Nero knew that if he killed the druids on Mona, then the native population would capitulate.

3. The tribes of Picts in Caledonia, (Scotland) were violent warriors and they were able to resist Roman invasion. In 122 AD, the Roman Emperor Hadrian decided to build a wall across the middle of Britain, in order to keep the Pics out of Britannia. This structure helped defend the new lands of the Roman Empire from the barbarians in Caledonia. When Hadrian’s Wall was completed it spanned 73 miles, (the entire width of the land, from Wallsend on the River Tyne, in the east, to Bowness-on-Solway in the west) and fluctuated in height, from 3 to 6 metres, along the entire length. The structure was 3 to 6 metres wide, with a deep, ditch-like construction, called a vallum, running immediately south of the wall. Soldiers were garrisoned along the line of the wall in large forts, smaller milecastles and intervening turrets. The remains of the wall are now part of the ‘UNESCO Transnational World Heritage Site Frontiers of the Roman Empire’.

4. In 410 AD, the majority of the Roman troops were forced to leave Britannia in order to defend their capital city against various barbarian tribes. The Goths and Vandals sacked the city of Rome twice in the 5th century, (in 410 and 455) As the Roman Empire declined in power, the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 476.

Hadrian’s Wall

5. The Roman legacy in Britannia is considerable. The Romans were master builders and had advanced engineering skills, which allowed them to build technologically advanced walls, roads and aqueducts, to transport water. They also introduced concrete to the islands. They built many miles of roads in Britannia, (around 55,000 miles). Some of these roads are still in use today, such as the A1 from York, (Eboracum).

6. They left behind a rich and sophisticated Roman culture, in the form of government systems, laws, the Latin language and the Julian calendar. The Julian calendar was the first to consist of 365 days, (with a leap year every four years). July and August were named after the early rulers Julius Caesar and Emperor Augustus. This calendar forms the basis of the Gregorian calendar that we use today.

7. The Romans left an advanced system of currency in Britain. Some of the tribes in the South of England produced coins before the Romans arrived, however, they were not used for purchasing things. The Romans brought in their own coinage, which was the same across the Empire. A denarius minted in Rome could be spent in Britain, North Africa or Turkey.

8. Bathing was an extremely important part of Roman life. Going to the baths was a social event. Baths were also places for exercise, gambling and catching up on the gossip. They usually contained hot rooms, both dry and wet, cold plunge pools and warm baths. The city of Aqua Sulis, (Bath) was named after the elaborate Roman baths built there. Although the Romans didn’t have central heating, they did have ways (other than fireplaces) to keep buildings warm. Raised floors, laid on squat columns, allowed hot air to circulate. Fires would be lit in stoke-holes, which allowed hot air to circulate and so the Romans brought the concept of underfloor heating to Britain as well.

9. The Romans introduced street stalls, selling food. With more than 10,000 soldiers in Britain, based at forts such as Birdoswald, having access to convenient food in towns and cities was vitally important and vendors serving fast food would have been commonplace. The Romans also introduced some staple foods, such as apples, pears and peas to Britain.

10. In ‘Life of Brian’ the infamous Monty Python film, John Cleese, playing Reg, (the leader of the revolutionary group ‘The People’s Front of Judea’) says: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” That just about sums up the influence of the Roman Empire on Britain.

Roman Baths in Bath, UK

Following the Roman retreat, Britain plunged into a period known as the ‘Dark Ages’. The 5th and 6th centuries are wrapped in obscurity. Records are few, difficult to interpret, propagandist, or written long after the events they describe. After 350 years of Roman rule, all Britons were, in a sense, Romans. However, Britain was no longer protected by an imperial power, so these people were vulnerable to attack. At first, the chief enemies of an independent Britain were Irish raiders from the west and Picts from the north. Later, Angles, Saxons and Jutes arrived from across the North Sea.

Photo credit, History Skills



Simón Bolívar – ‘The Liberator’ of Colombia

An introduction to the ‘The Liberator’ of Colombia, (New Granada)

Simón José Antonio de la Santísima Trinidad Bolívar y Palacios was a Venezuelan military and political leader who led the countries, now known as, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Panama, and Bolivia, to independence from the Spanish Empire. He is known colloquially as ‘El Libertador’, or the Liberator of South America.

Born on July 24th, 1783, in Caracas, the capital of the Captaincy General of Venezuela, Simón Bolívar was the youngest son of one of the wealthiest families in South America. His father died when Simón was only two years old and custody was passed on to his mother and her father. He was raised separately from his siblings and as was custom at the time, was cared for by Hipólita, an African house slave.

In 1792, his mother died of tuberculosis and the following year his grandfather died. Custody of Simón was passed on to his uncle Carlos, who Simón loathed, as he believed his uncle was only interested in the family inheritance.

Simón had a troubled upbringing and was described as being a difficult, unruly child. In June 1795 he ran away from his uncle, to the home of his sister and her husband. They took him in and tried in vain to have his new residency officially recognized. Simón was instead ordered to live with Simón Rodríguez, who ran the school where Bolívar was educated. Rodríguez became a mentor to the young boy and was probably the main catalyst for Bolívar’s political leanings. 

In 1797, Rodríguez was linked to a pro-independence conspiracy and was forced into exile. The teenage Bolívar was then enrolled in an honorary militia force. He was commissioned as an officer after a year. His uncles, Carlos, and Esteban Palacios y Blanco, decided to send young Bolívar to join the latter in Madrid. There, Esteban was friends with Queen Maria Luisa’s trusted advisor, Manuel Mallo. However, in February 1800, Mallo fell out of the Queen’s favour. Members of Mallo’s faction at court were arrested on pretence, (including Esteban) and Bolívar was subsequently banished from court, (for wearing diamonds without royal permission).

Around the same time Bolívar fell in love with María Teresa Rodríguez del Toro y Alayza and the two were engaged. They would have to wait several years to be together, as individual duties kept them apart. Bolívar and del Toro, aged 18 and 21 respectively, were married in Madrid on 26 May 1802. The couple then boarded the ship ‘San Ildefonso’ in A Coruña, on 15 June and sailed for La Guaira, (Venezuela) where they arrived on 12 July. They settled in Caracas. María fell ill and eventually died of yellow fever on 22 January 1803.

Bolívar was devastated by del Toro’s death and swore never to remarry.

By July 1803 Bolívar had decided to leave Venezuela for Europe. He witnessed the coronation of Napoleon in 1804, but he was not sympathetic to French imperialism. After travelling with Simón Rodríguez through Italy, Bolívar had seen enough to declare his intent to see the Americas free from Spanish rule. He sailed back to Venezuela in 1807, where he began to meet with other creole elites to discuss independence from Spain. He discovered that he was far more radical than the rest of Caracas high society. 

In 1807-08 Napoleon invaded the Spanish peninsula and gained decisive control. After much political manoeuvring in Venezuela, (and the dissolution of several governments), the country eventually came to be ruled by the ‘Supreme Junta of Caracas’, which rejected French rule, as well as the Spanish regency, (under the control of Napoleon’s brother, Joseph Bonaparte). The junta acquired Simón Bolívar’s services as a diplomat and Bolívar was sent to Britain to request their support in gaining Venezuelan independence. However, this bid failed and Britain could offer no concrete support, citing their Anglo-Spanish relations as being more important.

Bolivar returned to Venezuela in 1811, where the country was debating whether or not to declare independence. Bolívar helped to create the Patriotic Society, an organisation dedicated to gaining independence and he campaigned passionately. After a vigorous national debate, the Venezuela national assembly declared independence on the 5th of July 1811. Bolivar was overjoyed. To mark the occasion he freed all the slaves in his family and called for the end of slavery in the western hemisphere. 

The declaration brought about a state of war between the Republicans and the Royalists in the new country. It was to be a prolonged and brutal war. Bolívar played a prominent role in the military at this time. Despite early Republican victories, the Royalists achieved victory. This was partly due to a huge earthquake that shook the country, specifically in Republican areas. The populace, on both sides, believed that the natural disaster was God’s retribution for Venezuela declaring independence. Republican forces finally capitulated and Bolívar fled. Aided by friends, he managed to escape Venezuela, across the border, into the ‘United Provinces of New Granada’, (Colombia).

In New Grenada, Bolívar wrote ‘The Cartagena Manifesto’ in which he called for renewed efforts for Venezuela to regain its independence from Spain.

With high-ranking contacts, Bolívar managed to secure a position as the commander of a 70-man garrison in a small town. New Granada was an ally in the fight against Spain, and Bolívar managed to secure permission to launch an invasion of Venezuela in 1813. 

His army quickly swept through the country and his forces captured Caracas within six months. He was able to enter Caracas on 6 August 1813 and was named ‘El Liberator’ and the Dictator of the Second Republic of Venezuela. 

His initial success did not last however. Many Venezuelans were nervous of the radical revolutionaries and preferred the stability of Spanish rule, (which they were accustomed to). Venezuela was not completely unified and was financially devastated. Many people of colour remained disenfranchised and refused to support the new government. Bolívar also had a powerful Republican rival in the east, Santiago Mariño, who was unwilling to subordinate himself. The newly installed dictator faced insurrections and war from multiple directions.

Spanish led forces succeeded in driving Bolivar out of Venezuela again and he fled to New Granada for a second time, where he was tasked with subduing the rebel territory of ‘The Free and Independent State of Cundinamarca’. The conflicts at this time were characterised not only by Republicans fighting against Royalists, but also by conflicting ideals of centralised and federalised governments. Cundinamarca supported centralism, while New Granada had a federal structure. This posed an ideological problem for Bolívar as he was a centralist. He captured the Cundinamarca capital of Bogotá, but made a truce with the Cundinamarcans, following which he resigned from his post in the New Granadan military and fled in exile to Jamaica.

Bolívar travelled to Haiti, after surviving an assassination attempt in Jamaica. 

In Haiti he met the country’s president, Alexandre Pétion and they became good friends. Pétion agreed to help Bolívar with financial aid and supplies, providing that Bolívar agreed to emancipate all enslaved people in Venezuela. Bolívar agreed and sailed back to Jamaica, where he met with Republican leaders to formulate a plan. 

In a letter from Jamaica in 1815, Bolívar wrote:

“A people that love freedom, will, in the end be free. We are a microcosm of the human race. We are a world apart, confined within two oceans, young in arts and sciences, but old as a human society. We are neither Indians, nor Europeans, yet we are a part of each.” 

Supported by Pétion, Bolívar returned to Venezuela with an army in 1816 and won limited victories. However, his army was defeated and scattered. In July he was forced to return to Haiti. Other Republican troops in Venezuela fled into the jungle and waited for Bolívar’s return.

Pétion again agreed to help his friend Simón and so Bolívar was able to return once again to Venezuela. Upon arrival, he issued a call for the new Third Republic to be created. The Republican military forces united under him, but there was much jostling for power. He was able to unite former Republican enemies and achieved a string of military successes against Royalist forces. Although Venezuela was not fully under Republican control, Bolívar was declared supreme leader of the Third Republic.

On the back of these more permanent military successes in Venezuela, Bolívar then decided to split his forces. Leaving his generals to complete the victory against the Royalists, he marched with 2000 soldiers into New Granada territories and met up with Republican allies across the border. Achieving a decisive victory at the Battle of Boyacá. Royalist forces then abandoned the capital of Bogotá, allowing the Republicans to capture the city treasury. 

Bolívar designed a constitution for what historians now refer to as ‘Gran Colombia’. This was the beginning of independence in Colombia.



What Does the Future Hold for Ride and Seek?

Greetings from a snowy Provence. As the snow fell earlier this month at our base in the shadow of Mont Ventoux we were being sent photos from sunny Australia where our Strzelecki Tour (Sydney to Hobart) had just embarked from Sydney. Life is full of contrasts and in that context, there was a sense of the surreal to think we are back on the road again – the 2023 season for Ride and Seek is a go! Indeed, the group has just wrapped up the tour in Hobart, Tasmania after a tour for the ages.

With this being our shortest ‘off-season’ to date, I thought it would be an opportune time to share with you our thoughts on moving forward as a company. With the pandemic seemingly behind us and demand for travel booming it would easy to simply jump back on the hamster wheel but we are trying to be more measured in our approach. Your appetite for exploring the world by bike is undoubted and our zeal for creating new itineraries is unabated. However, if 2 years of Covid reflection taught us anything it was the importance of maintaining perspective and identifying what we consider really important. 

Strzelecki group at Bondi Beach, Sydney
Snowy Provence

As such, we are keen to offer you a road map for what we are trying to achieve with our tours both in terms of the seeming paradox of consolidation and growth. Our in-house mantra has always been that you are ‘only as good as your last tour’. This lies at the heart of our striving to offer the world’s best cycling adventures with every tour we run and will continue to be the rationale that ensures we will never rest on our laurels.

Last year was our 10-year anniversary of running bike tours as Ride and Seek. I have actually been leading and designing bike tours now for almost 30 years so it is fair to say it is a vocation. From the inauspicious beginnings of running Hannibal for the first time in 2012 with a motley crew of family and friends, we celebrated the 10th edition of our signature tour with an awesome group of fideli and newcomers in September 2022. It was a proud occasion to reflect back on what we have achieved.

Hannibal – 10 years and counting!
10-year Anniversary Hannibal Group

Reflection has been a theme for us as we approached the 2023 season both in the context of how busy we were through 2022 and with the hindsight of lessons learned through COVID. Obviously, from a commercial perspective, the pandemic was not helpful to put it lightly. Like many in the cycling tour business, we went from having had our best year to date in 2019 to two years of roadblocks and uncertainty.

Rather than batten down the hatches though, as a team, we sought to seek out the ‘road most optimistic’ and constructively prepare for the future. The support we received from many of you who left tour monies in the business and in some cases, simply sent us money to keep us afloat was both humbling and confidence-building.

Through the pandemic, we looked to keep the team together by planning for the future and running tours that made little commercial sense. Hannibal with 2 riders was a all time low! The offshoot of this though is that we kept the proverbial wheels turning and were ready to roll once the travel became viable again. Unlike many companies post-pandemic we have not been impacted by the exodus of guides from the industry. All of those in the video remain in the Ride and Seek family, which we are very proud of. The only change is the kids have all grown up significantly!

We also trialled new initiatives such as a complementary weekly laundry service, coffee vouchers, more gourmet picnic lunches, and smaller group sizes. All of these were confirmed for 2022 and will remain in place for the foreseeable future. We also made plans for a range of new Epic Adventures that we will be launching over the next two months. 

The smaller group size commitment in particular made little commercial sense but was deemed important by us in our quest to run the best tours we can. To ensure the personalised nature of the tour experience we provide, we felt that we need to cap the Epic tour group number to 20. Whilst this runs counter to the general trend in the A to B cycle tour space where groups of 30 plus are common, we are committed to consolidating on the ‘full service’ epic historical cycling adventures we pioneered all those years ago.

More Epic Symbols to Come

It meant that an inaugural tour like the Conquest of the Moors sold out in record time and had a waiting list of 20 at one point but the result was a better tour as a result. With a return booking rate of around 75% we believe the long-term returns merit the short-term losses that we incur by adding more value to the tours through limiting numbers and adding more ‘frills’. Optional room upgrades, more massage options with our tour soigneurs, and the new titanium bikes are among the improvements for 2023.

The less is more approach has also been central to our aim of consolidating Epic Adventures as our core business. In this space, we have created our own cycling tour niche, and it is what we do best. As such we will be running fewer ‘Local’ adventures than before. 

We also plan to avoid too much crossover with the Epics that now run from February through to November. By this, we mean that even though we have a number of new tours, the calendar will not be too busy to ensure we can focus on one tour at a time. So while the Epic map has a few new symbols to be added, we will not be overlapping too many tours as a result. Rather, more tours will become bi-annual as a result.

Our 2022 Season Collage

Returning to the theme of reflection it is fair to say that these decisions are not only steeped in quality control though but are also focused on creating a more sustainable business model in terms of work/life balance and our environmental footprint. 2022 was a huge year for us in terms of tours run and guest numbers, but the team fatigue at the end of the season suggested we needed a reassessment.

There is a fair amount of lamenting one hears about some of the circumstantial positives that people experienced through the pandemic, such as more time with family, a slower pace of life, and a chance to explore other interests. Even though our business came to a standstill, we recognised at the time that getting off the hamster wheel was no bad thing. As we move into the future, the team and I are keen to heed those lessons.

That team is now made up of Ben manning the fort as General Manager and a new position being created for Benjamin as the Logistics Manager in Provence. Tiffany, Sarah, and Raffaella continue to manage the office, accounts, and hotels respectively. 

Design-wise Dean continues to work his magic, and Megan is focused on the customer experience. As stated previously, the guide team remains as solid as ever, and we now have more clearly defined Trip Specialist roles. With such a strong and capable team managing the day-to-day elements of the business has allowed me to indulge my passion for creating and planning new itineraries, which I have been doing with gusto! 

We feel well-positioned to grow in an organic and effective manner in the coming years.

Meeting the new 2022 Guides in Provence

So whilst you might end up cycling with us to the place pictured below in 2024, it won’t simply mean that we will add this tour to the calendar in addition to all the others – we already have 12 Epics to choose from – but rather it will slot in place of another tour.

Indeed, we have 6 new Epics to announce, so get your diaries ready for the upcoming ‘Braking News’ launches. Following the 2018 poll on ‘Where To Go Next?’ we think you’ll be pleased with the tours that have been chosen.

The first person who leaves a comment below with the country where the photo was taken will win a prize and a bonus for naming the city itself.

Our plan over the next couple of months is to set out our stall through to 2025, which will hopefully help you with your cycle adventure planning. With a clearer road map, we will also be able to develop our sustainability strategies which we have been working on both in-house and with Beatrice, who has taken on the role of our sustainability consultant

Mystery Destination – Where is this?  We’ll be here in 2024!

We presently cycle in 30 countries and plan to make that 38 by the end of 2025. We look forward to inspiring you with our new tours in the coming months. And we’ll also reveal more about our plans for the Mont Ventoux Cycling Club (MVCC), which is our logistics base, and so much more. As a club, workshop, and rental hub, we are excited to see how it develops over the coming years.

In part linked to MVCC we are pleased to announce some other improvements that we are delighted to announce. The bike fleet has been upgraded, with all bikes now running disc brakes. We’ve stayed with titanium but have moved across to Van Nicholas as our core road bike. In addition, we have also partnered with Merida and have a range of road e-bikes available.

Mont Ventoux Cycling Club

Continuing on the technological side of things, we also have the larger screen Garmin 1030’s as our standard GPS unit and have incorporated a number of digital elements that are geared towards improving your customer experience without compromising the personal touch. We look forward to introducing them.

And finally, whilst this is what we have in store, we will never forget that we are running tours for you, so I would be very grateful to hear from any of you that have any feedback on how we can improve your experience with us.

Onwards and upwards with the rubber side down we are delighted to have you along for the ride with us. The Epic List is in the process of being updated. We’ll keep you posted.

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face.

See you on the road soon!

Dylan

 



Who were the Norsemen?

 

Who were the Norsemen?

While all Vikings were considered Norsemen, not all Norsemen were Vikings 

This simple question requires a slightly complex explanation.

A simple answer can be summed up in this way: The term ‘Norsemen’ indicates people who came from the Scandinavian countries, (modern-day Norway, Sweden, and Denmark). However, the Old Norse word ‘Viking’ is not so much a name of a people, but a verb, meaning to pirate, (to plunder, steal, rob via sea routes).

While all Vikings were considered Norsemen, not all Norsemen were Vikings. However, the Vikings were a significant and influential subset of the Norsemen, who left a lasting impact on history through their exploration, trade, and conquests.

The Norsemen were a North Germanic ethnolinguistic group of the Early Middle Ages, during which time they spoke the Old Norse language. During the late eighth century, many Scandinavians embarked on a large-scale expansion in all directions, giving rise to what is known as the ‘Viking Age’. Norsemen set sail, (to go Viking).

The word ‘Viking’ comes from the Scandinavian term ‘vikingr’ meaning ‘pirate’. Contrary to a popular belief, the Norsemen did not constitute one unified nation back at that time. They were initially organised in small earldoms, each ruled by a local earl, (or jarl). The term ‘Viking’ does not, therefore, denote a population, or a particular race of people for that matter, but rather a profession; seafaring pirates.

 

5 Things you might not know about the Norsemen

1 – Skeletons from famous Viking burial sites in Scotland were actually local people who could have taken on Viking identities and were buried as Vikings. In a scientific paper published in Nature, (2020) scientists analysed more than 400 genomes from Viking burial sites. After DNA sequencing of more than 400 Viking skeletons, from archaeological sites scattered across Europe and Greenland, they found evidence for a major influx of Danish ancestry into England; a Swedish influx into the Baltic; and a Norwegian influx into Ireland, Iceland, and Greenland.

2- Many Norsemen actually had brown hair, not blonde hair.

3 – Norsemen identity was not limited to people with Scandinavian genetic ancestry. The study shows the genetic history of Scandinavia was influenced by foreign genes from Asia and Southern Europe before the Viking Age.

4 – Who is the most famous Norseman? The name most associated with the Viking attacks and raids on the British Isles is that of Ragnar Lothbrok, (sometimes also written as ‘Lodbrok’), who has gone down in history as a fearless leader and unstoppable warrior.

5 –The genetic legacy of the Viking Age lives on today, with 6% of people in the UK population predicted to have Viking DNA in their genes, compared to 10% in Sweden.

‘To go a Viking’

To go a Viking meant that a Norseman would set sail on a body of water, (from open seas and oceans, to rivers and even lakes) in search of new, fertile lands to farm and subsequently permanently settle on, as well as trade with the neighbouring civilisations and cultures, ensuring social, political and economic links overseas.

The term ‘Norse’ generally refers to Norsemen, from the north of Scandinavia. They were full-time traders and accomplished seafarers. Norsemen settled in the islands north and northwest of Britain, Ireland, and western Britain, whereas the Danish ‘Vikings’, principally invaded and occupied eastern Britain. These Danes were not actually farmers but were part-time warriors, led by people of noble birth. They had a reputation for being more violent and ruthless than the Norsemen, (or Northmen) from the far north.

The majority of Norsemen were farmers, craftsmen, and traders who did not engage in seafaring raids. They were more interested in peaceful trade with other nations.

Modern descendants of Norsemen are the Icelanders, Faroe Islanders, Norwegians, and Swedes, who are now generally referred to as ‘Scandinavians’ rather than Norsemen.

 

The Vikings

The Viking Age generally refers to the period from A.D. 800, a few years after the earliest recorded raid, until the 1050s, a few years before the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The Vikings changed the political and genetic course of Europe and beyond. Cnut the Great became the King of England. Leif Eriksson is believed to have been the first European to reach North America, 500 years before Christopher Columbus.

However, the British conception of the ‘Vikings’ origins was inaccurate. Those who plundered much of Britain actually sailed from the land which is known as Denmark today. The border between the northern Norse regions and the more southerly Germanic tribes, the Danevirke, is located around the current border between Denmark and Germany.

Most of the earliest Viking settlers in Ireland were Norsemen, but circa 850 AD, a large Danish contingent arrived. In 875 AD, Danes and Norsemen were competing for control of Scotland. Antagonism between Danes and Norsemen reached a peak in the mid-tenth century, as they battled over control of York.

Norse mythology

Norse mythology consists of tales of various deities, beings, and heroes derived from numerous sources, (from both before and after the pagan period). The source texts mention numerous gods such as the thunder-god Thor, the raven-flanked god Odin, the goddess Freyja, and numerous other deities. The cosmos in Norse mythology consists of Nine Worlds that flank a central sacred tree, Yggdrasil.

The afterlife is a complex matter in Norse mythology. The dead may go to the murky realm of ‘Hel’, a realm ruled over by a female being of the same name, or they may be ferried away by valkyries to Odin’s martial hall ‘Valhalla’, or they may be chosen by the goddess Freyja, to dwell in her field ‘Fólkvangr’ forevermore. The goddess Rán may claim those that die at sea.

 

Lofotr Viking Museum


What is included in the Tour Package?

What’s included in the tour?

We have endeavored to make out tour offerings among the most inclusive in the bike tourism industry so you are not faced with a series of extra expenses once you join us on tour.

Standard Inclusions

  • Bed and Breakfast accommodation
  • Picnic lunches
  • All evening meals – except for rest days
  • Ride and Seek Jersey or T-shirt

Ride and Seek Value Add ons

  • Coffee Vouchers
  • mid-week laundry service
  • Veloforte nutrition
  • Post-ride recovery snack table

Since most things are included, perhaps an easier way to answer this question is to look at what is not included. What is not included – Airfares, airport Transfers, Travel Insurance, and Alcoholic beverages.

We do not include bike hire in the price either as we know that many of you prefer to bring your own. If you do wish to rent we have a range of high end bikes in our fleet. You can see the details here Bike fleet

Riad El Amine in Fes. Our friend Noureddine hosts us in his palatial Riad next to the Fes Medina on our Conquest of the Moors Tour

Accommodations

We have carefully selected the places we stay in based on their ‘personality’ and the hospitality of the hosts. Be it Paradors in Spain, a Chateau in France, or Agriturismi in Italy, we seek to connect you with the places we travel in, through the accommodations we choose.

 

Our dinner venue in the city of Melbourne at the end of the second stage of our Strzelecki Australian Epic Tour

Meals

We immerse you in the culture of the areas that we visit and this is very much reflected by the menus that we present on tour. Whether it be an end-of-stage gala meal in a Michelin-starred restaurant or a buffet smorgasbord we seek to provide a sense of place through the food and wine we choose for you. We always try to dine as early as is culturally possible and work with the restaurants we use to keep the service brisk. 

We are very adept at accommodating dietary needs and work closely with the restaurants we choose to ensure they adhere to your requests. 

 

Our guide team is well established with many having been with us since we started out, Their expertise, sense of fun, and attention to detail is second to none.

Expert Support

Long before the tour begins our Trip Specialists and operations teams are busy planning the logistics of all aspects of your tour. The routes are meticulously scouted by the guide teams and our  tour materials are the best in the business. We then weave the layers of historical and cultural context to immerse you in the places you travel through. 

On tour the guides will support you with navigation, safety, mechanics, language skills, charm and local knowledge. Allowing you to simply turn the pedals at your own pace and soak up the ambience of your surroundings.

 

The tour flow is tried and tested and is geared to let you focus on turning the pedals whilst we sweat the details for you

Tour Structure

Our Epic tours follow a standard format. Your first day will include a warm-up ride, whether you’re starting at the beginning of an Epic tour, or joining us for a single stage. You’ll lunch with the guides who will give you a rundown of the tour ahead. You’ll then have a short ride to ensure your bike has traveled well, or if you are riding a hire bike, it fits you and is comfortable.

The next morning the cycling begins! The format for each ride day is similar, times are approximate.

7:30am Breakfast
8:30am Morning brief 
9:00am Ride out
11:00am Coffee and snack break
13:00 Picnic lunch on route
15:00-16:00 Arrive at next hotel
16:00-19:00 Free time to explore or rest
19:00 Pre dinner drink and brief
19:30 Dinner

Rest days give riders the chance to explore the town we are staying in and get the essentials, such as the week’s laundry, done. For this reason, we try to stay in interesting towns which have all the practical facilities available. This doesn’t mean you aren’t free to take your bike out for a spin or that you cannot take a rest on any other day. 

 

Want to know more about our tours?

👉Send us a message and one of our Trip specilaists will be in touch
 

We look forward to seeing you on the road soon! 

 
 


Our first foray into Africa (Morocco) – 14 years in the making!

Morocco is now on the tour roster with the Conquest of the Moors

Some of our tours move quickly from conceptualisation to design and execution. Our Caesar Tour from London to Rome, for instance, went from being discussed over coffee in June 2015 to planned, scouted and on the website by September of that same year. We went on to run the inaugural Caesar Tour in May of 2016 with a turn around of less than 12 months for a 34-day Epic. It still holds the record for our fastest Epic Tour creation.

The creation of that tour though was aided by the fact I had already been running bike tours in Europe for 15 years. In addition, we had done a family bike trip back in 1988 from Cambridge to Cognac that incorporated much of the route we chose for Caesar as well. In a nutshell, the tour design had been done before we even came up with the idea of creating the tour. All that remained to be done was join the dots.

Joining those dots took rather longer with respect to our new tour that incorporates Morocco and marks our first foray on to the African continent. In this case, the tour idea dates back almost 15 years.  Back in 2006, I took part in a charity hitchhike with my sister, Anika, from Brighton (England) to Morocco and it was then that the idea was born.

The hitchhike itself was a wonderful experience to share with my sister and felt like a throwback to a more innocent time. Our parents had hitchhiked around Europe in their younger years but by the time we felt our own wanderlust bubble up, it was no longer considered a ‘normal’ way to travel. The chance to do it together though, and as a charitable endeavor convinced us to give it a go. Over the course of 5 days, 2500km and 12 lifts we crossed the English Channel and travelled down through France and Spain.

As an experience, it is one I’ll never forget and it left me with the lasting impression that it is a very hospitable world out there. There is a lot to be said, within reason, for leaving your comfort zone, just hitting the road and following your instincts. The hospitality that was extended to us on that journey and the great conversations we had along the way were a testament to what happens when you take on a challenge with a smile. Taking on challenges and smiling at those we meet is the bedrock behind the Epic List we now have!

Morooco hitchhiking

The undoubted highlight of the whole trip was Morocco. Our final lift got us to the enchanting city of Almeria in Andalucia (Spain) where we hiked up to the top of the Alcazbar castle -the second-largest Moorish fortress in Andalucia after Granada’s Alhambra. It was on this day that my interest in the Moorish occupation of the Iberian peninsula began, an occupation that was to last over 700 years from the year 707. In this context finishing the hitchhike in Morocco was an apt way to complete the journey. Until this trip, I had little idea of how great an influence the Moors had wielded over modern-day southern Europe.

Not that our initial arrival into Morocco wielded too many clues having caught a ferry from Almeria to the Spanish enclave of Melilla. In effect, we travelled from Spain, across the Mediterranean to once again arrive Spain! Melilla, alongside Ceuta, form the European Union’s only land borders in Africa and was an inauspicious start to our post hitch hike holiday in ‘Morocco’. It caused a fair amount of confusion when we disembarked that’s for sure 🙂

Once we got out of Melilla though we embarked on what, to this day, remains one of my best ever trips. There is something amazing about travelling with limited expectations about what you’ll see and experience. Back in 2006, the opportunity to tap into online travel review sites was limited and certainly not something I was familiar with doing. As such, I felt like I was travelling ‘blind’ and every new place we visited seemed to blow me away. Bumping into a camel in the tight alleys of the Fes Medina, seeing the ‘Blue City’ of Chefchaeun from afar and seeing goats in Argan trees were just three standout moments. From that point, I was hooked and determined to ride my bike in Morocco and run a tour there.

Riding my bike there was the easy part though and indeed, I did that the next year with a mountain bike trip through the Atlas mountains. Setting up a tour there was a different matter altogether. At that point, the tours I guided were all in Europe and my then employer had little appetite to venture any further south. Since that first trip to Morocco, I’ve been back 11 times and it never ceases to enchant me as a travel destination. Setting up Ride and Seek back in 2011 marked the point when I seriously started planning it in my head as a real possibility.

It was at the end of 2017 that we finally committed to running a tour in Morocco and the first round of scouting was a true family affair. I would like to thank our youngest guide Luka – my son- for his sterling work in helping to put this tour together! Here he is below getting into the spirit of things with his headwear in the knife quarter of the remarkable Fez Medina.

Morroco will be the 30th country that we have cycled in and from a personal perspective, it is the one I am arguably most excited about, particularly as it has taken more than 14 years to make it happen! The inaugural Conquest of the Moors Tour will run in October 2020 and I am delighted to be one of the guides on the Moroccan stage.  Through many wonderful hours of ‘scouting’ with the family, and now with the guide team, this tour is one we have waited a long time to realise!

Fez medina



Which Epic Cycling Tour is right for me?

Simple answer: The one that inspires you the most!
Time, fitness or money shouldn’t be a barrier to a once in a lifetime experience. We always seem to make time for the things that are important to us and an Epic tour, even if it’s a month-long, is no different. Begin with the adventure that speaks to you the loudest and then contact us about how to make it happen.

Long answer: While all our Epics are just that, epic in nature, they do differ.

Duration: Our Epics vary from a bit over 2 weeks to over a month.
Like the look of an Epic, but can’t find the time to ride the whole tour? Each Epic is broken down into at least 2 stages so you can pick out a Mini-Epic that’s right for you. Perhaps even returning to complete the full Tour at a later time.

Difficulty and Length: Ride 1200km/745 miles (shorter single stage options) and remain within one country or ride over 3500km/2200miles by riding across Europe. We classify the difficulty of each tour (and stage if different from the overall tour) on distance, terrain and time in the saddle. The symbol we use for our grading system is the espresso cup. Our easiest tours are denoted by a single cup and our hardest by four cups. Click here to discover what cup rider you are or will train to become.

Where and When: We run our tours through 30 countries, on 5 continents and in both hemispheres. We aim to run each Epic in the Goldilocks period for that part of the world; not too hot and not too cold. There is only a couple of months in the year where we don’t run any scheduled tours so if your escaping the cold or searching out a coastal breeze we will likely have a tour running for you.

History and Culture: Our Epics are more than just a bike tour. They are historical journeys that connect the present with the past, whether it’s a famous figure like Hannibal and his army of Elephants, a period like the division of Europe with the Iron Curtain or a class of people like the Samurai. Each Epic is an immersion into where we travel. The hotels in which we stay, the characters we meet, the food we eat, the wine we drink and the history we see are all chosen to give you a true sense of place.

Conquest of the Moors Epic: Panorama of the famous Alhambra palace in Granada, Andalusia, Spain.

To view, all our Epics explore the website or check out our Digital Catalogue which you can download and view offline click here.

Found the right tour, but want to make changes? Contact us for custom tours and departures.

We hope to see you on the road soon!



Ride and Seek’s Tips for travel in 2022

Considering taking a trip this year? Read Ride and Seek’s guide to travelling in 2022, covering insurance, tests, and choosing the right companies!

Travelling in the pandemic has looked different depending on where you’re from and where you’re going. While travelling is an inherently bold act, the need for caution along with boldness has been a difficult balance to strike. Ride and Seek design and run epic bicycle trips all around the world, so our own sense of adventure and boldness is perhaps higher than the average tour operator.

As a company that has operated responsibly throughout the pandemic, we feel it’s partly our role to offer travel advice to anyone considering booking a trip in 2022 — even if that trip isn’t with us!

The whole world is out there and while it’s fine if some people want to wait a little longer before they venture out, we hope this guide can offer practical tips and reassurances to those of you who are already planning your 2022 adventure. If you decide you’d like to head out on one of our Epic Cycling Adventure Tours and you’d like to know more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Everyone Feels Differently About Travel During Covid

Firstly, it’s important to remember that while there may be some absolute value of safety when travelling during covid, we don’t really know what that is. This means that the sense of safety and security is largely a subjective thing, seen through the lens of different countries’ news outlets, different ages, pre-existing health conditions, etc.

In our experience, adventurous travellers are a little more considerate of other cultures and ways of life than those who don’t travel very much. This is simply a by-product of getting out into the world and meeting different kinds of people. Remember that everyone has had a different pandemic experience; this will help you navigate your travels better.

Always Check Travel Companies’ Terms and Conditions

The pandemic didn’t start yesterday, so travel companies don’t have a good excuse for not changing their terms and conditions to accommodate these strange times we’re living in. While not all travel companies have the flexibility to offer incredibly relaxed reschedule and cancellation policies, almost all of them should at least try to make sure that their policies are customer friendly.

Look for lenient cancellation policies and anything else in a tour operator’s messaging that implies they are happy to accommodate last-minute changes due to travel restrictions, positive covid tests, or any other complications that arise. And if you’re in any doubt about the policies, don’t be afraid to ask.

Shop Around for Good Health and Travel Insurance

This advice is good for any travel, regardless of whether we’re in a pandemic. But travel insurance with good healthcare cover is especially important right now. Even if you usually throw caution to the wind, we highly recommend investing in especially comprehensive cover.

As Ride and Seek’s tours often travel through several countries, the insurance cover needs to cover different laws and regulations in different countries’ infrastructure. If you are visiting several countries in one trip, make sure you’re covered for this!

Travel with Companies Who Have Operated Throughout the Pandemic

While it is completely understandable why some specific tour operators haven’t been able to work during the pandemic, there is an undeniable learning curve to running a tourism company during covid. There has been a lot to learn over the last two years and companies who learned on the job are much more likely to have done the practical tests and hard work required to ensure their tours and experiences run without a hitch (or very few hitches, at least).

So, if you’re in any doubt, read a company’s blog and look on their social media to see how they functioned during the pandemic.

COVID-19 Tests Before and During Your Trip

Unfortunately, it looks like we’ll all be swabbing our throats and our noses for a while yet. While PCR tests will likely be a prerequisite for long-haul travel for the foreseeable future, it’s also a good idea to pack several rapid-antigen tests too. While many countries will offer lateral flow tests for free or for an affordable price, there aren’t any guarantees, so if you know where you can get some in your own country, we advise bringing several tests with you, just in case.

Pre-Travel Logistics

Somewhat linked to PCR tests is the additional pre-travel logistics required on the run-up to your trip. While we have always had to sort out the various Visas and travel insurances required to travel, many countries have additional paperwork requirements to ensure things are as safe as possible for both locals and tourists.

By all means, do a little research before your trip, but any good tour company will have done most of the work for you, so don’t be afraid to call or email to ask for advice.

There are so many more things to say about travelling in 2022, but the main point we haven’t covered yet is for you to make sure you have an incredible time! Travel is an absolute joy and a privilege, and all of the additional logistics and worries about traveling during a pandemic may distract some of us as we head out into the world on our next adventure.

So, remind yourself to have a wonderful time, to make all the requisite preparations and to then relax and enjoy your trip. If anything we’ve said in this short guide has inspired you to travel with us, you might like to consider a couple of our upcoming epic and mini-epic cycling trips, such as our Berlin to Budapest Bike Tour in August and our Paris to Saint Petersburg Bike Tour in July.

We hope we’ve offered some helpful advice with this guide, but we also hope we’ve emboldened a few readers to stop dreaming and start actively planning their next adventure! 2022 has so much to offer if you can just reach out and grab it!



FAQ CORNER: Do I have to ride in a group?

This is one of the most commonly asked questions we hear from prospective riders?

Riding on Korcula Island on Marco Polo

The answer is a categorical no! We pride ourselves on enabling you to ride at your own pace. Our van and bike guide support is structured to this end and with meticulously researched routes uploaded onto GPS units, we are very adept at managing a broad rider spread.

Picnic lunch at Lake Trasimene on Hannibal

We find that with designated coffee and lunch spots throughout the day the spread will ebb and flow but we are well versed in riders coming in at different times and actively encourage that to be the case. Whatever your ride style and ability we will facilitate you riding the tour at a pace that suits you.

Checking the Espresso Gradings

If you do like riding in a group you’ll typically find other riders in the group that roll at a pace that you feel comfortable with. That often becomes your own mini peloton during the course of the tour. One of the undoubted joys of these group tours is the opportunity to meet and ride with others but that choice is yours to make.

The Road Less Travelled through the Dolomites on Caesar

Another element of being able to ride at your own pace is that you don’t have to wait for your fellow riders. You are free to go as fast as you see fit and there is no requirement to stop at the top of cols for the backmarkers which some companies insist on. Grab that ‘col’ photo and then keep rolling.

Looking back towards France at the top of Col Agnel (2744m) on Hannibal 2013

Our tours are imbued with a sense of discovery and as such we actively encourage you to ‘smell the flowers’ along the way. Whether that means you are an avid photographer, a gourmet who wishes to take your time over one of our picnic lunches, or a coffee connoisseur the choice is yours as to how to negotiate the A to B of any given day.

Lunch stops to savour or just a grab and go



Conquest of the Moors Food Safari

The culinary experience is a fundamental element of our tours and is one of the reasons we are so excited by our Conquest of the Moors Cycling tour. On our Epic cycling tours, we travel through multiple regions, experiencing the very best of each locale. Eating on tour not only refuels us but gives us a true sense of place as you travel to each special region of a country. Our routes are primarily steered towards riding the most picturesque, quiet roads, but often we also route plan to experience a particularly wonderful dish, wine, or restaurant.

With this in mind, we give you three delicious recipes, chosen to represent some of the incredible yet distinct cuisines of three special countries that feature on this tour – Morocco, Spain, and Portugal.


Morocco- Fruity lamb tagine (serves 4)

Lamb tagine

What trip to Morocco is complete without a tagine? Subtle in flavour and so satisfying, this dish can be used anywhere from on a weeknight to a dinner party. We have also frozen excess quantities of this dish and confirm that is freezes well for those who like to prepare ahead.

For those who prefer a vegetarian option, we have also made this dish without the lamb but added chunks of potato and zucchini (courgette). It was just as delicious.


Ingredients



Guide Soul Rides – Sardinia (Italy)

Simone Scalas is a proud Sardinian who is the trip specialist on our 3 Islands Bike Tour. Having written books on cycling in Sardinia and with 20 years of bike guiding to call on, his ‘soul ride’ from his hometown of Pula is guaranteed to be a cracker.

Coastal riding at its finest

My soul ride takes place in the amazing Costa del Sud in southwestern Sardinia. It starts in Pula, a lively village that relies on tourism yet has its own authenticity. The local cyclists gather at the Piazza de Popolo main square to start this ride, or for biking into the mountains. A perfect place to have a coffee while waiting for the late riders to join the group.

Our author – Simone Scalas

The ride begins with 15 km of flat roads, parallel to the main road, and you can decide to pedal along the coast breathing the sea breeze, or immersed in a peaceful countryside coasting the hills, or combining a bit of the two landscapes.

Then you head inland towards Domus De Maria village, starting to taste the more rural Sardinia. For lazy riders like myself, it’s the perfect first coffee stop :). From here we start climbing, and it’s a gentle, with almost no cars, solitary and scented climb among wild Sardinian maquis and granite.

Marking the top there’s a “Casa Cantoniera”, one of the several ancient roadman’s houses, all of them coloured with pompeii red paint and always in scenic locations. From here you can stop to admire the landscape embracing the fisherman natural harbor down the coast and the spectacular twisting road all the way until Teulada, the next village of the ride.

Teulada deserves a stop, first of all, to let your brakes recover, then to taste its “Pani cun Tomata” bread with tomato, which is typical from the village and absolutely tasty. If you don’t find it at the main square bar (shame on them), just walk to the nearby supermarket or bakery and get it fresh, fantastico!

Well, so far the ride has been just beautiful, yet the best has to come :).
Soon after a few km, you’ll hit the coast at a Porto Budello natural harbour, and here starts the absolute beauty. You’ll ride for about 25 km, up and down along the coast, enchanted by the never-ending long sandy beaches, small secluded coves, solitary Spanish watching towers, and the silence. Well, here and there you’ll have some short yet tasty climb, but the views will let you forget all of them.

Fancy a mid ride swim?

This stretch of ride ends with some of the most picturesque beaches of Sardinia, the marvellous Tuerredda Beach with its turquoise waters, then the endless Chia Beach with its golden sand.

If you are hungry, you’ll have several restaurants to stop, but the locals (not just the cyclists) have their beer, sorry their energy drinks, at the “Mongittu” bar, you’ll recognize it by the locals, no worries.

Nora

Then, after the climax like in a perfect theatre piece, you have time to chill down again and relax along the last 15 kms taking you back to Pula. Usually we finish the ride in Nora, the ancient Phoenician the Roman town, beautifully settled in a little promotory among the lagoon and the sea.
Again another great spot to celebrate the end of the ride with the last beer!