Pedal Portugal began life in 2012 giving out general advice on cycling in Portugal for both casual visitors and serious cycle tourists.
One of the pages I put together for the website was series of links to companies running guided cycle tours. Trouble was, I had a look at a few of their sites and soon started thinking: ‘I can do that’! (Like you do.)
After a bit of prevaricating we finally made the leap at the end of 2015 – helped by the fact we’d gone on cycle tour of Eastern Europe to celebrate my 50th birthday only to come home and find that the language school where my wife, Carolyn, had been working had gone bust. With little to lose – except our hair – we started advertising our first tours.
At the time we didn’t really know what it would be like – or even if we’d enjoy the experience. But it seemed like a good idea.
My basic approach when thinking about how to design and run a tour was ‘what would I want?’ My brother also gave me one very good piece of advice which I’ve tried to stick to: under promise and over deliver. We were both really nervous before our first tour, which started at the end of January 2016.
We were fully booked for our ‘guinea pig’ tour – mainly with Brits, which may have been something to do with the fact that we were running it on a not-for-profit basis and my fellow countrymen always appreciate a bargain!
That inaugural trip also involved a few testing circumstances – mechanical breakdowns (bikes brought out by riders), one person with food poisoning (contracted before he joined us) and a guest house with brand new plumbing where the water started literally coming out of the walls! Luckily, our riders were all very realistic/philosophical – I heard German cyclist Joerg, who was in one of the flooded rooms, cheerfully telling his wife: ‘We’re on a cycling and snorkelling trip!”
And despite those minor teething troubles, the trip was a success. We enjoyed it and so did the riders. The next one (a repeat of the same route) worked just as well – and four of the Canadians on that tour even booked up to come with us again on our Border Castles trip in 2017.
Since those first two trips, we’ve added other new routes – the tougher Eastern Frontier and, new for 2018, our Southern Explorer. In our first year, we had 41 riders on a total of five tours. In 2017 we only ran four tours but had 38 riders.
I’ve also revised that original route – our Algarve Coast & Country tour now covers a bit more ground and involves 10 days of cycling rather than nine.
And it looks like 2018 will be even busier. We’ve already got five tours confirmed and fully booked with 52 riders, while a sixth tour in the autumn is looking extremely likely. We’ve also had eight repeat customers so far and another six coming so far this year. Reckon we must be doing something right. (Or they just like the Portuguese wine.)
In the past I rarely planned my own holidays more than a few months in advance but I’ve just posted the dates for our 2019 guided tours schedule.
Seems a bit far off – I’m still trying to make sure I’ve got everything sorted for this year’s trips – but I had to get it done. We fly back out to Portugal tomorrow ready to recce our new Southern Explorer route – make sure all the roads are still in the same place as last time I went that way, book restaurants etc.
I am looking forward to it. But I’m going to have to pack my waterproofs. It’s been beautiful in Portugal this week with wall-to-wall sunshine every day. However, the forecast is for it to get showery over the weekend and then start raining heavily for several days – just as me and Carolyn are due to set off on our bikes. (No support van for us this time.)
Still, we can’t really complain. We’ve hardly even got damp on any of our previous tours and it’s only February. Hopefully all that rain means the wildflowers will be looking lovely for when our first group of the year arrives a couple of weeks later.