By way of interest only as this is nothing to do with training for the big swim I’m posting this interview with me for the Eurovelo 8 magazine which will be coming out later in the year. The Eurovelo 8 when finished will be Europe’s longest dedicated cycle path running from the city of Cádiz to Athens. The path runs right through the Las Breñas forest, an amazing privilege and benefit to tourism in the area.
‘James Stuart is the founder of the Califa Group with hotels and restaurants on and near the Eurovelo 8 route. He established the first dedicated cycle touring business in Andalucía in 1993 (Discover Andalucia) and has led thousands of clients through all of Andalucías provinces both on and off road. James was responsible for establishing the popular Granda to Seville and Lisbon to Seville road rides.’
-How can a tourism business adapt to the reality of an imminent tourism resource like Eurovelo8?
It is fundamental to know your market. If a hotel or restaurant owner wants to attract cycle tourists then they need first to get on a bike and maybe ride on one the already established Eurovelo routes. The success of the Eurovelo in La Janda will depend on the routes being well maintained, signposted and adequate shade (trees) being planted. Restaurants need to have menus adapted to active cyclists and have a tool bench available. Offering free water bottle filling will help make the route ‘bike friendly’. Hotels must be aware that bikes take up lots of space and cannot be piled on top of each other so servicing facilities and secure bike storage must be well planned. Cyclists especially on hot days will leave early so breakfasts need to be served early and dinner maybe served earlier than the usual late times we have here in the south. Hotels should also be happy to organise transport for luggage using taxis or their own vehicles. This will make a destination hotel really attractive especially to families and older visitors. Bike shops should start to offer e-bikes for older cyclists and to offer a delivery and collection service for the bikes when the route gets longer.
-How has your relationship with the bicycle been since your arrival in Vejer de la Frontera?
I’d like to say I arrived by bicycle but actually it was a surfboard that brought me to Vejer. However when I moved here my mountain bike was in the back of my Beetle, with the surfboards on top. The local kids were amazed to see a bicycle that could go off road, mountain biking was a novelty in Andalucia back then. Very quickly I saw the potential for a bike based business and Discover Andalucía was born. I rode hundreds of kilometres of trails around La Janda and further afield towards Alcalá de los Gazules where the immensity of the Alcornocales Nature Reserve was an untapped resource for both road cycling and mountain biking. Happily the trails to the Vejer beaches off road via San Ambrosio have been conserved and my love for mountain biking hasn’t diminished. These days I use a ‘Fat Bike’ which takes me through the dunes of the Las Breñas Nature Reserve towards Cape Trafalgar where a sunset from a saddle is one of life’s great pleasures.
-Tell us a little bit about how you think the construction of the Eurovelo8 bicycle lane will influence the Janda region.
In the short term for families the Eurovelo is fantastic as it means safe travelling by bike for kids, parents and senior citizens between all the best beaches of La Janda. This will greatly help promote tourism out of the high season and allow hotels, restaurants and campsites extend their season into the winter. Two years ago I rode the Austrian section of the Eurovelo 6 with my children (then 10 and 13) and we were very happy to see many families along the 500km. of the route with hotels and restaurants full of cyclists. I later discovered that over 642,000 cyclists used this route in 2018. The demand for bike rental companies, luggage transport agencies, bike shops, accommodation, food services and guides will increase massively over the next decade. Maintaining quality of services will be essential to keep cycle tourists in the area for longer. An added advantage is that with so many new visitors to the area a good proportion will come back time and again with or without their bicycles.
-What routes do you recommend to the visiting cyclists to know in a deeper way the natural environment of La Janda?
The advantage of this area is that there are many mixed trails for bikes coming off the Eurovelo path. Riding to the magnificent walled town of Vejer is a must, we hope there will be a new dedicated cycle path to Vejer but the existing trail from Mangueta via San Ambrosio is pristine countryside with great views to Africa in the highest part. From Vejer one of my favourite rides on quiet roads is Libreros, Nájara, Benalup and on to Alcalá de los Gazules via the lakes of Celemin and Barbate. Here you will find classic Andaluz ‘campo’ with fighting bulls, forests of cork oaks, fields of sunflowers and overhead Vultures and Storks in their dozens. As an alternative swap your bike one day for a Fat Bike and explore the depths of the Las Breñas forest, dunes and cliff paths, a unique experience.