From Lecce, Bologna, and even Madrid and Marseille as a journalist in radio and local newspapers, then South America. Carlo Cascione creator and founder, along with Francesco Zabini, of Salento Bici Tour,to turn thirty, deciding to divide again, indeed to return: in Salento, the land of its origin.
“I was a journalist, I liked, but I wanted a job that would make me stand out more in the open air, in contact with nature, away from offices and desks, “was born from this desire, first of all, Salento Bike Tour.
Association of social promotion founded in 2011, thanks to ban “Active” of Puglia region, after five years has “diversified” its activities by creating a tour operator, specializing in cycling, which employs five people. A short are planned to open a cafe-cycling and upgrading of a railway station.
A business ‘sustainable become reality’. But dreams to come true sometimes require a great effort; and is the same Charles to tell the difficulties to succeed, especially in the tourism market.
In recent years the Apulia was the Queen of the South, as far as the tourism sector. Arrivals on the rise, especially from abroad, and a “territorial brand” more and more known. This, as confirmed by Carlo favored, the success of the project.
“Initially, I thought that the project would be easy to realize, I had imagined all that part of work rather then was vital: the production, the study, promotion, administrative work. Perhaps if someone had told me it would be so difficult I would not have started. But do not regret it,now”.
“Do you still have some time for yourself or sufficient time for outdoor activities?”
Not so much, just go out cycling, commitments are many. When it happens, however, people that I guide, are very happy. I do it with passion and love, when I tell stories of my country. The free time is little, of course. I hope it is a temporary situation and that in time I can cut out some extra space for me.
Let’s start from the beginning …
Salento Bike Tour began as Social Promotion Association that promotes a sustainable lifestyle: the bike is an example to us, or rather a paradigm, one of the keys that will open up the door to a fairer future, more aware of the limit. Of course, immediately we thought that cycling could make sustainable economically our organization. However, we soon realized that the area was not ready to accept this type of activity. And partly it is not yet. We have thus taken a number of initiatives to raise awareness to create an hospitable territory for a new form of tourism.
Which were the obstacles and the practical steps you have taken?
The first obstacle is the fact of living in a territory where the cultural predominance of the car is absolute: so in the villages, to figure out who you are talking about, there is an association between the name of the person with the model and color of his car. The use of the bike, except for sports, is considered a bit lame. And, all over the years, all the urban and suburban plan of mobility has revolved around the car: so we have no bike lanes, routes, zones 30, and so on. Nothing! Cycling is something marginal whose daily use is relegated to the elderly, children and migrants. But we know that in the rest of the world, in New York, London, Madrid, Copenhagen, Singapore, it is not. So we try to make people understand that doing 10/20 km cycling is something for everyone, nice and smart, because it is good to those who do it and for the environment. We do this by organizing small excursions, during which among other things you will discover the hidden beauties of the territory, often unknown even to locals.
The other obstacle is the garbage in the countryside. So from time to time we organize “bike rides”: walking on two wheels that combine the use of bicycles symbolic reclamation of some land, through the collection of waste, and organizing workshops to reuse and recycling.
You have created a reality that after five years he is standing alone. It produces jobs, income and prosperity to the area. Which isthe main force of Salento Bike Tour?
We promote a form of tourism that generates an healthy economy, attentive to the welfare of local people.
Working in a land where beach tourism, concentrated in July and August, is the master, so the first point is to develop tours that take place from March to June and then resume in September and October. Therefore work on what they call with a bad word “de-seasonal”.
The other point is that 95% of our guests come from abroad: Sweden, Belgium, the United States, Brazil, and others. We contend the tourists with other local operators, but we bring in Salento people who otherwise would not be here and we go to the “take” them in their countries of origin. They are very attentive to the territory, the environment, interested in art and culture.
But I think our real strength, although it involves a lot of effort, is to try to unite to the “commercial” component “social “. In general we consider the most important profits, because it makes our work sustainable over time, but it is not the ultimate goal. We could turn to an audience of some kind: to offer services and refined luxury, so ensuring we take a safe and higher. But through the cycle tourism we want to know this land a bit ‘at all.
The ultimate goal is to make this place more livable for everyone, tourists and locals, and is an example for others. But there is still much to do to get this!
What has motivated you and what may persuade others to undertake the same mission?
The first three years were very difficult, but they were very helpful sharing effort with Ciccio and Giulia , my two partners, and the support of their families. And then also the attention, curiosity and needs of a territory which is struggling to find its way to the future. Finally knowledge of being part of a movement of people who are committed to trying to make our territory, and therefore our world a better place. As the project has been really challenging, still I believe that everyone can take such an initiative: just have to want and be very specific.
You have created a model of sustainability, in a context not too easy, why not abroad?
Such a thing would not be possible for us, elsewhere. We could not tell and show no other place like that in which we were born and lived up to 18 years. We could have done other work elsewhere, yes, but not this. Being a local operator adds value to our tour, and people notice it. And that’s what they want.
Which kind of trips do you offer?
Tours last mostly a week: offer accommodation, bike rental, luggage transport, tastings and dinners. Then people can choose to take a tour with a guide or on their own (with a GPS and supplied by us). During the journey, there are traces of Salento’s history, but also address various topics: political, environment, agriculture,all archaeological remains, nature trails and small villages. An important part of the journey is the encounter between people, the mixture of tourists and locals, the knowledge of such virtuous realities of the territory, those who practice organic farming or the recovery of traditional arts. In general, we try to offer an authentic experience, not a postcard, asking the visitor to look to the territory with a critical mind, even inviting him to reflect on the negative aspects, such as the presence of trash. We live in a sort of open-air museum of rural culture, we believe that knowledge of our history, and even some small parts of our present, can help everyone find smarter solutions to the environmental crisis we are experiencing.
To the question about future projects , convinced that perhaps the actual amount of work, would not leave room for further commitments, Carlo continues to impress.
“Not long ago, we won a call for the sustainable mobility management of a group of municipalities, part of whose funds can expect to be used for a Cycling-Cafe opening; an hangout for bikers and hikers, whose products will come only from the local supply chain. The attempt is to give value to local farms: the country farm has accompanied our civilization for a very long time, and in the South the land is still alive, and we intend to give it the importance it deserves. To create the furnishings of the cycling-cafe we used almost exclusively recycled material, with the help of friends “laboratory Sap”. We organized workshops for children on sustainable mobility, in cooperation with the association “fertile city”, and an unusual treasure hunt by bicycle. But the beauty is that ours is only a small part of a larger project where 15 small municipalities have come together to enhance their environmental and cultural heritage (parks, museums, historic buildings, rock churches) is an exciting project although the difficulties are many, because when there are means public bodies is all the more cumbersome and slow. However we have achieved a lot, thanks to the collaboration with other associations and companies who believe in the project, and some of the municipalities that attempt to compensate for their own shortcomings.
Salento Bike Tour has among its projects that of “cultural exchange”.
Through the call “mind-local” of Puglia region we took a concession for a railway station south east in Matino, a small town in the hinterland. Now we are restructuring and in a few months will provide housing to young people from all over the world, through the European Voluntary Service and the platform “workaway”. These boys and girls are involved in programs for cooperation and exchange with the local population if an American girl arrives, as well as giving a hand to us, will impart English lessons for young people of the neighboring country, or the graphics or the theater. We open our land to the meeting, we are sure to be a winning strategy for everyone.
Designate the bike as a means fair sustainable and environmentally,in a project strictly territorial. Enhancing and promoting sustainable tourism, able to involve local communities, promoting new and environmentally conscious visitors to the area.
A project related to the history and culture of a region, which is transformed into a cultural exchange and tries to innovate finding new forms is sustainability and territorial development.
For these aspects Salento Bike Tour enters the Community Eco Direction.