Story by Hayley Masters and Freda Spencer
MADRID–Rashed Harun, 29, and his wife are among the 12 bikers in a group who spent their Tuesday afternoon on the “Madrid tapas and bikes” tour. For about $25 each, they got the necessary equipment to go on a three-hour tour of Madrid, stopping at landmarks and for tapas and drinks along the way.
The couple likes to run and makes a point to include physical activity into their travels. So when they went online and came across Trixi Bike Tours and Rentals, located in Puerta de Sol, it was an obvious choice for them when planning their short trip to the capital city.
“We got to see everything… We would have had no idea where we were going, but on the tour we hit all the major landmarks and got to see the city in a completely different way,” said Harun at a water break outside the famed and expansive Retiro Park.
Their choice to exercise while touring is becoming an increasingly popular one.
“Fifteen years ago, offering bike tours in Madrid was considered crazy,” says Kaspar Winteler, the director of Bravo Bike, another business offering exercise excursions throughout Spain. “But today there are at least eight or nine different companies offering them and there will be more in the future… This kind of vacation is getting more and more popular, especially for families with kids.”
Winteler’s experience with the biking tour industry over the years reflects the growth of fitness-related and active tourism in Madrid. The broad spectrum of options for tourists allows them to not only experience the cultural and historical sights of Spain’s capital, but to maintain their active lifestyle while abroad in the form of running, biking, kayaking and skating tours.
Bravo Bikes was the first of its kind to offer cycle tours in Madrid, with options ranging from three-and-a-half hour city tours to week-long excursions during which bikers ride up to 40 miles a day. Companies across Madrid have begun to offer similar options, giving tourists active alternatives for experiencing the city other than conventional bus or walking tours.
Bernardo Caballero, advisor to the director general of Tourspain, a governmental agency within Spain’s Ministry of Industry, Energy and Tourism, recognizes the increase of programs offered to fitness-oriented tourists.
Caballero explained that Spain has experienced an upswing in the number of tourists visiting over the past several years. In 2014, nearly 65 million visited Spain and even more are expected in 2015. At the same time, there has been tremendous growth in the active tourism market around the city and rest of the country.
“There has been a positive trend over the last six to seven years of continued growth in the number of tourists that come to Spain,” he said, adding, “I think there’s a rise in active tourism and in people interested in being healthy through sport.”
While active tourism happens across the globe, Caballero spoke about the ideal year-round conditions that allow for this type of tourism to thrive in Madrid.
Tourspain identifies the summer months as the biggest market for tourism, and Caballero noted that many travelers seek out the beach during this time. However in Madrid and other landlocked cities, these options fill the gap that the lack of water leaves for people who want to be outside.
“We want to show the people that Spain is more than just sun and beach… we have more attractions and resources. There’s wonderful heritage, mountains and nature, so people can come and enjoy Spain during times other than summer.”
John Giradin, founder and director of Madrid Running Tours, points to the summer as his busiest season as well. However, his demand for tours remains busy in the fall and winter months due in part to businessmen and women who want to stay active while travelling.
“I started this business [in 2009] because traveling businesswomen didn’t want to run or train alone,” Giradin explains. Prices for these tours vary depending on the number of people in each group. A single runner will usually pay about $67, while a group of three to five runners will be charged around $100 for everyone together.
Runners can also choose from a variety of neighborhoods within Madrid to experience. While many opt for the “Classic Madrid” which goes through Retiro Park and stops at a few landmarks including the Royal Palace, runners hoping to see other parts of the city can opt for the “Cosmopolitan” tour through the small streets of up and coming neighborhoods, or Casa de Campo, Madrid’s largest park that is a favorite spot for local runners.
Winteler similarly acknowledged the large travelling business population that helps drive his demand for tours.
“We often do early business tours. These tours start at 7 a.m.; they want to start in the early morning and get some exercise in but want to be back around 8 or 9. They have their meetings,” he said, adding with a smile, “and Madrid at that time is fantastic.”
Giradin explained that “each tour is different and specific, based on the runners that we have. We get two types,” he said: “The first are runners who want to see the landmarks, stop for pictures and are looking to see and learn about the city. The second are people who are continuing their marathon or fitness training.”
Monet Richardson, 25, of Brooklyn, is among the runners who flock to the park to take advantage of its trails and iconic gardens. “I try to incorporate fitness whenever I travel. If anything, traveling inspires me to work out and Madrid has so many options for that… I just arrived last night, but I would definitely try a running tour. I enjoy working out so I would rather see the city doing something active at the same time.”
Many students and young people such as Richardson are also becoming increasingly aware of active ways to experience the city.
Bri Valencia works for MadridEasy, a company that provides housing and assistance to young travelers who come to Madrid to study or work. The company also organizes weekly and monthly activities for the students, who Valencia says have begun to embrace more active and fitness-oriented ways to connect. She points to weekly running clubs, yoga classes, flamenco dancing classes and hikes as some of the regular favorites.
“At the beginning the students only thought about sun and drinking, and now that’s changed… they feel like, ‘OK, we are in Spain so we can’t only be in the sun and drink.’ They do sports and go dancing and take advantage of activities like that,” she said.
Amy Flippant, content manager for JustLanded, an organization that uses community forums to connect people in 67 different countries, recognizes the way that the area, through its natural resources and planned events, lends itself to an active lifestyle.
“Madrid has a little bit of everything. It’s a very green city. With all of the events going on and the promotion around the city for being active, I think the city will continue differentiating itself from other places.”
Among the events she speaks of are annual marathons, consisting of both running and inline rollerskating. June 14 marked the second annual el Maratón de Patinaje for which more than 1,000 people skated in a closed-circuit race through the streets of Madrid. It is part of the Mapoma Madrid sports association’s American race series that also includes the Rock n’ Roll Madrid Marathon.
In last year’s Rock n’ Roll Madrid Marathon, nearly one-third of participants traveled to Spain from other countries to compete.
Cesar Garrido, 35, participated in the roller marathon accompanied by the athletes he trains as director at Talavera Patina, an inline skating club in the province of Toledo. Garrido has seen growth within the sport throughout the past few years and also among the number of tourists who are interested in inline skating.
“We get tourists who come from abroad to train and skate with us,” he said, explaining that a number of them seek out his club while on vacation in order to practice and stay in shape.
Also offered by Talavera Patina are inline skating tours of various sites within the area, providing tourists with yet another way to be active while experiencing the various landmarks in Spain.
Back in his office, as Winteler prepared the bikes for the day ahead, he explained proudly that the tours not only offer visitors a way to get in shape and see the city, but offer a personal experience that often does not happen on conventional tours. He enthused that by being outside and part of a group, participants gain a much deeper understanding of the city that they are eager to explore.
“On a bike tour, we stop, we have a coffee and there is much more communication between people, who come from all over the world,” he said. “Many people who have started to explore the city this way tell me they have seen much more.”