Alex Crevar is a travel journalist, editor and a responsible tourism consultant. He moved from America to the Balkans in the ‘90s and he’s mostly been living there ever since. Cycling has an important place in his travels, writings and a lifestyle. No wonder we met Alex in Ljubljana at the Velo-city 2022 , a conference dedicated to cycling! He kindly allowed us to take a peek at his beginnings, cycling preferences, professional insights and more!
After reading this interview, head over to The New York Times, National Geographic, Lonely Planet (and other publications) for more content from Alex! Or once maybe you’ll join his Travel Narrative Design Workshop.
When did you come to the Balkan region and what made you stay?
I came in 1998 to Sarajevo. I wasn’t a travel journalist then, just a freelance journalist. And I was there just to cover the recovery. I was interested in the region even before and I had an opportunity to come and live in Sarajevo. I was there for a little bit and moved back to the United States. After working for papers and magazines I decided to come back actually as a travel writer. So I moved to Zagreb to be a freelance travel journalist.
At that time things were still all print. There was nothing online. I owe a lot of what it is that I do to Croatia because those were the first real stories. Croatia was in that period where it just kinda restarted from the tourism perspective and started to be on the international market. Over the years I moved between Croatia, I lived in Bosnia again, and moved back to the States. I lived in Pristina, Skopje,… The region means a lot to me.
Were you already a passionate cyclist back then or is that something more recent?
I’ve always liked cycling. I used to train as a triathlete when I was younger. But I probably lost cycling in a way for about 15 years. Mainly because I was busy covering other kinds of stories, other city profiles. And also because at that time I was a big hiker. You can go a lot of places, but seven days at Velebit, to me, that’s perfect.
At some point that eventually gravitated into getting back into cycling. I’ve had a conflict within myself for probably 15 years about the kinds of stories that I cover. I don’t want to cover stories about the places that are already having issues with overtourism.
I wanted to make sure that the things I covered were things that people had to make an effort to do. And it’s hard to be a mass tourist as a cyclist. The cycling part is the easy part. It’s always the coordination of getting your bike somewhere, going somewhere, getting your bike back. It’s not a simple thing.
I like cycling. It was an honest way to cover stories. It was an honest way to put this word sustainability to use without just saying it over and over. And it was also a cool way to connect smaller places that don’t naturally get press.
Have you seen any changes recently on how destinations talk about cycling tourism and how they approach it?
I think it depends on where it is. These days everybody wants to talk positively about cycling because it’s hot. And everybody knows, whether they believe it or not, that they need to address the sustainability issue. It is good for business and they need to make travelers feel like they do the right thing. I say that from the perspective that I have never gotten negative feelings about cyclotourism.
Everybody sees it’s hot, popular, good for sustainability, and they look good promoting it. Cyclotourists spend significantly more money when they go to destinations. There’s a big difference between 50 euros and 140 euros. You can be sure when cyclists get somewhere, they’re hungry and they’re going to celebrate that day, they’re going to drink wine… So that’s kind of a golden bullseye.
What are your favourite, maybe unseen destinations?
I see Osijek, in Slavonia, as Croatia’s cycling capital. It would be a natural place because the city is big enough, it has flat terrain and potential for cycling infrastructure. I think people should be more aware of Slavonia and that’s important to me. That it’s not just the same stuff over and over.
Slovenia has a ton of great places to cycle. One great thing about Croatia and Slovenia is if you are not ready to cycle here you need to get your shit together because it’s not easy. Slavonia is a little bit easier, but if you’re cycling the coast here, it’s not an easy day.
I’ve also done a lot of cycling in Bosnia and in Montenegro. Cycling through Sarajevo to Mostar, to Sutjeska and then over into Durmitor… Incredible!
There’s too many to mention, but in Croatia, the interior of Istria to me is primo! Slavonia is almost like the Eurovelo central hub of Croatia because several routes come within a couple of hundred kilometers and I think people who actually care about cycling in this region have to go to Slavonia!
What are your impressions of the Velo-city conference so far?
This is the first time I’ve been to Velo-city because over the years stories that I cover gravitated more and more towards cycling. It’s cool to be in a building with thousand people who all, in some way or another, have made a bicycle their life. It’s also nice to see some of the different micro issues people are thinking about. For instance, there’s a really good session where folks from Banja Luka came to talk about the Sava Cycling Route. Sending it from Kranjska Gora to Belgrade, going through Zagreb,… And to me, this is fantastic.
The idea that we can all be here talking about these things, and learning, is very cool for me.