Cycling Portugal, General, Reports

Why Cycle In Portugal?

I could go on for ages about why I think Portugal is a wonderful place to visit but today I’m going to let someone else take over.

Bill Waters from Flagstaff, Arizona, spent 14 days in Portugal last month. Riding Bike Fridays (folding bikes), Bill and his friend Jim covered 346 kilometres (215 miles) as they cycled from Coimbra to Porto – via my old home of Viseu.

Bill with the Bike Fridays

A detailed account of Bill’s experience is available on the Crazy Guy On A Bike website – click here to read Bill’s report and see some pictures from his trip.

But Bill also kindly shared some thoughts on the experience with Pedal Portugal readers – including a fundamental question: ‘Why – why should I select Portugal to ride this year? What is there to see and experience?

‘My biggest joy was discovering a country and people that was delightfully different than my expectations. I enjoyed very much the general lack of over-packing the popular tourist sights (at least during the time of year I was there), the challenging country roads that took me through calm, varied communities with drivers that were very respectful of cyclists.

‘People were very helpful and friendly which is almost always the determinant of a good or bad tour.  Lack of even the basics of Portuguese language skills was never a problem.’

Jim isn't surprised by the gradient but by seeing a warning sign!
Jim isn’t surprised by the gradient but by seeing a warning sign!

Bill felt that Portugal isn’t widely known – much less understood – even by other Europeans. He commented: ‘I really did not know what to expect of the people and land of Portugal. I was delighted and charmed.

The land is rich with variety of terrain, vegetation, weather. There is adequate infrastructure for bicyclists… There are few shoulders but that is offset by overwhelmingly respectful drivers. There is a lack of road and street signs compared to the rest of Europe but it is somewhat offset by friendly people who will gladly help provide directions.

‘There is scenic beauty without possessing the great mountains of the Alps or Pyrenees.’

Bill discovered the hard way that Portugal isn't flat and going cross-country involves many ridge-river-ridge-river rides.
Bill discovered the hard way that Portugal isn’t flat and going cross-country involves many ridge-river-ridge-river rides.

He adds: ‘I enjoyed the rural mountains and hills, valleys and agricultural lands most of all. The towns and cities are often delightfully quaint, but it’s the back roads and interesting terrain that makes it for me.’

On a more practical point, Bill’s experience was that accommodation was generally clean and tidy but finding it – and other resources – could be tricky. ‘There are not many hotels/hostels except in major cities so plan ahead and often make some advance reservations.’

Lack of road signs – in both rural and urban areas – and decent maps was also an issue. ‘What I wished for improvement was detailed road maps – 1:200,000 – with the details of smaller back roads (Garmin GPS saved the day often and I should think a suggestion on your blog to needing GPS mapping would be essential).

‘I also found it difficult to obtain information on using public or private transportation to get from either Lisbon or Porto to the attractive regions along the central border with Spain where national parks and historical towns and fortresses abound.  Trains do not appear to run to these areas and information on buses were not easily discovered.’

But despite the dearth of practical information, Bill says he’s keen to come back for more cycling, particularly from Lisbon south and across to Cadiz in Spain.

It would be good to make Bill’s report the first of many. If any other riders would like to add to the information available and share their experiences, please get in touch!

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