Algarve, Cycling Portugal, Reports

Intoxicating Algarve Hills!

The blog’s been quiet for a while because I’ve been off cycling in France (always worth checking out the alternatives but my heart’s still in Portugal).

Don't get confused - this is California, Portugal!
Don’t get confused – this is California, Portugal!

Anyway, for an account of the pleasure of cycling in the hills of the Algarve, I’m going to hand over to fellow rider Ian Mitchell. Earlier this year, Ian stayed with Andrew Smallwood, who took him on a memorable day out. Here’s Ian’s report:

Former RAF Sergeant Andrew conducts roll call at a generous 8am for holidaymakers. Plenty of time to digest the morning porridge and banana. Route confirmed, tires pumped to 100 plus PSI, sunscreen applied, bidon filled, helmets, gloves and goggles secured… cleated in we rolled down the shady lane to the start line on the N125.

Andrew leads, easing us along the N125, riding the gauntlet between stone strewn hard shoulder and the rushing traffic of the Algarve’s east-west artery. We turn north shortly enough, leaving behind the noise and into the relative tranquillity of the foothills. Bikes pointing upwards we begin our steady and rhythmic ascent, Andrew checking on our well being the way a hen would check her brood.

Heavy traffic in the Algarve Hills
Heavy traffic in the Algarve hills

Stylish whitewashed villas punctuate the ochre and green tinged scenery. The gentle creaking of the bike, the birdsong and the ever more defined breathing is rudely interrupted by periodic bursts of noise from the local dogs – sometimes shrill, rarely threatening. Most of the beasts were tied up or secured and go through the motions with cyclists.

The scent is intoxicating – oranges in season, grove after grove interspersed by lemon and nespera. As we crest the first series of hills a magnificent vista opens up – more akin to an impressionist painting than the reality of a Thursday morning. Andrew sweeps us confidently through the back lands and by-ways demonstrating an impressive knowledge of flora, fauna and local culture.

The cars and trucks pass sporadically, the odd ‘white van man’ maintaining the global honour of this genre – too close and too fast. The pace is steady and assured, this is no ‘fun run’ – frivolity is for the beachfront at Albufeira.

Internal combustion engine! How does that work?
An internal combustion engine! How does that work?

More ups and downs – more ups than down – we roll into our first coffee stop in a village that seems to have had a collective lie-in so laid back is the ambience. The lycra and the sleek designer bikes seem woefully out of context as we clop our way across to the village bar for our morning galão.

Looking every part the foreigner, Andrew serves to confuse with his fluent and confident handling of the Portuguese language. The locals briefly stir from the bar side indifference, the proprietor is enlivened.

A more stylish bica is ordered and Andrew pulls out his bag of figs and nuts from his rear pouch the way a Texan rancher would reach for his rifle.

Onwards and upwards – not a metaphor – the scenery keeps coming. The sun creeps higher; sunscreen re-application stops supplement the photo-shoots.

Roadside splashes of colour give way to pine and cork forest as we edge and weave our way higher into the hills. Lunch of rustic bread and cheese, lightly toasted, served with mouthwatering tomatoes. And more of the same overload of colours, birdsong and citrus scent. The legs begin to moan and groan, the undulating landscape and the heat of the day begin to take their toll.

You are never far from another unassuming bar or café with
coffee, cakes, brandy or whatever takes your fancy. The generally quiet minor roads sweep you back down towards the coast and the short hop along the N125 to the shade of the apartment. Shower, beers and map out to plot tomorrow’s ride. Ian Mitchell, April 2014.

The ride described above was one of several that Ian went on in the Algarve. For more information, on Andrew Smallwood’s Casa Londrina apartment and the rides he leads his visitors on, click here.

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