Cycling Portugal, General

Would This Happen At Home?

March 16 Tavira 05
It’s not all about the coffee and cakes!

There are so many reasons I love Portugal – the range of landscapes, the sunshine, the quiet roads, the history, the (cheap) wine, all those castles, the food etc. etc.

But one of the most important ingredients is the people. 

When I first visited the country I thought many of the Portuguese seemed a bit dour. But I soon learnt not to take those severe expressions at face value. Most people have a great sense of humour and, particularly if you take the trouble to learn a few words of their language, are generally very happy to help a stranger.

I’d heard before about people staying for free with the Bombeiros – who are firefighters and first-response paramedics with stations in even the smallest towns.

Although I’ve not tried it myself, I know the bombeiros regularly put up people travelling the many pilgrim routes and I’ve heard of cyclists who have used them for overnight accommodation in all sorts of places. The facilities can be basic – but a toilet, wash basin and a floor to sleep on are still often a big improvement on the roadside!

On Pedal Portugal’s recent Algarve guided tour, our group was staying at a guesthouse several km out of Monchique. We’d already done a huge climb that day and getting to the guesthouse involved several more nasty hills (including a last section that must be a 1:3 gradient). We were also having a day off cycling and then coming back through Monchique so it made sense to leave the bikes in town for a couple of nights and just hop in the support vehicle to get up to our accommodation.

I found the local bombeiros commander chatting to some of his team outside the station. Lieutenant Rui seemed a bit surprised when I asked if I could leave nine bicycles in his care for two nights. But after a bit of thought he just shrugged and said ‘sure’.

March 16 bombeirosWhen we collected our bikes a couple of mornings later I gave our new friends a crate of beer (it’s worth keeping them happy in case we want a favour again one day). I couldn’t help wondering, though, whether firefighters in other countries would be equally laid-back and helpful?

Going to a bike shop in Portugal can also be a pleasant surprise. Carolyn and I were in Chaves up in the north about 18 months ago and I needed new pads fitted to a disc brake. We found an excellent local shop called Run & Bike. The mechanic spent about 30 mins fitting the pads for me and straightening the disc – then was only going to charge me the price of the pads.

I had a similar experience earlier this month at Litoral Byke near Odemira when we needed a new tyre for one of the bikes. After selecting the tyre it was carefully fitted and the wheel put back in the bike for me. Again no extra charge other than the €11 for the tyre.

That certainly wouldn’t happen at any of the bike shops around where I live in Bournemouth!

March 16 Mertola
Looking across the Guadiana at Mertola

While camping in Portugal, there was one attendant who let us have our van on the site for free because we were the last visitors of the season while at another site we got a free bottle of wine and €5 off the price because…er…just because.

Sometimes it’s the little moments that amuse me in Portugal. We were in Mértola in early February – doing a bit of research for another of our guided tours. As it was a lovely sunny day and hot to us, Carolyn was wearing a blouse, skirt and sandals. A passing old lady looked at her and began laughing. “Não e verão, não e verão!”, she kept saying with a big smile.

It took me a couple of moments then I worked out she was saying: ‘it’s not summer!’

I love incidents like the ones above. The wine’s great and there are so many quiet, incredibly scenic roads to explore but it’s also the people who keep bringing me back to Portugal.

6 thoughts on “Would This Happen At Home?”

  1. Hi Huw, I totally agree with your comment. I cycled the Alentejo route couple of years ago and had many similar experiences. As I cycled in early March, there were hardly any tourists. In one of the B and B I stayed overnight, I was the only guest and there were no restaurants nearby. They realised my situations and agreed to share their family meal with at night. The way they treated me, I felt like I have visited my relative.

    I am seriously thinking of setting up second home in Portugal so that I cycle during winter months as well. I suppose that is usually possible in Algarve region only?

    1. Hi Raj. That’s my dream too. You can cycle in the Alentejo in the winter but the weather is a bit cooler and more unpredictable.
      Having said that, the first time my wife and I visited Portugal, we cycled south to north in February. Got wet twice in about four weeks. Most of the time the weather was beautiful, even in the north.

  2. We had a great experience last year when riding from Faro to Porto. My bike had started to make a clicking noise and I took it to a bike shop in Evora for diagnosis. The man in the shop spoke no English but with some sign language and a bit of help from one of the customers he understood the problem and took my bike out for a ride.

    A couple of minutes later he returned, put my bike in a workstand and refitted the pedals having applied some grease to the threads. Problem solved, I wanted to give him some money for his time but he was very persistent in refusing.

    Had this happened in the UK I’d have needed to book my bike into the workshop a month in advance.

    This was when both he and I learned that European bikes have their brake layout opposite to the UK and on his quick test ride he’d nearly gone over the handlebars!

    1. Great story – yes that thing with the brakes has confused me before!
      Can you remember the name/location of the bike shop. I’m going to be starting our next guided tour from Evora in April and it’s always good to know where to find a helpful mechanic.

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