Sunshine, spectacular scenery, roadside flowers and birdsong… the south of Portugal has to be one of the best places in Europe for cycling in the winter.
Our first visit to the country was in January 2005 as part of a year-long tandem tour around the coasts of France, Spain and Portugal. We crossed into the Algarve from Spain and spent around a month exploring before crossing the northern border and continuing on into Galicia.
That first Portuguese cycle trip was a revelation and we’ve been back many, many times since – including living out here for three years teaching English.
Three years ago we launched our Pedal Portugal guided tours – giving us the perfect excuse to come and spend months every year exploring and riding all over the country.
The first two guided tours we ever led were in the Algarve and this month we flew out to come ride the route and ahead of our first trip of 2019.
We’ve changed the route a bit from those first two tours – so we thought we’d come and ride it in advance of the group. Partly to remind ourselves of all the twists and turns, and to check things like restaurant and hotel bookings. But also because our legs weren’t in shape and we didn’t want to seem too out of shape when we met our new riders!
There can’t have been anything too wrong with the original route as a number of the riders came back for subsequent tours elsewhere in Portugal but this time we decided to start from Tavira rather than Lagos, incorporating a bit more of the countryside back from the beach resorts that are all most tourists see.
After sorting out our bikes from Cycling Rentals, our first day took us down to the coast and Fuseta and then north, climbing inland to São Brás de Alportel and then round towards Loulé.
As it was just the two of us, we didn’t have a support van and were carrying all our gear (probably much more than we needed) in panniers. That and our out-of-shape legs meant we did crawl up a few inclines but the views and the fantastic weather definitely helped make up for the hills.
Luckily the weather continued to be kind – mostly sunny and temperatures in the high teens (Celsius!), so perfect for cycling. We had a bit of a headwind on occasion but nothing too severe.
From Loulé we wriggled our way along back roads through a number of quiet villages and orange groves to Messines and then up into the hills around Monchique.
The area suffered from some devastating forest fires last August and the burnt-out areas are vast. However, even in the most blackened areas, we could see life returning. Charred cork trees protected by their unique bark were sending out new shoots and many of the eucalypus trees were also regrowing. And in other places spring bulbs were carpeting the hillsides.
The run down towards Odemira (crossing into the Alentejo) was spectacular. The road surface wasn’t perfect but the views were stunning and we didn’t meet hardly any traffic. From Odemira we took the long way round to get to the coast – going almost all the way to Porto Covo before turning south to get to Vila Nova de Milfontes.
For our tours we love to find quiet roads that take our riders off the beaten track and this inland section was perfect – see the video clip below:
From Milfontes, we made our way down the coast via Odeceixe to Sagres and Cabo São Vicente – the south-west tip of mainland Europe.
The wind proved a bit of a beast out at Sagres and the last bit of our ride to Luz – zigzagging in and out of some gorgeous little beaches – was probably as tough as some of the hillier sections near the start of our ride.
But at least our legs will be in much better shape when we start riding with the group on Monday. Hopefully they’ll also get to enjoy weather as good as we’ve had over the past 10 days. And if all works well, we may run the same tour again in December – watch this space!
For more information about our tours, you can read what previous riders thought on our reviews page or see guided tours for an overview on the different trips we run. There are also more pictures below from the ride we’ve just completed.