We’ve been back in Portugal for just over a month now, revisiting old haunts as well as exploring some new territory for possible cycling trips in the future.
After flying into Faro on 5th September, we spent about 10 days travelling roughly north up the eastern side of the country. Since then, Carolyn and I have been based in Viseu, staying with an old friend. But we’ve also headed off for a couple of long weekend trips.
Unfortunately we don’t have bikes with us, so our exploring has been by car and on foot – although the plus side of having a vehicle is being able to cover more ground and use the opportunity to check out a few routes for future cycling trips.
(This post is an excuse to share a few photographs from these travels!)
On our first day in Portugal, we drove part of the N2, heading up into the hills that divide the Algarve and Alentejo.
The N2 runs the length of Portugal and although I’ve only cycled bits of it, the road attracts a number of cyclists wanting an end-to-end challenge. (Stopping for coffee mid-morning, we met a Portuguese tourer who was just on the last day of his ride.)
Crossing the Alentejo, gave us the chance of pottering around some back roads that might one day provide an alternative option for part of our Border Castles trip – or feature in a different Alentejo tour.
It was a pleasure having time to explore a few small roads that I don’t think I’d ever gone along before by car or bicycle.
Continuing north into the Beira Alta region we spent one day exploring some of the beautiful river beaches around the eastern and northern end of the Serra da Estrela.
The water in the streams was a little on the cool side but absolutely crystal clear.
Turning around the northern end of the mountain range, we visited a couple of the area’s many castles – at Celorico and Linhares.
On our first trip away from Viseu, we went north of the Douro to explore the remote and wild landscapes along the border with Spain. There are few roads in these parts and not many towns.
We stayed three nights in the wonderfully-named Freixo de Espada à Cinta – which translates as something along the lines of “Ash tree of the belted sword”. There are various legends about the origin of the name and an ancient ash tree in the main square, which is said to be hundreds of years old.
While in Freixo, we went walking in the Douro International Natural Park, which protects the landscapes and wildlife on both sides of the border. The deep, almost gorge-like valley was impressive on its own but watching black vultures soaring and swooping both way below and high above was a real treat.
There was only one road through Freixo. We came in from the north and continued south, going down into the Douro to the spot at Barca d’Alva where it turns west and heads through Portugal towards its mouth at Porto.
More hairpins and another long climb took us further south to the modern town of Figueira de Castelo Rodrigo (due to be a stop on our Eastern Frontier tour) and the neighbouring medieval castle and walled village at Castelo Rodrigo.
Our next trip away was for my birthday. We’d visited Arouca before but there was a new attraction – a bridge over the Paiva river that it’s claimed is the longest single-span pedestrian suspension bridge.
The Arouca 512 bridge is 512m long and 175m high in the middle. Despite the metal grid flooring, the crossing wasn’t as terrifying as I’d expected – cross wires hold the bridge fairly steady and stop it from swaying too much. But the bridge was a work of art in itself and well worth the visit.
Hopefully, over the next six weeks we’ll get to do some more exploring. And continue planning cycle tours for next year!