Cycling Portugal, General, Reports

Bikepacking Around Portugal

Madhuri and Rob on a snowshoeing trip back home

Canadian cyclist Madhuri Pendharkar got in touch with Pedal Portugal earlier this year to pick our brains on a few ideas for a planned cycling trip.

Last Sunday, she and partner Rob Lang got home after spending just over a month bikepacking around Portugal, riding from Porto to the Algarve and back again.

Madhuri (62) is a retired elementary school principal who took up bicycle touring in later life after her children were grown – leaving her with what she says was ‘too much time on her hands’.

 

View of cliffs and waves at Peniche – and the loaded bikes

Since retiring in 2016, she has bike toured in the US (Pacific Coast, Southern Tier, Atlantic Coast), Cuba, the UK (Lands End to John O’Groats), France (Normandy, Brittany and the Loire Valley) as well as participating in supported tours in Mexico, France, Spain and Hawaii.

Rob (66) is a retired high school teacher, as well as being a former ultra runner and triathlete who enjoys competing in cyclocross, gravel and road races.  He has cycled extensively in the Kootenay region of British Columbia, on supported tours in Mexico and toured in Spain.

Since June 2021 when Madhuri and Rob teamed up, they have toured the Kootenay region in British Columbia, spent a month in Arizona riding gravel routes and completed a two-week tour of the Canadian Rockies, partially on gravel routes. 

Rob is based in Creston, BC, Canada, and Madhuri in Vancouver.  They split their time between the two places as well as spending time on the road.

Below is Madhuri’s account of their trip around Portugal:

Madhuri on the road in rural Portugal

I am a recent convert from panniers to a bikepacking set-up.  You would be amazed at the capacity of the bags on my bike, regardless of their appearance.  I have a Salsa cradle and bag on the handlebars, a full frame bag and a 20L seat bag. 

I had a full range of gear for on the bike and off the bike for all kinds of weather.  Yes, I have pared down what I take (everything is quick-dry and multi-use). 

I have also learned to pare down how much food and water I carry when re-supply is readily available.  Climbing those hills is so much easier with a stream-lined set-up, even if you take the same gear.  

Madhuri’s bike and the Douro valley

We landed in Porto late on Wednesday, September 21st, having flown in from Vancouver via London Heathrow on British Airways. 

We brought our own bicycles in EVOC travel cases with wheels and were able to take the public transit train from the airport to within a five-minute walk of the AirB&B we had rented in Porto to get set up for our trip. 

Rob was riding a Giant cyclocross bike; I rode a Giant gravel bike.  We were very lightly loaded as we were not camping.

We spent the next day exploring the downtown area of Porto and assembling our bicycles.  Finding vegetarian options in restaurants proved to be no issue as there were a few choices in most places and some dedicated vegetarian and vegan restaurants.  We did a shake-down ride around Porto on Friday and then started our tour on Saturday morning.  

Heading out of Porto on Saturday morning was fun as there were many local road riders and traffic was light.  We mainly used the N108 on a route we found on RidewithGPS which took us through the stunningly beautiful Douro Valley. 

The weather was perfect, the pavement smooth and the climbing plentiful which gave us some spectacular views.  There were a very few steep cobbled sections connecting nicely paved roads. 

On previous trips to other parts of Europe, we found no difficulty finding accommodation later in the day, but in this case, the hotels were few and far between and it seemed a long way down a steep valley.  It turned into a fairly long day when we pulled into Peso de Regua and found one of the few rooms left in a large hotel that was also hosting a road riding group that had started the famous N2 route from north to south. 

Early morning light on the walls of the fortress village of Almeida

The following day, another with some major climbing, we rode to Vila Nova de Foz Côa where we would start following the routes on Pedal Portugal. 

When I found this website, I was thrilled because all the routes are mapped on RidewithGPS and I was able to simply upload them onto my bike computer and follow them – what could be easier? 

The first route we did was called Portugal Explorer – Beiras – it led us around the Beira region from historic village to village along very lightly trafficked roads that were smoothly paved. 

Many were walled cities with castles (yes, this means climbing!) and amazing views.  The riding was exactly what we love – out in the countryside, smooth roads, hardly any traffic, great services at each village. 

A roadside stop… with convenient facilities opposite!

We noticed that every small snack bar and gas station had an espresso machine, local beer and wine, pastries, and immaculate white and clean toilet facilities.  In some cases, we found that hotels and guest houses that showed up on Google maps were no longer open and therefore started using Booking.com to book one day in advance to make sure we didn’t have to worry about finding accommodation. 

The towns suggested as stops on the Pedal Portugal site had at least one and, in most cases, several guest houses and/or hotels.  Prices were very reasonable  and almost always included a delicious and nutritious breakfast buffet with a variety of breads, cheeses, meats, eggs, fruit, juices and, in most cases, vegan options like granola, fruit and milk alternatives. 

Castle at Sabugal, on the way south to Monsanto

Coming from North America, we were pleasantly surprised to see that hotels rarely used disposable serving ware or cutlery – it was all great food served beautifully – no plastic or paper, except for the napkins.  

We particularly enjoyed the small city of Castelo Branco where we spent our first rest day, coinciding with the first day that rain was in the forecast on the trip.  In addition to the outstanding local wine available everywhere, we were also able to find a local craft brewery. 

Again, finding vegetarian food was no problem in any of the places we stayed.  Once, when there were no vegetarian options on the menu in a small village, the chef was happy to make a delicious veggie omelette.

Monsaraz – one of Madhuri’s favourite stops

We launched into the adjacent route from Pedal Portugal next – Portugal Explorer – Alentejo and also did part of the Alentejo Circuit

Wow – this is another amazing region for cycling, eating and wine tasting! 

Again, quiet country roads, hardly any traffic, great services in each of the villages.  The landscape is a bit softer, but still challenging at times. 

We enjoyed climbing to the hilltop towns of Monsanto and Monsaraz – both beautiful historic cobbled villages with lovely views, warm hospitality and old world charm.

Riding into Mertola was a particular thrill because, as it is beside a river, there was a fun downhill cruise before crossing a bridge into town.  Again, the castle on the hill was spectacular. 

From there, we headed to Almovodar via Castro Verde (to get some supplies at a bike shop).  We had a brief interaction with the N2 and were surprised to find the pavement not nearly as smooth as most of the smaller roads we had been riding.  Happily, the traffic was not heavy. 

From Almovodar, we deviated from the Pedal Portugal recommendation and took a backroad into the Algarve.  The first part of the route was fantastic and we wondered why Huw hadn’t recommended this road.  Later, when we hit the very steep climb and the very steep descent, we understood why Pedal Portugal had recommended the N2! 

Low water levels after a hot, dry summer

Oh well, we survived and spent two nights in Alvor in order to facilitate a day trip on the Monchique Explorer and onto the the top of Fóia – the highest point in the area and an epic climb.  This route was really fun and the climb was not too hard. 

We recommend descending Fóia on the same route as the ascent, as the loop route is fairly steep and rough – better for a mountain bike than a touring bike.  Alvor was an enclave of British tourists – very different from the other parts we had toured recently.

The ride west from Setubal

From Alvor, we stuck mainly to the coast and headed back to Porto via Sagres, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Setúbal, Peniche, Lisbon, Figueira de Foz, and back to Porto. 

At times, we followed the EuroVelo 1 route (sometimes great, sometimes very rough), and often selected small roads heading north which also worked well. 

We particularly enjoyed Setúbal – a great little city with an inner walking plaza with shops, bars and restaurants where we were able to catch part of a live music festival in the square. 

Riding out of Setúbal on Saturday morning along an oceanside route was absolutely gorgeous – there was a big climb through a park and all the road riders were out, but very few vehicles. 

Sadly, as we neared Lisbon, we had the only time on our trip when traffic was crazy as the city dwellers were heading to the beach. 

We made a run for it out of Lisbon on Sunday morning and were able to avoid most of the traffic.

Approaching the lighthouse at Peniche on the way back north

One of the most thrilling parts of the route was leaving Figueira de Foz along the coast. 

There was a section of the EuroVelo 1 that had been recently repaved and was a high road right along a cliff with a swooping descent heading straight into the ocean with a sharp curve at the bottom, a flat section, and then a big climb on a single lane controlled by a traffic light, all clinging to the side of a cliff. 

There was a high wire fence separating the road from the ocean, but you could clearly see the crashing waves below – just amazing.

On the EuroVelo route south of Porto

We followed the EuroVelo 1 from here to Porto which was all either paved or bike path as we neared the city.  Amazingly, we were able to dodge the forecasted rain and ride into Porto to complete our trip, leaving Portugal on October 23rd.  

Without a doubt, the sections of our trip provided by the Pedal Portugal website were outstanding, easy to follow and took us to the heart of inland Portugal – we were so happy to be able to experience these really interesting regions.

A flat section of road!

2 thoughts on “Bikepacking Around Portugal”

  1. Being a cyclist myself, reading ‘Bikepacking around Portugal’ was so enjoyable. Thanks a lot Madhuri. Have not been in many of the places you visited, but Monsaraz is my favourite.
    I have a deep love for the coast between Sagres and Setúbal. Hope you also had quality time to marvel at Praia da Cordoama near Vila do Bispo and Praia de Odeceixe, both on the westcoast of the Algarve, the Costa Vicentina. How many WOW’s shall I write here? Lucky me, I used to live near Carrapateira.
    May ‘Backpacking around Portugal’ inspire many cyclists to do all or part of her route.
    Obrigado Madhuri and Huw, the number 1 promoter of cycle holidays in Portugal. And the best.
    Best wisjes, Michiel van Dam, Santa Luzia TVR, Algarve

    1. Hi Michael: I will be in Albuferia in December. I would be very thankful if you would be kind to let me get in touch with you, please. I thank you in advance. Cheers, Tony ;•o

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.