Border Castles Tour

TEN DAYS CYCLING – €1,385 

Ride across the rolling landscape of the northern Alentejo on a guided bicycling tour, visiting some of the region’s oldest towns…and at least a dozen ruined castles.

June BC 09My wife and I will be leading small groups (maximum of 10 people) to explore some of the quietest and most fascinating countryside anywhere in Portugal.

Starting in the ancient city of Évora with its UNESCO World Heritage architecture, we’ll guide you on a circuit that runs along the border with Spain and up into one of the quietest corners of Portugal before looping back south again.

Along the way, we’ll ride along the banks of the Guadiana river, explore sleepy villages, stop in historic towns and visit castles ranging from dramatic hilltop eyries to some of the largest and best-preserved 17th century fortifications in Europe.

Scroll down to read more and to see pictures from the first Border Castles Tour – which took place in April 2016. You can also see what previous riders thought of this and other tours on our Reviews page. For further tour news and other information on biking in Portugal don’t forget to also check out the Pedal Portugal Facebook page and blog

“Everything was perfectly planned with great routes, delicious food and drink, awesome castles and sights everywhere! I would highly recommend this group and biking in Portugal to anyone.” Amy Hillenbrand, Colorado.Border Castles strip 01

Dates

Planned 2017 departures for the Border Castles tour are:

  • October: Sunday 15th to Thursday 26th. Tour full – booking closed
  • April/May 2018: Sunday 29th April – Thursday 10th May
  • October 2018: Sunday 7th October – Thursday 18th

Why this tour?

BCT 024 smThe Alentejo offers some of the best terrain for touring cycling anywhere in Portugal. There are few big hills or steep inclines but a rolling landscape that stretches off to distant horizons.

This is one of the least-populated parts of Portugal but dotted with towns and villages with a rich past. From megaliths to Roman temples and medieval castles to renaissance mansions, there’s plenty of history to discover.

Palaces, convents and castles hint at the region’s former wealth, while a string of once-mighty fortresses guard its eastern border.

The lack of people means most roads are quiet and there are sufficient country lanes to avoid the traffic on any major routes

Agriculture is still one of the few major industries and you will ride for hours across an open landscape dotted with cork oaks, olive plantations, the occasional vineyard, and vast swathes of pasture. Birdwatchers will also be able to keep their eyes peeled for a wealth of avian life – from eagles to bee-eaters and storks to hoopoes.

Ranging from around 45-75km (28-46 miles), the main riding days present no major challenges for anyone who is reasonably fit and used to cycling. For riders wanting to push themselves harder it may be possible to extend the distance on some days. 

Note: Riders must be reasonably fit and able to cycle 60-plus kms on consecutive days. 

This region sees some of the highest summer temperatures in Portugal and spring (late February-early May) and autumn/fall (late September-early November) tend to be the best times for biking.

Both spring and autumn can see some wet days (mainly heavy showers rather than days of rain) but the Alentejo generally looks a lot lusher and greener in the spring, with carpets of wildflowers stretching across its meadows. 

Whichever month you pick, you should be able to expect plenty of sunshine and some warm days with daytime temperatures in April of around 16-26°C (60-80°F) and in October 18-28°C (65-82°F). 

Please note: all pictures used on this page are from previous tours or are of roads/locations on the tour and taken on previous visits to the region.BCT 037 sm

“Super fun vacation, riding on good roads with almost no cars…so well taken care of by Huw & Carolyn the whole time.

“We thoroughly recommend this bike tour to anyone who likes to ride free of gear, through rolling countryside, interspersed with interesting stops along the way.” Bruce & Jennifer Wilson, California.

Where do we go?

The tour explores the north-east corner of the Alentejo, skirting the Spanish border and visiting more than a dozen castles along the way before turning south-west to see more of the interior of this spectacular region.Border Castles route

We will visit UNESCO-listed historic cities, near-deserted villages and charming old towns, bicycling across sun-baked countryside dotted with cork oaks and olive trees.

Although not car-free, around 90% of the route is on quiet lanes and back roads where traffic is very light.

There will be two rest days during the tour (with options for additional rides) in order to cater for a range of abilities and levels of fitness.

Starting from Évora, one of Portugal’s oldest and most unspoilt cities, the planned itinerary is as follows:

Alentejo castles tour 03

  • Day One (Sunday): arrive in Évora (transfers from Lisbon airport provided) and meet your fellow riders
  • Day Two: ride to the picture-perfect village of Monsaraz with its 14th century hilltop castle, cycling nearly all the way on quiet rural roads. 65km
  • Day Three: ride to the marble town Vila Viçosa, a former royal wedding gift with its 16th century ducal palace and quiet old centre. 55km
  • Day Four: our route picks its way along back roads towards the Guadiana river, where the ruined fortress at Juromenha looks out at Spain. From there it’s north-east to Elvas, home to one of Portugal’s biggest and most impressive military complexes – where we stay in a former 16th century convent that was also a military hospital in the Napoleonic era. 40km
  • Day Five: take a complete rest day in Elvas or enjoy a morning’s ride out into the countryside to the north and visit the wonderfully preserved Nossa Senhora de Graça fort in the afternoon
  • Day Six: head north-east across more rolling countryside visiting another pair of former frontier fortresses before crossing the border into Spain for a night in a rural hotel. 65km
  • Day Seven: cross the hills of the Serra de São Mamede and cycle around the fabulous village of Marvão, a frontier border post with a 13th century castle perched atop a rocky ridge with amazing panoramic views of the surrounding countryside. From here riders can go direct or take a loop via some really remote back roads to the delightful old town of Castelo de Vide. 38-64km
  • Day Eight (Sunday): cycle out from Castelo de Vide and explore more of the area by bicycle, or have a day out of the saddle and wander the cobbled lanes of the rambling old town and its impressive castle. There are also options for longer walks, including up to Marvão.
  • Day Nine: we ride south-west across a gentler landscape towards the monastery at Flor da Rosa and the old farming town of Crato before reaching the former royal stud farm (and another castle) at Alter do Chão where we stay in another old convent. 56km
  • Day Ten: there are a few small hills as we continue south-west via the old town of Avis to the small country town of Pavia, where we spend the night at a lovely rural tourism property. 56-72km
  • Day Eleven: our route climbs very gently towards the ruined castle at Arraiolos, a picturesque small town also famed for its carpets, woven here since the 13th century. Continuing south we can either take a direct route back to Évora or a longer route via the impressive standing stones of Os Almendres. 41-65km
  • Day Twelve (Thursday): transfer back to Lisbon

Coffee and cake stops will also be an important part of the day!

*Please note: the exact itinerary may change depending on accommodation availability and other similar factors.Border Castles strip 02

How much?

The tour costs €1,385 per rider* – around £1,185 or $1,500 US at current exchange rates (April 2017).
 
This includes:
  • 11 nights bed and breakfast (based on two people sharing a twin or double room) in a good hotel or guest house
  • evening meal – typically three courses with house wine or beer and coffee**
  • picnic lunch on main riding days (not provided on optional rides/rest days)
  • support vehicle to carry luggage etc (and emergency transport)***
  • transfers to and from Lisbon airport on Days One and Twelve if required****
  • experienced guide to ride with you*****

Notes:

*Price: The price in euros will not change. However, as a UK-based operator, payment will be taken in sterling based on the exchange rate at the time.

**Food: Portugal is not a great place for vegetarians or anyone with special dietary requirements. I will try my best to make suitable arrangements but few Portuguese restaurants have vegetarian options. Please let us know about any dietary requirements and seek advice before booking.

***Support van: The support van will carry your luggage. It can also take passengers if a rider is unable to continue cycling following an accident, mechanical breakdown or other emergency. It is not suitable for using on a casual hop-on, hop-off basis and riders should be capable of riding the necessary distances on consecutive days.

****Transfers: We may be able to offer a pick-up service from Lisbon on Day One but this will depend on numbers and arrival times. If this is not practical for any reason we can book train/bus tickets. We will also offer transfers back to Lisbon on the morning of Day Twelve. 

*****Guides: My wife and I will alternate between riding with you and driving the support vehicle.June BC 10

What’s not included?

The price above does not include:

  • travel to Portugal and any internal transport other than that detailed above
  • insurance – you are responsible for ensuring you have all appropriate insurance
  • snacks, coffees etc. – and lunch on days other than on main route
  • bike hire (see below)

Wherever possible, if anyone is unable to ride I will try to take them in the support vehicle. However, the support vehicle is not intended for taking passengers. If essential, I can make arrangements with a taxi or bus but any individual costs will be additional.

Optional extras?

Cycle hire – road or hybrid bike – can be arranged but will cost extra. We work with Cycling Rentals, a company that is based near Lisbon but can deliver anywhere in Portugal. The exact cost will vary depending on the type of bike, any accessories required and the number of people hiring. However, the cost for a road touring bike/hybrid suspension touring bike will be around €200 for the duration of the tour.

Single rooms should also be possible but this will involve an additional supplement of around €240 (exact price will depend on numbers/month). 

For anyone wanting additional accommodation, either before or after the tour, I can either book this for you or suggest various options but this would be an extra cost.

Supporting a worthy cause

We’ve both been long-term supporters of the disaster relief organisation ShelterBox and in future we’ll be donating £15 to the charity for every rider who joins this or any of our other tours.

What now?

Places are limited – and I need a minimum of six riders to make the tour viable – so the sooner you sign up the better. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me via pedalportugal@gmail.com

Otherwise, please read our full terms and conditions before completing the booking form. Or keep scrolling down if you want to see more pictures from previous tours.