Overview: The Alentejo has some of the prettiest old towns in Portugal – and some of the gentlest cycling. It’s not flat but it’s certainly nothing like as rugged as other parts of the country.
This six-day route starts and finishes in the historic city of Évora with its World Heritage centre and takes a loop through some of the region’s most scenic countryside.
There’s also the option of a two-day extension taking you out to the best bit of the Alentejo coast.
Along the way, you’ll see castles, rivers, reservoirs, old towns and small villages – plus cows, cork oaks and more birds than people. Storks’ nests seem to occupy most telegraph poles and – if you’re lucky – you might also see more exotic species like the colourful bee-eater.
This route is mainly on very quiet roads – surfaces are variable but the views are well worth coping with the odd pothole or 10!
Note: A guidebook for this route is now available.. Scroll to the bottom of the page for more information.
Distance & difficulty: Total distance is 384km (240 miles)*. There are no major hills – maximum grade is 9.5%. Much of the route involves long straights where your biggest obstacles will be the heat (see below) and the wind if it’s in the wrong direction. The coastal extension (see below) is the hilliest section.
*Or 547km (342 miles) if you do the coastal extension as well.
The sections between Serpa and Castro Verde aren’t as straight as the rest and you should probably listen out for traffic – particularly HGVs – on the bends. The roads are not dangerous or particularly busy but drivers – although generally courteous – won’t be used to seeing cyclists.
Also note that although parts of this route are on designated N (National) roads, they are generally extremely quiet and the heaviest traffic you are likely to meet is in and around Évora.
One thing to bear in mind, is that the Alentejo can get very hot – well above 30C/90F even in the spring and autumn and 40C/100F-plus in the summer.
Personally, unless you’re used to extreme heat, I wouldn’t recommend cycling in this part of Portugal between May and September (even in other months it can be baking here). Go north instead!
Stages: I would suggest this route as six mostly easy days – Evora to Monsaraz 65km (40m), Monsaraz to Serpa 89km (52m), Serpa to Mertola 55km (34m), Mertola to Castro Verde 44km (27m), Castro Verde to Beja 56km (35m) and Beja to Evora 85km (53m).
If you want to cut a day off – and set a tougher pace – then one logical solution would be to do Serpa to Castro Verde in one 99km (61m) day.
Extension: If you’ve got time and want to see the full range of Alentejo landscapes – including some sandy beaches and spectacular cliffs – then you might want to consider going further west.
The map below shows a three-day, 231km extension to the route that replaces the Castro Verde to Beja section. Instead, you go west to Odemira (71km) then out to the coast and up to Vila Nova de Milfontes (54km) before coming back inland to Beja (106km).
There are a few more hills out towards the coast but nothing too extreme and the scenery will be well worth the sweat involved. The ride to Beja is also a fairly long day but once away from the coast the countryside is rolling and the day shouldn’t be too taxing.
For anyone with a bit more time, you could also add my Cork & Carpets day ride, a 54km (33m) loop north of Évora to the town of Arraiolos or the Alentejo Panorama, a 77km (47m) loop starting from Estremoz, north east of Évora.
Accommodation & Provisions: There’s a wide choice of places to stay for most budgets in Évora, Beja and Vila Nova de Milfontes, from camping to hotels. There are also good municipal campsites in Serpa and Castro Verde.
Guesthouses in Monsaraz are generally fairly pricey but if you can afford them it’s a truly magical place for an overnight stop. You may find cheaper accommodation in nearby Reguengos de Monsaraz or in Mourao on the other side of the lake.
Serpa has several guesthouses – I can recommend the Residencial Beatriz as a good choice. Mertola, Castro Verde and Odemira are also big enough to offer several accommodation options.
You can find supermarkets in Évora, Serpa and Viana do Alentejo (north of Alvito). Along the way, you’ll also find shops for provisions – plus cafes – in Mertola, Mourao, Moura, Castro Verde, Aljustrel, Ferreira do Alentejo and Viana do Alentejo.
The only place with limited options for buying food is Monsaraz as it’s only a very small village. There are a few cafes and some pricier options but no actual shops.
Click on Directory & Links to find more detailed listings for accommodation, bike hire, weather forecasts etc…
- options for five to 11 days of riding
- detailed directions for each day in numbered sections
- distances for each section and 22 maps
- notes on places to visit and things to see along the way
- ideas for side trips and alternative routes
- information on accommodation options
- where to find supermarkets and bike shops
- a three-day extension out to the Alentejo coast
The Alentejo Circuit print edition costs £4.99 or US $7.99 from Amazon. (You can also order from any book shop with the ISBN number: 978-0957584129).
If you want a digital copy, the ebook version costs £4.28 or US $5.99 on Kindle. (Also works with iPads and other devices.)