Overview: This route forms the basis of one of the Pedal Portugal guidebooks. It takes you from some of the most developed resorts of the Algarve coast to the wild west coast beaches and rugged rural hinterland where you’ll hardly see another person.
Starting from Silves – once the Moorish capital of the Algarve – this six day route takes in the hills of the Serra de Monchique, visits the wild beaches of the Costa Vicentina (including a little bit of the south-west Alentejo), reaches the most south-westerly point in Europe and the surfing beaches around Sagres, and calls in at the riverside port of Lagos.
Be warned, though: this is not a gentle ride. Not only is there some serious climbing to do but it also involves some roads that are quite rough in parts (see below for more on this).
It’s not really a route for fast-riding on a prized carbon fibre road bike. On the other hand, if your bicycle is a bit more rugged and you don’t mind plodding up some hills, then the scenery will more than compensate for the effort involved.
A two-day extension to the main route gives options to visit the market town of Loulé (and connect with routes through to the Alentejo) plus the beach resorts of Armação de Pêra, Albufeira and Quarteira.
Distance & difficulty: The overall distance of the main route is only around 314km, and most of the days are quite short – because some of the terrain is not gentle. The first day involves an ascent from sea level to an altitude of around 440m (1,450ft). That’s probably the worst stage in terms of climbing, although there are some reasonable hills on other days, plus a few short, sharp ups and downs along the coast.
Another issue facing cyclist is road surfaces. Although all of the roads shown on the map below are sealed, the quality of the roads is highly variable. Some are excellent – some are rough, pot-holed and full of dips and bumps.
If riding this route outside of the summer, most of the roads should be fairly quiet (although roads in forested areas can get busy with trucks if felling is taking place). There are some N (principal roads) involved but these are not major highways. There are a few busier stretches involved where this can’t be avoided.
This route is not recommended for the summer. Late October through to late April/early May is probably the best time for cycling in the Algarve if you want to avoid the crowds and any extremes of heat.
Stages: Although many visitors to the Algarve fly into Faro, the city isn’t a good place to start any cycling trip. The regional capital is one of Portugal’s larger urban areas and the roads here are busy and unpleasant even outside the main tourist season.
A far better option is to take the train west to Silves (or Loulé – see Extension below) and start your ride from there. (The same line also extends to Lagos.)
Beginning from Silves, suggested stops and approximate distances are: 1. Monchique (37km), 2. Zambujeira do Mar (55km), 3. Aljezur (42km), 4. Sagres, via Cabo de São Vicente (53km), 5. Lagos (48km), and 6. Silves (76km).
Details: Although most of the stages suggested above are fairly short, there are also opportunities for various side trips along the way for anyone wanting to cover more distance.
1. Silves to Monchique: probably the toughest day in terms of climbing. You go from nearly sea level to an altitude of around 440m (1,450ft). However, there are a couple of downhills along the way so total ascent will be closer to 500m. Most of the day’s ride is also quite rural with few opportunities for cafe stops (but stunning scenery).
From Monchique, there’s an option to visit the summit of Foia (902m). See the Monchique Explorer page for more info. If you want to cut out the stage to Zambujeira, it’s an attractive ride due west to Aljezur.
2. Monchique to Zambujeira: the day begins with some steep and winding roads on the descent from Monchique to the upper stretches of the Ribeira de Seixe valley. This is a very isolated area but it’s a good road, fairly recently surfaced. Cross the Seixe (entering the Alentejo region) and head north – climbing around 200m – before descending to São Teotónio and the coast at Zambujeira do Mar.
A possible side trip here is to see the cliffs at Cabo Sardão where white storks nest above the ocean.
3. Zambujeira to Aljezur: The day begins with backtracking to São Teotónio then following the N120 south. This road is generally not heavily trafficked, particularly out of season and midweek. However, it is narrow in places with quite a few bends so be aware of other traffic.
The route then detours out to the beach at Odeceixe (which is gorgeous), follows some small (sometimes rough) minor roads across country and inland into Aljezur, once a port town, now well inland. As well as one beach out to the north of town (near the campsite), one possible detour here is a tough ride out to some spectacular beaches to the south.
4. Aljezur to Sagres: The next stage is back on the N120 – basically because there is no other option on this coast. However, it’s a beautiful ride, albeit involving a couple of significant hills. There are some gorgeous beaches to the north and south of Carrapateira (which also has a couple of cafes) around midway on this stage. From Vila do Bispo, you detour out on a minor farm road towards Cabo São Vicente, the spectacular point at mainland Europe’s south-west point, before turning east a short way to Sagres.
5. Sagres to Lagos: First of all, it’s back to Vila do Bispo before turning east on the N125. After a short distance, you turn right from the village of Raposeira. From here, the route picks its way through a mixture of farmland, small villages and some of the stunning coves on this rugged stretch of coast. It’s a reasonably strenuous stage – there are no major hills but some sharp ups and downs where small valleys cut down to the sea.
Approaching Lagos, the route turns east to avoid some of the more developed small resorts like Luz. This stretch is not unattractive but going inland will put you on much quieter, rural roads.
6. Lagos to Silves: This stage is another tough one. The route shown involves some steady climbing up into the hills behind the Barragem de Bravura – if you want a short cut that will make the route much easier, turn right on the N125 at Odiaxere and then turn left to follow the M539, CM1068 and CM1145.
The main route takes you up onto the Aljezur-Monchique road and through the pretty village of Marmalete, before turning south again. One unusual feature of the day is that your ride – literally – through the Algarve International Autodrome circuit before following minor roads east towards Silves. You retrace the beginning of the first stage along the N124 to get to the end of the ride.
If you want to add on a couple more days of cycling, you could start from Loulé and take an inland route to Silves (60km) via one of the Algarve’s prettiest villages (Alté) and come back (61km) via some of the best-known beaches on the coast west of Faro.
Accommodation & provisions: All of the stops listed above will provide various options for hotels, guesthouses, cafes, restaurants etc. The only place with a large supermarket is Zambujeira do Mar, although there’s a decent-size Intermarché store in São Teotónio towards the end of that days ride. Most days you will also pass through various villages where you should be able to find cafes and sometimes local shops.
There are campsites at Zambujeira, near Aljezur, at Sagres and Lagos, but I’m not aware of any at Silves, Loulé or Monchique.
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