Tag Archives: algarve

Bikepacking Portugal (Part Four)

Riding the final 40 km stretch of highway N120 to Lagos went quickly with the last half downhill. I rode straight to the little harbor and to Castelo de Lagos. From there I walked the bike to Miradouro Praia da Batata to enjoy a view of the cliffs before headed to my guesthouse.  Ten days after leaving chilly Porto I’s finally reached the end of my journey through Portugal. Over the last week and a half I’d covered 700 km and it was time to enjoy a break from cycling, to swim in the ocean, put my feet up and eat more delicious Portuguese food. Although I was anticipating colorful waters and rugged coast, I did not expecting to love it so much. This little stretch of Portuguese coast was one of the most beautiful places I had ever seen. The cliffs of Lagos, specifically Ponta da Piedadel, are just breathtaking. The colorful and massive rock formations are dramatically set against the blues and greens of the shallow ocean. Trekking paths intertwine along the cliffs above seven beaches (more if you’re brave).

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Aside from the beaches and cliffs, Lagos also has historic old town, enclosed by massive old city walls that have seen several centuries of ups and downs. Lagos has a long history, some of which is tragic; the first African slave market in Europe was in the city and the original building remains. The city played a big role during the Portuguese Age of Discovery and was destroyed during the same earthquake and tsunami that decimated Lisbon in 1755.  Most of the historic sights are clustered around the waterfront near the Castle and can he visited in one day.

The city feels distinctly touristy and is very much a resort town. The contrast between both Lisbon and Porto is striking – the human made infrastructure, the local culture and the natural features. The cliffs, caves and beaches along the waterfront and free and open to enjoy. Visiting at low tide will give more access to all of the natural features while going early in the morning avoids the crowds. In mid-day when the sun is strongest, the water takes on different jewel tones.

Lagos made a nice ending to a long cycling trip down the Atlantic coast. Even though it was early May, most of the five rest days had warm weather and sunshine. The beaches were not yet fully packed and guesthouses charged off season rates.

With full sunshine the waters are bright blue and green.

What began as an attempt to ride along the Eurovelo 1 down the coast turned into a completely independent and self directed tour of Atlantic Portugal. At times a bit chaotic, I really enjoyed the journey.  Update: Two years after this trip, I am told that the Eurovelo 1 now has markings along the Portuguese sections. I don’t know if this is true, or how clear these signs are to see. I would highly recommend fixing your own back up course in the case that the route is not easy to follow.

Thank you for reading!

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Bikepacking Portugal (Part Three)

After a day of cycling through Lisbon from Cascais and taking a ferry south across the Tagus River we reached Parque Natural da Arrábida. The quiet preserve consists of two main forested peaks and cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, a pleasant surprise so close to the city. We set up out tent in the cozy wooded Picheleiros Campground which was home for two nights and relaxed with a barbecue and settled in to the first day off from cycling (yay). Although some stretches of the ride so far have been through nature, those sections have been uncommon. The bikes are always on a paved road and the sounds of traffic and daily life are usually around. Inside the park was the first chance to really get away for a meaningful amount of time. It felt great to put down our things, rest our legs and just stop carrying things. A hike up to the Nook Arrábida for a view of the sea was enough for me.

Flowers on the cliffs of Parque Natural da Arrábida.

After two nights and a full rest day we rode downhill from Parque Natural da Arrábida to Setúbal and took another ferry over the Rio Sado and adjacent marshes. A ticket for the ferry is just over three Euros and bikes are allowed for free. After boarding I was struck by how many cyclists were on our connection. The riders seemed to have come from all sorts of places and ranged from day trippers from the Lisbon metro area to long distance travels who had cycled from across Europe.

From the landing in Troia we followed a flat highway road for almost 50 kilometers. Not having stop to check the map for so long took away a lot of stress and freed up my mind to wander and take  in the landscape. To our right sand dunes reflected the afternoon sun and the noise of the sea crashing against cliffs droned on. To our left a patchwork of agricultural plots layered in front of inland hills. I loved the scenery and found it more relaxing and beautiful than the constant string of resort towns between Porto and Lisbon.

Colorful spring fields lined the route.

Our day of travel ended at a campsite near Reserva Natural das Lagoas de Santo André e Sancha. Known for the various birds that call it home the lagoon is a beautiful contrast to the wild sea and I made an evening visit at low tide and wandered around in the ankle deep warm water. Just as I was headed back to the campsite it started to rain and the absence of the sun made me feel suddenly cold. Since it being mid April and very much still low season, the little town was near empty and there wasn’t any place to get food. The last grocery stop had been made just before reaching the Arrábida reserve two nights ago. Fortunately the campsite had a modest cafe and bar with a mock living room set up. The place was full of mostly British retirees who spend the winters living in caravans at the grounds and everyone was happy to be sitting inside enjoying a pint with a book or watching the football game on the TV.  We had been very lucky over the last week or so and hadn’t experienced much rain so I couldn’t be upset about the weather turning.

Zambujeira do Mar

Preservation areas like Southwest Alentejo and Vincentine Coast Nature Park protect the shoreline from development. This also means the bike route occasionally intersects both the Rota Vincentina and Fisherman’s Trail. I saw traveler(s) many days in a row as we passed each other on our respective journeys.

The rocky coast just north of Zambujeira do Mar was stunning in both hard evening rain and the following morning’s sunshine.

Springtime weather in southwest Portugal is mixed and changes quickly. Everyday had an hour or two of both hard rain and strong, full sunshine. Sometimes wind was strong enough to push the bike around while other times very still. It was tricky to figure out how to dress for more than a few hours at a time and the back end of the bike always had discarded clothing pieces strapped down, flapping wildly as I went along. Mornings usually began with a dread of leaving the warm tent and stepping into cold or rain but I got used to it and learned to laze around a little waiting for the late morning burst of sun and temperatures as high as 23/74.

Looking down at Aljezur from within the old castle walls. Monchique hills in background. I especially liked visiting the cliffs and beaches at Zambujeira do Mar and climbing to the 700-year-old castle ruins in Aljezur.

After ten days following along 650 kilometers of the Atlantic coast it was time to cut inland towards Lagos on the southern coast for a long break in the Algarve region. I’m excited to tell you about it soon.

Thank you for reading!