South West Portugal – short tour

This is a tour of about 450 -500 km tour taking in the Western Algarve, Atlantic Coast and the rolling countryside and hills of the Alentejo. This was my first trip to Portugal so it was great to find it offers the perfect combination for a short tour – easy access, good weather, generally quiet roads and plenty of campsites.

We took a train from Faro to Lagos in the western Algarve to avoid the busy bits of the Algarve coast.  Bikes are permitted on the regional trains in Portugal and don’t need booking.

The ride from Lagos to Sagres takes you through a mixture of coastal resorts such as Luz and Burgau and through rolling country to Vila do Bispo.  From here there’s an old road that goes to the outskirts of Sagres – find the Lidl store on the edge of the town and pick up the road  from there. 

Approaching Sagres there’s a gradually shift from the holiday resorts of the Algarve to the beaches of the Atlantic coast and a change in vibe too – villas, white SUVs and golf give way to VW vans, old surf buses, kite and board surfers.

Cabo de Sao Vincent, the most south westerly point of Europe, is a bit touristy but has great views along the cliffs of the Atlantic coast.  From here we headed north for about 120km to Vila Nova De Milfontes.  In parts there’s only one road so little choice in terms of route, but along the way there are small roads leading off to the coastal villages and beaches.

At Sao Teotonio you leave the N120 to head to Vila Nova. The final section of this on N393 is no longer a minor road, as shown on most maps. The road has been upgraded to a new main road so traffic can be a bit heavy, although there is a good shoulder to ride on for most of the way.

From Vila Nova we turned away from the coast and started heading inland to Castro Verde.  The change is almost immediate! There’s virtually no traffic as you start climbing away from the coast through wooded hills and pastures into to the Alentejo.

It’s a steady climb to Sao Luis and then to Reliquias. From here you can take the quiet N263 north easterly direction and then a short section on the IC1 (dual carriageway but very quiet as a motorway runs parallel to it) before taking back roads to Castro Verde.

Castro Verde is at the heart of the Alentejo region and it’s good riding through the rolling countryside dotted with cork oak trees, vineyards and wheat fields.

It’s worth heading eastwards from Castro Verde towards the Spanish border on a network of tiny lanes before heading down to Almodovar.  This is empty country with wide vistas, some of it designated as national park.

The final section of our route went over the Serra Calderirao through Salir to Loule.  This is a beautiful area – with some good climbs, sweeping descents and fantastic views….and lots of storks nesting anywhere that’s high off the ground.

From Loule it starts getting busy as you are back in the Algarve , so although it is possible to ride back to Faro, taking a train from Loule or Amancil to Faro can be a better option – unless you want to end with a few days on the beach!

Practicalities

i) Information and maps

The Pedal Portugal website is a great resource for planning routes, with plenty of suggested routes and GPX downloads. It also has a comprehensive map of over 140 campsites and details of other accomodation, lists of bike shops and travel info

Large scale up to date maps seem hard to come by. The Michelin 1:400,000 of Portugal is the most available but even the latest edition uses old source data. It’s a useful map for planning and broad navigation but electronic maps will give you the best detail.

ii) Camping

There’s plenty of campsites in Portugal and many of them are open from early spring through until autumn, unlike some Spanish sites. They range from very cheap municipal sites to big, resort type sites on popular areas of the coast. The Pedal Portugal listing is the best place to start and as well as its inter-active map, it also gives other sources of information on campsites as well

iii) Travel

There are flights from all over the UK and Europe to Faro. The usual individual airlines’ rules on bikes apply so check their websites.

Faro has a bike assembly area in the arrivals hall with tools, track pump and a basic bike stand.

If you leave on the east side of airport, quiet roads lead directly from the airport to central Faro and the railway station. Use cycle.travel to get a quiet route from the airport to central Faro/railway station

Rail travel – Portuguese Railways have a English language website with easy to use timetable and fare information. Regulations re bike travel in Portugal vary according to type of train. For this trip we used the regional train to Lagos which doesn’t require booking .

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