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Cycling Portugal


Portuguese FlagCapital: Lisbon
Currency: Euro
Population: 10.6 million
Food: Fish, sausages
Drink: Vinho verde wine, port

Portugal is our favourite cycling country in Europe.

It has a diverse landscape, mostly quiet roads, great food and very reasonable prices. Its small size means you can cycle beside the sea and the mountains easily in just a week or ten days of touring.

The key to enjoying Portugal is to avoid most of the southern Algarve region. It tends to be overdeveloped with holiday resorts and as a result the roads are busy and not very bike friendly. The only reason you might want to come here is that sometimes you can get cheap flights into cities like Faro but we recommend heading inland as soon as possible. Better to enjoy the sea in another less developed part of the country. Happily, you can easily get away from the urban sprawl of the Algarve by heading north a short distance.

East Route in PortugalOur route in April 2007 took us first from Monte Gordo on the border with Spain to Faro. From there we turned north towards Beja, Evora, Castelo Branco and Guarda.

Our favourite part of the journey was the Serra da Estrela mountain range and in particular the Zezere glacial valley. The rustic landscape is nothing short of amazing and the roads are a cyclist’s dream. You have to work hard at first with grades of 10 percent as you climb from Covilha but long descents follow on near perfect roads and hardly any traffic. Another highlight was the Unesco world heritage town of Evora with its Roman temple, aquaduct, cathedral and multitude of other historic monuments. Although we didn’t generally like the Algarve, Tavira is a scenic town to visit if you’re in the area.

When you come to Portugal, it’s definitely worth trying the local cuisine. Local family-run restaurants are excellent value for money. We ate many wonderful meals of grilled fish, potatoes, salad, wine and coffee for two and the bill didn’t even reach €20 – a bargain compared with the rest of Europe. A coffee at a local bar in the morning rarely came close to a euro and local beers and wines are also available for pocket change. If you’re on a budget, you can buy local cheeses and sausages and fantastic bread in the supermarkets and farmer’s markets to cook up yourself.

Our tent in a park by a glacial lakeCHEAP CAMPING, FREE INTERNET
Campers are well catered for by Portugal’s wide network of municipal and private campgrounds. The private campgrounds will offer extras like swimming pools, while municipal campgrounds are basic but very cheap, often less than €5 for two people and a tent. We never paid over €10. Whether private or municipal, bring your own toilet paper! Sometimes it’s necessary to wild camp. It’s easy to hide away for the night and often we chose to wild camp because the surrounding scenery was so beautiful. Basic, clean hotels can be found for as little as €30.

The view behind us, and the peak we climbedPortugal makes it very easy to keep in touch with home with free internet access in nearly every town. Ask at any tourist bureau and you are likely to find a computer on site for your use or be directed to the local library or a youth centre where you can get online for free. Sometimes you have to register but they never mind tourists coming in for a few hours.

You shouldn’t need to pay for water since nearly every town will have a fountain or tap with potable water.

With so many bargains around, we set a budget of €25 per day and had no problem sticking well within it, even though we enjoyed a few meals out, often bought a bottle of wine to have with dinner or stopped in cafes for a morning break. We even splurged on a couple days with friends.

Decisions, decisionsWATCH THE WEATHER AND THE DOGS
We don’t have much negative to say about Portugal but do be prepared for fickle weather outside of high summer. There can be a lot of rain and it can get surprisingly cold. We even experienced a hailstorm in late April in the mountains when it was sunny just a few moments before. Our tarp got a lot of use in Portugal.

The language barrier was an issue for us more so than other European countries. You may struggle to get your point across, even in tourist bureaus and other places where you’d expect to find other languages spoken. Finally, we found dogs more of an issue here than some other places. Most were tied up but relatively often we came across strays who enjoyed barking at us. Thankfully they never gave serious chase, although they did take us by surprise from time to time.

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20 Responses to “Cycling Portugal”

  1. Mick says:

    Good advice re: Potugal. Thanks. Can you recommend any gps maps for potugal. Got memory-map but they don’t make a Portugal map.
    Thaks again
    Mick

  2. Alexandre Sequeira says:

    Hello, Food: Fish, sausages??? lol forget the sausages… Wine is red always. Here we have good cheese/sea food in the costal areas/ fish more or less in all places and i would recomend the local pastery… Nothing like a pastel de nata and a simple black coffee.

    Well i live here so, i know what im saying…

    Mick have a look here: “www.astranet.org” – gps section or just google for it… If you need more help, feel free to contact me.

    Kind Regards

  3. Amorphous says:

    Planning to go to tour Portugal in a few months.
    The only place I can fly my bike into and out of is Faro….unfortunately they do not sell bike boxes for my return trip, have no left luggage to leave a bike box, and I can’t track down anywhere within a km or two that sell them either.
    I don’t like bike bags….anybody know where I can get hold of a bike box in the Faro area?

  4. Alexandre Sequeira says:

    Hello Amorphous, i think your best option is to look or either in Forum Algarve, in stores like SportZone or even in the Jumbo SuperMarket… Or in any bike stores available in faro.

    You could also check for “Via algarviana” in google, to have a glance on some possible routes. Keep in touch and who knows maybe we will meet and do some cycling.

    Regards

  5. Amorphous says:

    Good to hear from you Alexandre,

    The worst part of a cycling/camping trip is the logistics of getting everything back to the airport ready to fly home!

    I am hopefully going to arrive in Faro at the end of August, and cycle/camp for 2 weeks….I have no idea of my route yet, I’m still in the very first stages of planning!!
    I’ll definitely keep in touch, and let you know what I am planning…any advice on my trip would be gratefully received!
    Where in Portugal are you based?

    Regards

    • Mar says:

      Hi!

      I’m planning to go cycling next year and wonder if you’ve already accomplished the trip.

  6. Alexandre Sequeira says:

    Sorry for the late reply, i live near Faro. So yeah if you need any tips or anything just beep ^^

    See you around, regards

    • Mike says:

      Alexandre, I will be flying back to the UK on the 8th September with thomas cook after touring from the UK to Portugal, But I need some sort of packaging for the bike as thomas cook insist. Do you know where or how I can get something near the airport, thanks Mike.

    • Michael says:

      Hi Alexandre (that’s my family name!),
      You sound like a really helpful guy so I write you for some advice….I’m going on a 4-week cycling trip starting in Lisbon on 2 July. I’ll rent a touring bike at BikeIberia in Lisbon, and a Galician friend will join me in Lisbon with his bike. We haven’t decided a route, but want to bike northwards, maybe ending in Porto or farther (depends how much we bike each day), avoiding the main cities. We hope to sleep at hosts from Couchsurfing and WarmShowers, or camping grounds.

      This is my first long cycling trip (but I’m a daily biker at home), so I have a basic question: we’ll carry our stuff in cycle panniers (20 liter side-bags) plus stuff strapped to the back rack. What to do when we reach a town and want to walk around WITHOUT the bike, or visit a museum for an hour?? Where to leave our stuff??

      If you want to advise me beyond that, do you have any suggestions for good cyling routes/areas northward of Lisbon (Estremadura, Ribatejo, central Portugal, Beiras and Minho regions, northern Portugal? I will be grateful for any advice or tips (also where NOT to cycle)!
      Thanks, Michael

      • Phil Bramley says:

        hi Michael,

        We rode the 700kms Camino Portuguese from Lisbon to Porto to Santiago last year. It’s a great ride taking you through some very interesting countryside and bicycling paths. We hired our bikes from BikeIberia (say hello to Tania from Phil and Rachel) and they were great in supporting our adventure.

        If you decide on this route can I suggest you look at Brierley’s guide to the Camino Portuguese with daily walking sections over the whole journey. Of course if you are on a bike then you can cover twice the distance or more!
        We went in April May when the rain was supposed to have passed but we copped it the whole way apart from a few days into Santiago.

        As you pass Tomar you start to hit the hills….er mountains….and that was a slog for us ancient seniors. However, you can take the coastal route which would be easier. There are many places to stay along the way, lots of spots in Alberques, but we found that with bikes we could venture further afield and find different accommodation – at a very modest price.

        We asked BikeIberia to forward our heavier luggage – a couple of trolley bags – on to a point mid way on the ride…you don’t need much on the trail and with panniers and a couple of change of clothes you get by nicely.

        If you want further info I can point you to our blog with some photies!

        Regards,

        Phil
        Australia

  7. A. Lopes says:

    You would be happy to know that there is now a cyclepath in the Algarve region. Get more info here: http://www.ecoviasalgarve.org/mapa.php

  8. Phil says:

    We rode the Camino Portuguese In April 2012 – wet and challenging but very satisfying. Highly recommended.

    • Gerry says:

      Hi Phil,
      We plan to ride the Camino Portuguese next year and would like any info you can provide, we live in Brissie.
      Gerry & Heather

      • Phil Bramley says:

        Great that you are doing it. First step would be to buy John Briereley’s Camino Portuguese from Amazon.com – invaluable resource!

        We hired bikes from BikeIberia in Lisbon – they have a pickup (anywhere in Spain or Portugal) and collect service which is excellent. They will also forward any heavy luggage to a destination of your choice. We travelled very light, buying clothes if we needed them. With the Oz/Euro so low at the moment (we were lucky to have 0.84 not 0.69 exchange rate) you might find alternatives (bikes) that are cheaper. The same applies to accommodation but have a look at AirBnb for better accommodation than Alberques. We are in our late 60′s so being comfortable was a priority.

        We did the Camino via de la Plata (only halfway between Salamanca and Seville) in April/May but the weather, as it was in Portugal, was shocking – rained for most of the time.

        You can do the Camino Portuguese either from Lisbon or starting point in Porto…we preferred doing the complete Camino from Lisbon. Also we felt that the Portuguese experience was a lot better than the via de la Plata through Spain.

        If you would like to discuss the trip you can call us on 0264940181 and happy to answer any of your questions.

        Regards,

        Phil

  9. Will says:

    Hi,
    A couple of years ago we rode right across the algarve from Spain, and whilst there are some pretty built up areas, it is incredible how quickly you are into beautiful countryside, and if you stick to smaller roads the traffic is fine, most tourists never venture off the main roads with their cars, so this IS an area that can be explored well on bikes. My advice, just avoid any major town along the coast and you will love it, there are still many small villages and secluded beaches, especially to the west. That said, we can’t wait to go back and explore inland and further north!

  10. Michael says:

    Hi all, I’m going on a 4-week cycling trip starting in Lisbon at beginning of July. I’m renting a touring bike at BikeIberia in Lisbon, and a Galician friend (who speaks Portuguese) will join me in Lisbon with his bike. We haven’t decided a route, but want to bike northwards, maybe ending in Porto or farther — depends how much distance we cover. And stay away from the main tourist areas (it’s high season…), sleeping hopefully with hosts from Couchsurfing and WarmShowers, or camping grounds.

    I have some beginner’s questions: we’ll carry our stuff in cycle panniers (20 liter side-bags) plus a bag strapped to the back rack. What do we do when we reach a town and want to walk around WITHOUT the bike, or visit a museum for an hour?? Where to leave our stuff??

    Also, if you have suggestions for good cyling routes/roads in the areas north of Lisbon (Estremadura and Ribatejo, central Portugal, Beiras and Minho regions, northern Portugal) — I will be grateful for any advice or tips (also where NOT to cycle).
    Thanks, Michael

  11. Gerry says:

    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for your e-mail and your travel tips

    We have ordered John Briereley’s Book from Amazon, it should be here next week.
    Thanks for the tip on AirBnB, we had never heard of it. After checking out their website we think that is the way to go. I am in my 60,s and Heather in her late 50,s and we agree about having a bit of comfort.
    We did the Otago Rail Trail earlier this year and a bit of backpacking in NZ after the ride and we were pleasantly surprised at how much we did NOT need and it was possible to travel very light and still have a good time.
    We plan to ride from Lisbon in April next year and hope the weather Gods are on our side, we will give ourselves 3 – 4 weeks and will be not be in any hurry.
    If it is alright with you we may give you a call as we get closer to the day of leaving, to get some last minute advice?

    Cheers

    Gerry & Heather O’Neill
    [email protected]

    • Stan says:

      Dear Gerry & Heather,

      My wife and I are the same age group as you guys are and we are planning our first cycle tour ever! We are day cyclers here in our home town of Durban, South Africa, so we are relatively fit. I am really keen to hear about how your upcoming tour in Portugal fares as that is also the country we are planning to visit for our first tour. If you are able to, I would love to hear what route/s you suggest that will allow us to see as much of rural Portugal as possible, plus any and all assistance/advice you could possible pass on would really be appreciated. We could spend up to 6 weeks exploring Portugal, the land of my wife’s origins!
      Have a splendid time on your trip.
      Thank you for your anticipated response.
      Kind regards.
      Stan Webster.

  12. Amy says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your detailed blog. I know my partner and I will be using it often for our other cycling trips. We are planning on renting a place somewhere in Portugal next summer for a month or so. Because our dog is joining us we are hoping to find a place that allows for many day trips of cycling so we can be home at night with our pup. We are also quite keen to be in a fairly remote area or small town with little tourism. We will have a van for trips that are a little further away as well. Any suggestions on a good area with lots of cycling routes? Thanks!

    Amy

  13. Malin says:

    Thanks for a great article! I’m planning to do a bike-trip through Portugal myself but I’m really having difficulty finding maps and information relevant to cyclists.

    A question: You mentioned camping in the wild, is that frowned upon by the locals or is it actually legal (like it is in Scandinavia, if you only stay at a spot for maximum one night)?

    In Scotland I was practically forced to camp in the wild occasionally since the campsites hadn’t open yet (I was there in March) and I did actually get harassed a couple of times…

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