Route: Faro – Cabo Sao Vicente – Lisbon – Figuera da Foz – Porto
Date: March and April 2017
Distance: 502 miles or 807 kilometres
After a Scottish winter where we rarely got on our bikes at all I was desperate for some sunshine and warmth. On the 9th of March the boy and I flew out to Portugal with the intention of cycling pretty much all of the coastline, from Faro in the south, to Porto in the north – a distance of roughly 1000km (620 miles).
For this trip I opted to leave the trailer behind and carry our gear in paniers instead.
It was the first time I had taken bikes on a plane and I have to say that my first attempt at packing the bikes was no fun at all. I opted for throw-away cardboard bike boxes which I was given by Halfords. These were very small and took a lot of tetris style ingenuity to cram everything in. The front wheel had to come off, plus the pedals and handlebars and the saddle had to go down. I couldn’t then fit the panniers in while they were full, so had to pack them empty and cram our gear into all the little gaps inbetween (I wrapped the chain in clingfilm to stop everything getting oily). On the return journey I discovered that Decathlon give away huge boxes that you can leave both wheels and the handlebars on and still have room for fully packed panniers. It was a lot easier and less stressful!
Arriving at Faro airport we found a brilliant bike assembly area, complete with stands, tools and a pump. (apologies for the fuzzy photo – taken on my phone).
The intention was to follow the newly opened Portuguese section of Eurovelo 1 – the superb path we followed the previous summer in France. I knew that this wouldn’t be as good as the French path, but I had no idea how bad the Portuguese contribution would be. But, more of that later….to start with the route seemed great, even if the entrance was confusingly hidden behind a ‘Private property no entry’ sign
We saw flamingos, but not pink ones. Joe tells me that they only go pink if they eat a diet rich in prawns.
Joe had been unwell with a nasty bug for much of the winter, so we took it very gently at first – just 17km on the first day wore him out. Even though the Algarve seems like one big golf course, we still managed to find a perfect wild camping spot. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that this was the first time we put up our new Trekker Tent Stealth 1.5. It was trickier than our old hoop tent to put up and was running wet with condensation in the morning, but it otherwise performed well. At less than 1kg, around a third of the weight of our old tent I could forgive its shortcomings a little.
The route began to get a bit dodgy, including this railway crossing, where you were just expected to find your own way across as if the railway line just wasn’t there.
We continued to wild camp, this time by the beach. I was gutted that I couldn’t get the tent to stay up on the beautiful remote beach we found, so we had to opt for the dunes behind it instead. I made a mental note to take better tent pegs next time to cope with the sand.
We rode through Albuferia…..
….. and rode a lot of dusty back roads.
We did a fair bit of climbing… in this shot you can see where we started out (at the level of the camper vans). It was a very steep dusty loose track that was impossible to ride on our city tyres – if I was doing it again I would take mountain tyres for sure.
Here is a random boat on a beach shot, just because it is pretty….
We arrived at Cabo Sao Vicente – the south western corner of Portugal (and Europe).
When you travel on bikes you have plenty of opportunity to stop and look at interesting things…..
The coastline around Cabo Sao Vicente is really stunning…
Turning north we entered the protected forest park area. ‘Donkey tracks’ is about the best description of the path in this region – not at all what I had expected or packed for – pushing the bike up endless dusty hills would have been a lot more fun without the panniers. This would be a great bike-packing route though.
Some parts were even rideable!
….but the wild camping almost made up for it. At this spot in the middle of nowhere, we were just going to bed for the night when we heard a grunting and shuffling in the bushes at the edge of the clearing we had pitched our tent in. Just as I was considering crapping myself, Joe said ‘I think it’s a pig’ and to my relief I remembered that this forest is supposed to be home to a number of wild boar. While this was preferable to the predatory human of my imagination, I didn’t sleep well that night thinking our tent (and us) might be ripped apart at any minute by something the weight of a small car equipped with sharp tusks.
We did have some other cool experiences though, like when we were caught up in the morning herding and found ourselves surrounded by cows, sheep and cute little baby goats.
We rode through some quaint little towns…
This is Aljezur viewed from the castle (that the route needlessly went up to – a very steep hill was involved and I was not happy!)
This was in the middle of nowhere – some sort of irrigation thingy, but just impossible to pass up the chance to climb it….just because it was there….
Then we came to The Worst Bit of All…… it started here at this beach. Nice beach and everything, but wait, where does the route go? Surely not up that rocky crag on the right? Yep…
We shook our heads, and routed round this but worse was to come. We had already done a fair bit of pushing our bikes on sandy tracks on this trip, but this section was just ridiculous. It was just mile after mile of sand….
If you have ever tried to push your bike on a beach you will know how exhausting and difficult it is.
Once we had started we were committed – going back would be as hard as pushing on and there was no easy way back to a road. Several hours later we finally came to the end of the sand and found this…. a narrow rocky ledge around a massive sheer drop to the rocks below. There was no other way out – we were trapped, with our only options to brave the ledge or slog back through the sand the way we had come. (Look at the size of the person on the beach in the photo below to get some idea of the size of the drop).
I stripped the bikes down and made several trips to carry the bikes and everything else along the ledge and then up hundreds of bloody stairs that we found the other side. Classic hike-a-bike stuff maybe, but not at all what I expected from a Eurovelo route.
At the top of the steps I dumped our gear down against a sign post – looking up I read this…. not suitable for bikes. Well now, you don’t say. I had begun to think that this ‘route’ was just something someone had plotted on a computer from the comfort of an office without ever having ridden it, and this day really confirmed it. It was a hiking path, not a cycle path and certainly not one touted Europe-wide as suitable for touring cyclists.
When we reached the next town Joe just about cried with relief
At this point I gave up on the idea of completing the ill-planned route and changed our plans to just having a holiday in the sun with a bit of cycling thrown in instead. We spent a few days at Porto Covo, then headed north towards Setubal, where we knew we could get a train that would take us to Lisbon, or further if we wanted.
Pasteis de nata for breakfast…..
Wild camping on the beach.
Catching the ferry to Setubal…there is something about doing this on bikes that evokes the romance of travel somehow. Its difficult to explain though!
We had a mini break in Lisbon – our third visit to a city we are very fond of.
We then hopped the train up to Figuera da Foz. This was fraught with difficulty though – Portuguese trains have a huge step up into the carriage and the staff are completely unwilling to help you get aboard with bikes.
In Figuera I had my first Francescina – a traditional Portuguese dish. Seriously good…
We thought about continuing on the train, but found the path much improved and so we continued northwards towards Aveiro…..
….passing some strange artwork on the way…. this is made from a wind turbine blade…
West coast sunsets are the best.
We had a mini holiday in Aveiro…
….where we tried ovos moles – seriously good but indescribable – you just have to go there and try them!
We came across a Portuguese cyclist with a puncture and no repair kit…..
Joe racing our new friend….
Visiting the stripy houses of Costa Nova….
We then took another ferry, then headed north along the Aveiro lagoon…
…until we reached Porto
We were a few days early for our flight home, so we had a little city break and did touristy things like visit a port warehouse.
We packed our bikes in boxes once more and watched from the window as they were loaded onto the plane. Seeing two big men struggle to carry the bike I had pushed through the sand halfway across Portugal made me feel just a teensy bit pleased with myself.
The trip was not what we had expected but it was still very memorable with plenty of sunshine and good food instead. If you are considering going then the part from Lisbon south to Cabo Sao Vicente would make a good bikepacking route – north of Figuera da Foz is better for families or cycle touring as the path is better.