Bike Packing in Alentejo, Portugal - Guest Post by André Frederico
A guest post by André Frederico, Portuguese bike packing enthusiast, on his recent adventure in Alentejo, riding over 400km from Évora, in inland Alentejo, to Aljezur, in the Vicentina coast. Packed with great tips for you to plan your ride in Portugal - read below!
"From Évora to Aljezur
The region of Alentejo, in the South of Portugal, specially the Costa Vicentina, has a special charm that never seems to disappoint. Often overlooked, the area that stretches from Porto Covo to Odeceixe is a gem that has remained closer to purity than any other coastal region in the country, a cycling delight.
Bathed entirely by the Atlantic Ocean, it is known for its patches of sandy beaches located either near fishing villages or hidden away at the bottom of cliffs where you can escape from the overpopulated beaches near the bigger cities.
With this destination in mind, I decided to start my bike tour from Évora, regional capital of Alentejo, making the most of the landscape, orography and the chance to witness the transformation from the countryside to the seaside.
Évora - Diane’s Temple
Under a quite warm temperature I set off to reach Grândola on the first day, using only national roads. The goal was to go through a couple of picturesque villages such as Alcáçovas, Torrão and São Romão, small places sparsely planted in the rather false plains of Alentejo. Why “false”? Because when you leave the bustling city of Évora behind you, one starts to encounter short but repetitive hills that, together with some long and apparently endless straights, can take a toll on your stamina and mental fitness. The good thing is that Évora is located 300m above sea level and Grandola is slightly above 100m, so you are going downhill most of the time.
Torrão - Vale do Gaio Dam/Bayou
Storks, cork trees and wheat fields, quintessential Alentejo
São Romão - Rice fields
After about 90km of riding, I reached Grandola. A calm, flat and spread out city that is surrounded by plains on the East and sierras on the West. The city is known because of a song composed by author Zeca Afonso, “Grândola Vila Morena”, that was the second password that initiated the Carnation Revolution that brought down the dictatorship in 1974. Zeca Afonso drew inspiration for the song after visiting the city in 1971 and being amazed by the welcoming and brotherly warmth of the locals. Unfortunately Grândola doesn’t have a camping site, so I decided to book a room in a hotel. The scorching heat and the unusual headwind I went through to get there, this ended up being a blessing in disguise. I just couldn’t find any desire to put up a tent of any sort at that time.
Grândola’s monument to the Carnation Revolution, with the verses and chords of the “Grândola Vila Morena” song painted on tile
After a quick tour around the city, I left Grândola with the objective of tackling the Western Alentejo’s mountains and finally reach the coast. Initially taking the national road south, that would take me to the village of Alvalade, I turned west in order to reach Cercal, another picturesque small village where I would do my first offroad excursion. The idea was to make the whole extension of an mountain bike event that connects Alvalade to Porto Covo, on the coast. This 70km long ride passes through sandy and gravel roads and it is quite flat before reaching the Sierra of Cercal, but because I was riding alone and the threat of another hot day on the saddle, I decided to ride the last 20km of the track, from Cercal to Porto Covo. And the decision proved fruitful as the terrain and singletracks I rode where perfect and, although having to endure some short but steep hills and rocky descents (on a loaded and fully rigid bike), the views were amazing, specially once you reach the top of the hill and see the Atlantic Ocean.
Bridge that connects to the village of Alvalade
First kilometre after going offroad in Cercal
Atlantic Ocean ahead!
A “Monte Alentejano” entrance
Stretch of gravel road near Porto Covo
After descending the Sierra of Cercal, a gravel road takes us directly into one of the beaches of Porto Covo before a short and steep climb welcomes us to the village. Porto Covo is one of the nicest villages you can visit. A typical coastal Alentejo village, with the white painted houses and cool and relaxed vibe, Porto Covo sets the tone for what you will find if you ride down the Costa Vicentina. After checking in at the camp site and setting up the tent, I strolled inside the village to have dinner. You can find good and rather inexpensive restaurants in almost every corner. After another 90km ride, I couldn’t find a better scenario to recover.
Camping at Porto Covo
Village’s celebrations meant loads of carefree people
First sunset-over-ocean picture
The first night sleeping in a tent also meant the first day of some back pain discomfort. So, to start the day, I took breakfast and some pictures of the beautiful views of Porto Covo’s cliffs to cheer me up. Also, this was going to be probably the best stage of this tour. Leaving behind the hills, I was going to ride along the coast line and, having done it before once, I knew what I was ahead of me.
Panoramic view of the Atlantic from Porto Covo
The ride would initially take me through a national road, bypassing the village of Vila Nova de Mil Fontes (another of the most beautiful villages in the coast of Portugal that I decided not to visit to avoid arriving too late at my destination. Since I was riding a lot on sand and gravel on this third day and having visited Mil Fontes a month ago, I took the option of riding around it and focusing on other roads I hadn’t had the chance to ride before). After 35km on road, I took the coastal gravel roads at Cavaleiro, where the Cape Sardão is located, riding to Zambujeira do Mar, Azenhas do Mar and Odeceixe. On this 50km stretch, you either are surrounded by the Ocean to your right and agricultural sites on your left or you are pedalling in the middle of plantations of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, among others. The sights are amazing and refreshing and you never feel tired of riding. There is always the desire to pedal more and more because on each turn, there is a surprise or something you haven’t seen before. A cliff, a stork’s nest in a rock in the middle of the ocean or a cove with a small patch of beach that can only be accessed by sea. After reaching Odeceixe, I took a known singletrack along the irrigation canals that lead to Rogil, which are super fun to ride along and a good way to avoid the road before reaching Aljezur, my final destination before a couple of resting days and relaxed camping before getting back. This was the longest yet the best stage and I can only put in so many words what I experienced. Better stick to the pictures.
Vila Nova de Mil Fontes
Agricultural field near Cavaleiro
Cliffs near Zambujeira do Mar
Surrounded by nature
Zambujeira do Mar
I checked in at the Serrão camping site, a few kilometres away from the village Aljezur. The camping site has a near perfect location as it stands 3km east from the beach of Amoreira, 4km north of Aljezur and 10km south of Odeceixe. And if you are one to enjoy exploring Western Algarve’s Costa Vicentina, than this is the ideal basecamp. It takes about 45km to reach the westernmost village of Sagres, where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean sea and all that is in between, including the Monte Clérigo beach, Arrifana, Amado beach, Carrapateira, Vila do Bispo, just to name a few.
Grilled fish is a must
Four and final stage
After resting 3 days in Aljezur, it was time to go back home. Since I started the tour from Évora and rode outward to the coast, pedaling up to reach Lisbon is a doable feat. But the realization that I would pedal through the same places I passed before with strong headwind, made me change my mind. So, I set the goal to ride inward to one of the most beautiful and quiet villages in Alentejo: Santa Clara-a-Velha. With a old and cousy train station, located just shy of the village, and near a relaxing bayou of the Santa Clara dam. It meant going back uphill, riding the mountains, but the almost nonexistent traffic, fluctuating landscape and rather well kept roads made this trip the perfect ending for this adventure. With the exception of a couple of steep hills, the easy going nature of the road network and the sights one can enjoy while pedaling at a slow pace make the trip worthwhile. The ride to Santa Clara is 70km long and there is no need to hurry, as I found out that I arrived 3 hours ahead of the first afternoon train. No problem, I had plenty of time to lunch, visit the dam and get back to the station before getting the bike ready for the trip back. Again, the images will speak for themselves.
Landscape in Alentejo near São Teotónio
Santa Clara-a-Velha Bayou
Overall, I rode about 400km over 6 days and packed light. A tent, an inflatable mattress, sleeping back and some clothing is more than enough to enjoy the trip. The weather at Costa Vicentina can be tricky. It is never overly hot, because of the Atlantic influence, but it can either be windy and often you can experience a week of cloudy and rainy days, but it is never too cold that you cannot walk around in shorts all day. Although a little sparse, the villages I visited have enough options to eat and sleep and the camping sites are good enough and comfortable to spend as much time as you need. The roads are well taken care of, and the offroad is a must. You can either use the Costa Vicentina cycle/footpaths or simply use your navigation skills (a gps device can help also) to get lost in the gravel roads that take you through the plantations and often lead to some hidden beaches or cliffs that are worthy of awe. I will be back, for sure.
All the pictures and text where written by André - For more on his bike packing adventures, follow him on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/industronerd/
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