Route: Rio de Onor – Vimioso – Palaçoulo – Sendim -Freixo de Espada à Cinta – Vila Nova de Foz Coa – Almeida
After a small climb out of the valley of the Rio de Onor, I soon was on dirt tracks again.Excellent tracks, nobody else around and with endles views to the mountains around me.This region in north-east Portugal is called Tras-os-Montes, meaning ‘beyond the mountains’ and is the most isolated Portugese region.Once I crossed the provincial road En-308, thedirt track soon became rougher and there was a steep descent towards the Rio Maçãs, (or Rio Manzanas, depending whether you’re Portugese or Spanish).This tiny stream forms the border between the two countries.I actually cross the stream to pitch my tent, so technically speaking, I sleep in Spain again.More rough and often steep tracks close to the border bring me eventually to Quintanilha.
I didn’t find a shop in Pinelo and in the next town, Vimioso, everything was closed.This would become a constant during my time in Portugal, difficulties to resupply.
I rode into the Parque Natural Do Douro International.As so often, they call a region a ‘nature park’ but besides the explicit prohibition to camp, I don’t see any significant difference to other regions which are not in the nature park.
I’m riding in the ‘Serra do Mogadouro’ range.No huge mountains, but constant steep climbs and descents.After a few days, they killed my legs.This is a really hard region to cycle.
Outside the town of Freixo de Espada à Cinta there is viewpoint with brilliant views to the deep canyon of the Douro River, which forms the border between Spain and Portugal here.The whole region is also littered with electricity lines from the many dams in the river.
After this viewpoint, I turned west, a bit further inland Portugal towards Ligares.A German retiree I met told me this is the hottest region of Portugal.Hot and dry, I must say.The three main crops I see along the road are olive trees, almond trees and grapes for the famous Port Wine.
In the little town Urros there was no shop to be found and no water fountain so I asked an old lady to refill my water bottles.I got a bag of figs on top of it.
By the time I was inVila Nova de Foz Coa, my legs were so utterly tired from all the recent climbing that I, with regret, gave up on the idea of riding the off-road route through the valley of the Coa River.It was just going to be too hard at this moment to enjoy it.
Well, I still rode part of the route to Castelo Melhor, but after that sticked to the national route nbr 332.Not a lot of traffic at all, but just as I noticed several years ago, the attitude of the Portugese drivers compared to the Spanish is astonishing.I can’t stop mentioning how good the Spaniards are behaving in traffic and how much space they give cyclists and how patient they can wait behind you if they are not sure whether they can pass you in a safe way.
Nothing of that is found in the Portugese driver.
In Castelo Rodrigo, I ask the lady of the tourist info after which Rodrigo the place is named, and whether it is the same Rodrigo as in Ciudad Rodrigo, the bigger town a bit further in Spain.
She didn’t have a clue.Tourist info employees prefer you to ask for a city map and walk out, I guess.Good thing was, Castelo Rodrigo had the first decent supermarket since entering the country, a French Intermarché.
The cycling now was easy on a plateau, 600 – 700 m asl.
I visited the historical town Almeida with its star-shaped fortress of the 17th century, built to protect the country against Spanish invasions.
Near the village Vale Da Mula, I left Portugal and went back into Spain. More about that soon in a next post.
I took a couple of rest days In Lagos at the Portugese south coast which I used to visit the dentist, get a haircut and a new bike chain.
Leaving Lagos, I’m following mostly small paths (Via Algarviana) along the coast. Constant climbing and descending, but with fantastic views to the coast. When I see a beautiful camping spot on one off the cliffs, I throw the plan to cycle beyond Cabo Sao Vicente today over board and stop early to enjoy the place. Just below my spot the wild sea water has carved an arch in the rocks. I have a very good night rest with the sound of the braking waves and I don’t close the tent, so I can watch the stars.
Down at the next beach the following morning, ‘Praia do Barranco’, it’s full of hippies, making loud music, making a mess with empty bottles of alcohol, these would-be type of Jezus guys with only a loincloth, …
I start the next hike-a-bike section, a steep climb to the next cliffs.
Then the new chain brakes. I wasn’t even pushing really hard.
39 km, that’s what you do on a Sram chain. First and last time I bought this brand. I had Shimano chains braking in the past, but that was after many thousands of kilometer. Not after 39 km. Luckily, I’ve learned to carry my old chain for a couple of days, to see if the new one sits right, so no problem. But when I install the old Shimano chain back, the little pin on my chain braker, brakes.
NOW I have a problem.
Luckily I’m not too far from Laos yet, so my father can buy a new chain braker and bring it.
In Sagres, I visit the fort and the light house. You can take your bike inside the fort and cycle around (it’s a huge place).
There’s a whole history about Henry the Navigator over here.
From the Sagres fort and light house, you can see the next place of interest, the Cabo Sa Vicente light house already.
It’s only a 6 km ride between the two light houses. In between, you can stop at the ‘Forte de Beliche’ to have a look.
Cabo Sao Vicente is the South Western most part of Portugal and the European continent (mainland).
In a way, you could say from here, I’m turning north, heading home again.
The little museum at the lighthouse is interesting if you like maps and old ships.
From Cabo Sao Vicente I follow the Rota Vicentina north along the Atlantic coast. This whole coast line is declared national park, Parqua Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina (Vicentine Coast Natural Park). They claim it’s the best conserved coastal stretch in Europe. I guess they might have another opinion in Norway, but it sure is a magnificent piece of coastline.
I pitch the tent 2 km north of the light house, near really spectacular cliffs, with the light of the light house in view all night.
This is a very spectacular part of Europe, and the Rota Vicentina a sometimes hard (steep), but rewarding way of seeing it. I’m not making big progress these days, but that’s not the intention either.
I have to climb constantly to about 150 meter, and go back to sea level. Not high, but it’s steep.
The view from ‘Miradou da Cordoama’ is yet another highlight. The next climb, from ‘Praia da Cordoama’, on a single track on a small ridge is heavy, but again, nothing compared to a climb a bit further on.
Near Carrapateira it get’s a bit more touristy, with wooden walk ways to the view points. The sights remain spectacular.
Aljezur is a good place to have a lunch, and a big supermarket, and a castle above the town. Inside the castle isn’t much to see. The view from below to the old castle walls up the hill is actually more spectacular.
Beyond Aljezur, the Rota Vicentina follows an irrigation canal for a while, so the cycling is easy.
Near ‘Praia de Odeceixe’, I take a left turn, a bit south again on the fishermen’s trail to find another nice camping spot in the dunes on top of the cliffs.
In Odeceixe I cross the Seixe river, which forms the border between the Algarva and Alentejo regions.
I keep meandering to and from the coast the next days, making little progress, but enjoying all the more. Zambujeira do Mar, Cabo Sardão, Almograve and up to Porto Covo, passing one beautiful beach after the other, separated by cliffs that are competing to be the most spectacular one.
This coastal stretch is definitely a highlight of the tour so far.
In Porto Covo I pitch my tent on the campground. It’s my first campground since the Netherlands in September last year 🙂
Here I’m leaving the coast and follow the Rota Vicentina inland towards the Morgavel Reservoir.
When I was making my route, I couldn’t choose whether to cycle along the Portugese south coast or cycle the ‘Transportugal’ route, so I ‘m trying to take the best of both and cycle a bit southeast again, to pick up the Transportugal route now near ‘Ourique’, from where it’s back in a northerly direction.
Pretty soon though, what I feared became true.
The Transportugal race is ridden every year, but I could only find a gps track of more then 10 years old.
Many dirt roads were fenced off and I had to go to the paved roads from time to time.
That’s where you’ll meet the Portugese drivers. The difference between Portugese and Spanish drivers is like day and night.
Unbelievable how the mentality can be so different in neighboring countries.
Almost all Spanish drivers will patiently sit behind you until it’s safe to overtake you, and when they do, they will give you lots and lots of space.
In Portugal, it’s completely the other way around. They are passing you just before curves, giving as little space as possible, pushing you off the road if needed, and driving fast. And that’s not the exception, it’s the vast majority and unfortunately they are among the most incompetent drivers of the continent.
Luckily, I’m still a lot on the dirt tracks, with beautiful scenery.
Like in Spain, dogs are a nuisance in Portugal. Unlike Spain, many of them run free in Portugal. At one of these dirt tracks, I suddenly had 5 of these huge monsters attacking me. 4 of them came to my left, one of them went around, to my right side.
I thought it would be wise to deal with the one on my right first, so he wouldn’t get any funny ideas. Throwing a few stones didn’t make him run away, but he was thinking twice at least. Same thing to the aggressive monsters on my left.
A bit west of Serpa I cross the Guadiana river again. The wind is so strong it almost blows you off the bridge. The weather has deteriorated and I take a room in the ‘Residencial Serpinia’ in Serpa.
Good room, great breakfast, very friendly reception. The town is worth the small detour.
After Moura, my route goes to the river Ardila. Near the village Santo Amador, I’m supposed to wade through the river. This might be possible at certain times of the year, but definitely not today. It’s a deep river with a strong current. I find a nice place to camp near the river. The detour towards the next bridge is for tomorrow.
The Portugese made one of the largest dams of Western Europe in the Guadiana river creating an artificial lake of 250 square kilometers. Wikipedia learns you the dam was completed in 2002 and its reservoir reached the full level, for the first time, in 2010 only.
Other interesting places I visited on my way north were Monsaraz (steep climb to get there !), Juromenha (nice castle) and especially Elvas (gigantic aquaduct).
From Elvas, I drove back into Spain for a loop of Extremadura region.
Distance: 693 km
Average km per cycling day: 43,31 km (I went slooow along the coast 🙂 )
Altimeter: 9241 m