27 June 2006
5 Algarve Cycle Rides
Following on from my previous post about using our Airnimal Rhinos, here are 5 rides of moderate distance that may be of interest to cyclists visiting the Western Algarve (Lagoa, Portimao, Lagos, etc.)
A few points before I start:
1. Beware dogs - the more remote location, the worse.
2. Beware maps - roads change a lot - conversion from track to road for example, plus new buildings in towns and motorways. Even new maps were not accurate. Our Rough Guide map - while good for bikers because of the material used and detail had many quite serious errors.
3. Beware wind. It's almost always windy in the Algarve, and it's often head on against you. You may find distances that you normally cover at home harder to achieve because of this (and the up-down nature of landscape especially around the coast).
4. Beware cobbled streets. The streets of many towns are pretty unsuitable for cycling unless you have good suspension. But it is easy to walk your bikes or lock them up and walk alone.
Photos from some of these rides have been posted on my website here.
1. Coastal route from Carvoeiro to Alvor via Ferragudo and Portimao (32 miles).
This was just a simple acclimatisation route from our base meandering around trying to follow coastal routes where possible. Alvor is very pretty - especially at night, and Ferragudo is also a nice town. There are plenty of places to stop. In Portimao it is possible to follow a cycle lane along the river parallel to the road. It is too hard to describe our exact route, but it is easy to follow a map including these places. While having a drink in Alvor (during the Portugal-Iran World cup game!) we met Frank who was interested in our bikes. He runs a company called Outdoor Tours which does cycling trips, bike rental, nature walks, canoeing and other adventure pursuits across the Algarve. Frank's staff come from across Europe (he himself is Dutch). He is creating a booklet of 15 different bicycle routes available to his clients. We had hoped to join in on one trip, but for a variety of reasons couldn't get to do this. If you're looking to rent a bike for a day or more, or to have some guided (or even supported) tours, check out Frank's site before you leave.
2. Carvoeiro to Silves to San Bartolomeu de Messines to Armacao de Pera and coast route back (46 miles).
Silves is a pretty town indeed with plenty to see (serious cobbled streets though). There is currently a lot of restoration work going on, but the setting, castle, cathedral, central square etc are all nice to see. We had trouble navigating out of Carvoeiro due to some new road building (and other roads shut), so this route should really be about 42 miles. We went on a quiet road out of Estombar closer to the river. After Silves we headed on the main road (124) towards Sao Bartolomeu de Messines. This is a quiet road of good quality with some nice views lined with citrus groves. The next town wasn't too special but was ok (but a bit quiet on a Sunday lunchtime). We then headed South on a quiet road towards Algoz, then towards Pera and Armacao de Pera. We then cut back onto the 269-1 but trying to follow a coastal route (we made a few mistakes here). The village of Benagil is very pretty but with a very steep descent and climb out.
3. From Odiaxere to Barragem de Bravura (Dam) to Lagos/Ponta di Piedade and back to Odiaxere (25 miles).
The road from Odiaxere to the Dam gets prettier and prettier as it climbs up. It's not too difficult a ride, and the dam is in a nice setting with a cafe nearby. We headed back on the same road before turning right to follow a sign towards Bensafrim. This hits the 120 red road into Lagos but it was relatively quiet. Lagos has a lot to recommend it - with a nice run parallel to the main street. We didn't look in much, but there seemed to be some nice parts to the old town. We headed to the southerly tip with lighthouse which had some wonderful views. A surprisingly good fresh Orange juice was had at the cafe before we turned round back into Lagos. This time we went out on the route towards Meia Praia before cutting back to Odiaxere via Palmares. It looks like you're going through a private golf course, but in fact, it is still the road.
4. Climb and circle round Monchique starting near 124/266 junction (35 miles).
Follow this ride via the GoogleEarth Map on my .mac account here.
Probably the best ride of the trip, though I had expected more from Monchique itself. We parked the car on a lay-by opposite a garage on the 266 just after the road (124) to Silves has split right. We looked for a left turn to take us onto a scenic route which would hit the 267 south west of Monchique. Unfortunately, we missed this (not signposted at all). We started on road but it became a track after about 3km and started to climb. Eventually the GPS came to our rescue and showed us that we had been on a different road (on our map, it was a road, not a track). As it turns out, the route was fine with some nice views as we climbed. We were however glad of both front and rear suspension on this route. We ended up on the 267 but much closer in to Monchique. As we passed the road we should have come up on, it looked like it would have been a very pretty road of surprisingly good quality. We went clockwise around turning right towards Chilrao and following the road north around Foia until it joined the scenic route coming into Monchique from the North. Overall this circular part of the ride was by far the best - wonderful views, very quiet but excellent quality roads. There is a pretty church in Monchique. But the convent is a bit of a wreck and a steep climb up. We followed the main route (266) out of Monchique. This is quite a bit busier but is a very fast and long downhill. Unfortunately for us, major roadworks meant we had at least 4 lengthy traffic light stops and, as we went through these sections, we had cars at our heels (glad we were going down, not up). This last part of the route was slightly disappointing given it is marked as scenic. But overall, a lovely ride.
5. Vila do Bispo to Sagres to Cabo de Sao Vicente and back (25 miles - less if you don't try a failed shortcut).
This was an interesting ride covering the SouthWest tip of Portugal (and the most Southwesterly point on mainland Europe). If you think the wind is strong on the Algarve, wait till you get here. Vila do Bispo has a lovely church and a square that can be parked in without restriction. We headed towards Sagres on the main road (268). Though a bit busy, the road is wide with a pseudo-bike lane courtesy of a genorous white line. We flew along this at around 20mph despite it being pretty flat - sometimes even faster. We were in Sagres in no time at all. It is possible to navigate a road which parallels the 268 (the old road?), but we didn't spot the start of that, and once on the main road, couldn't find a way off. Sagres is actually quite interesting as a seaside town - we followed the main road into the town and then came out of the town closer to the beaches. It is not as spoiled as the other Algarve towns closer to Faro which have become mass development sites. We then went out to the Fort towards the Southern tip. It is possible to go tour the fort (small entrance fee) - there is even a simple bike rack just by the ticket office inside the entrance. But we were in a bit of a rush so skipped this. Do walk out to the edge of the cliffs though for great views and to see the real force of the sea coming in - awesome! We then headed off towards Cabo de Sao Vicente (Cape Vincent) into a massive headwind - struggling to keep 8mph on the flat. There's not much at the Cape, but a pretty lighthouse and some great views again. There seems to be a monument to do with biking - perhaps a Portuguese equivalent to John O'Groats to Lands End, as it signposts 0Km. We then headed back intending to take a smaller road directly back to Vila do Bispo. We found what we thought was the road (again GPS to the aid), and turned into another serious headwind (winds are frequently NorthWesterly). As we neared a junction, we came across a farmhouse with at least 8 very large and VERY aggressive dogs, only a few of which were on a leash. Despite our Dog Dazer - which may have had some effect as one dog came towards me, the number of dogs and the howling wind (which perhaps lessens the effect) meant we had no choice but to turn round and head back to the main road with a tail wind helping us beat a hasty retreat. We headed back into Sagres with a massive tailwind - hitting 30mph on the flat (!), before turning North and back into the wind for the return to Vila do Bispo. This bit took approximately 3x as long as the way out despite being relatively flat! (Incidentally our Rough Guide map had the distance from Vila do Bispo to Sagres at about 17km, when it is in fact about 8-9km, so beware error-strewn maps.). A memorable ride indeed - and really not that far at all.
Hope you're able to enjoy one of these routes or try one of Frank's. If you have experience of any others or variations, do post a comment here. One more article to come in this series - on our experience using a GPS device for the first time!
Tags: Airnimal, Cycling, Algarve