Cycling in Portugal
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Portugal is a country that lends itself well to cycling.
So take some time to meander along its ancient by-ways, roam woodland paths, discover medieval walled towns, watch the sea sparkling and dolphins leaping in the early morning sunshine, tackle some of its imposing mountain passes and of course, after a hard days' cycling, toast the setting sun with a glass of Portuguese wine and a big plate of seafood!
In rural areas of Portugal the speed of cycling seems to suit the pace of life perfectly and gives you a far better chance of meeting interesting locals, discovering hidden gems and getting close to rare wildlife than you would have in a car. It's also, of course, a lot more fun. For me at least, one of the pleasures of cycling is working up an appetite and no hamlet in Portugal is complete without its local cafe so you have an excellent excuse to stop and sample all the regional delicacies.
Where to go cycling in Portugal
Portugal is a small country but one of endless contrasts. You never quite know what you might find round the next bend- a startling beautiful sea view here... a herd of wild ponies there... So there's plenty to keep you interested. Each region has its own very distinct character, landscape and customs and a cycle tour is a great way of appreciating its diversity. It's varied terrain allows you to be as energetic or as lazy as you like and organised cycling holidays are generally graded depended on the level of fitness required. You can get an idea of what each region has to offer here.
Cycling in Portugal: the Cities
Portugal's major cities aren't always best suited to cycling as impatient car drivers can be unobservant and dangerous. However you can ride along the long seaside promenades or pop your bike onto the train and head into the nearby countryside. For example, if you were staying in Lisbon then you could cycle along the scenic coastal road past Cascais and Guincho to the headland at Cabo da Roca or through the woods and historic byways around Sintra.
Cycling in Portugal: the Countryside
Portugal is one of the least populated countries in Western Europe so there's plenty of countryside to choose between and lots of opportunities to get off the beaten track. As a general rule the further inland or north you go the more remote, and often hilly, the countryside gets. There are ten natural parks and one national park in Portugal which protect some of Europe's richest natural habitats and cycling allows you to appreciate the wildlife without disturbing it. If you're heading into these parks then a hybrid or mountain bike is probably your best bet as the tracks can be quite rough in places.
Guided Cycling Holidays in Portugal
There are companies throughout Portugal that offer guided cycling holidays. These specialise in everything from challenging tours for experienced cyclists to day trips that are suitable for families and infrequent cyclists. The focus and price of these holidays varies considerably as some offer luxury holidays with gourmet food and accommodation in Portugal's historic manor houses while other stick to more modest B&Bs and restaurants. So, once you have chosen a region, you should shop around to find the right holiday or experience for you.
Self Guided and Independent Holidays
Self-guided cycling holidays combine the freedom of travelling independently with the convenience of having your route and, the option of accommodation, arranged for you. This sort of local knowledge is particularly useful in Portugal where there aren't many officially designated bridle-paths or cycle tracks. However you could always just bring your bike and the Rough Guide Map of Portugal and go where your fancy takes you.
The Practicalities of Cycling in Portugal
It is possible to rent bikes in many of the more popular tourist towns. There are some great bike shops in larger towns but if you're bringing your bike from home or cycling in really rural areas then I'd pack spare inner tubes etc to be on the safe side.
As well as your water bottle and puncture repair kit I'd always recommend that you take a map. Sign posts have a habit of petering out in rural areas. Having said that some enterprising cycling holiday companies now offer bikes with GPS systems!
Portugal is a sunny country even in winter. So you'll need a good pair of sunglasses preferably designed specifically for cycling. Not sure what to buy? Why not check out the recommendations on this useful cycling website
Competitive Cycling in Portugal
Cycling is growing in popularity in Portugal and at weekends lycra-clad clubs can be seen whizzing around the country roads. The highlights of the cycling year include the two week Volta a Portugal road race (somewhat masochistically?) held every August and the Trans Portugal Garmin, billed as the ultimate Portuguese endurance race, which takes place in June. In winter professional cyclists from all over Europe arrive to train in the mild climate. Mountain biking (known as BTT) and down hill racing are particularly popular with younger cyclists and there are dedicated tracks and competitions across the country.
Check out our guide to the best areas for cycling in Portugal.
cycling in Portugal photos copyright Francois Schnell, Colaco