gr13 via algarviana, alcoutim-cachopo, 75 km
GR 13 Via Algarviana, Alcoutim - Cachopo
The second signposted long distance (foot)path in Algarve is better known as the Via Algarviana. 300 km of tracks through the Algarvian interior linking Cape St. Vincent to Alcoutim and to the rest of GR13 and the European network of so called Grande Randonnées, or GR routes. This idea had been cooking for a long time and it is thanks to the efforts of the Almargem organisation that the project was finally realised in 2009 trying to please walkers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and lovers of Algarvian nature and culture in general.
More than curious to find out how bikeable this GR route actually is, we impatiently wait to find a free weekend. Obviously there are various ways to tackle a 300 km off road challenge. In order to reduce logistics to a minimum we choose for a 3 day set up, with 2 overnight stays on the route carrying a small back pack with items we think we can not do without.
Plan for the first day is to bike from Alcoutim to Barranco do Velho, doing the Via Algarviana from east to west. For the 4 of us living in central and western Algarve this is the part of the route we are least familiar with. However the Via Algarviana gives us a beautiful introduction to the rural scenery of the east. hardly any tarmaced roads, well rideable tracks. Away from it all through vast hilly landscapes with olive, almond, cork, oak, reforested pine, rock rose, lavender and arbutus (medronheiro). The ride is highlighted by occasional passages through tiny villages with their communal wood ovens. Houses, haystacks, farm terraces and street pavement are often entirely constructed of local slate rock. This also reminds us to be extra careful while descending since these sharp stones can cut through bicycle tyres far too easily.
To our relief we found the Via Algarviana fairly well signposted. Bikers have less time than walkers to notice the signs, especcially when it's going down hill, but the characteristic red and white markings are there. Those regularly participating in mtb marathons or similar events know that you have to save some of your energy for navigation and looking for signs. It took us some searching leaving the village of Balurcos and after crossing the wide Foupana river. To a certain degree this makes part of self guided biking, but a few improvements could be made. Hopefully the maintenance of the Via Algarviana will be continued and organised in communication and interaction with those who have been exploring it.
Scenerywise this first part of GR13 makes a very good mrb route. Howwever it is not an easy trip. There's a few big hills to climb as can easily be seen in the altitude graphic. Future explorers better make sure to be well prepared and fit otherwise there's just not enough fun and pleasure in riding it. The relative difficulty of the route for bikers can be illustrated by the fact that after a full day of riding, not that many breaks and no technical problems we find ourselves in the pretty town of Cachopo with 75 km covered. it is mid December and almost 16.00 hrs which tells us that we probably do not have enough time left to make the tough 29 km to Barranco do Velho by daylight. That's a bummer because the Odeleite valley ahead of us is a fantastic area for mountain biking. However the idea of trying to find our way through there in total darkness does not have a lot of support. We decide to make it to Barranco do Velho following main road 124 and all agree that it was a wonderful day of biking on the Via Algarviana.
Distance: 75,04 km
Accumulated ascent: 1706 m.
- Technical difficulty: 2/5
- Physical difficulty: 3/5
- Scenery 4/5
Points of interest:
- Guadiana, Natura 2000 PTCON0036, www.icnb.pt
- Alcoutim's 14th century castle, Castelo da Vila
- 8th century Moorish fortress just outside Alcoutim, Castelo Velho
- Alcoutim's archaeological museum
- Alcoutim's 16th century main church
- Museum of religious art/16th-18th century capel in Alcoutim
- St. António's chapel, Alcoutim
- Dolmen of Anta do Malhão at Afonso Vicente
- Old copper mines at Furnazinhas
- Wind mills at Furnazinhas, Azinhosa, Graínho, Alcarias de Baixo and Casa Baixas
- Mining park Cova dos Mouros at Vaqueiros
- Ethnographic and anthropological museum nucleus in Cachopo
- Cachopo's 16th century church.
Food & drinks:
- Several cafés and restaurants in Alcoutim
- Snack bar Tempero, Cortes Pereiras
- Café Nikko, Balurcos de Baixo
- Snack bar Ti Emídio, Corte Velha
- A few cafés in Furnazinhas
- Casa de pasto Teixeira, Vaqueiros
- Several cafés and restaurants in Cachopo.