This self guided bike tour along both sides of the majestic Guadiana river offers a welcome escape from busy towns and tourists. You will enjoy exploring some of the more remoteareas at a leasurely pace, experiencing the peaceful and authentic rural way of life that can still be found along the route. You will witness the centuries old traditions ans sample local products and dishes in the pretty towns and villages that have relied on the river for many years for their livelyhood and their security.
It's a trip of many parts as you cycle upstream in Portugal, through dramatically changing landscape and then back down the opposite river bank in Spain. The daily rides do incorporate the odd challenge but there is also a fair chunk of flat riding as you follow the twists and turns of the river. In any case the distances are such that you can take your time and embrace your surroundings, whilst building up a good appetite for dinner in one of the easy to find charming little local restaurants.
- Activity: Self guided touring holiday
- Bike type: Touring bike
- Duration: 7 nights, 6 days cycling
- Activity level: Reasonably experienced
- Accommodation: 3 and 4 star hotels/guesthouses
- Daily average: 58 km
- Price: From €730
Day 1 Arrival in Vila Real de Santo António
Upon your arrival in the Algarve, we will collect you and take you to Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA), on the banks of the Guadiana river, which forms a natural border between Portugal and Spain and the backbone of your cycling trip.
Largely redeveloped after the great earthquake of 1755, VRSA was recreated on a grid system, yet still retains a character of its own. It has a relaxed atmosphere and the central square, edged with orange trees and host to an array of of shops and cafés, is an ideal place to spend your first evening. Enjoy a spot of people watching as you tuck into some fresh local food and wine. This should set you in the mood before you set of on your trip.
Day 2 Cycle to Alcoutim (47km, 600m. elevation gain)
After breakfast you will set off towards the ancient settlement of Castro Marim. You will initially enjoy views across the widest point of the river Guadiana to Spain, before turning off to traverse the salt pans ( a still thriving local industry), and entering the town via the medieval castle.
After leaving Castro Marim the landscape starts to change and you will climb a little as you follow the road that runs parallel to the river. It is an opportunity to to savour the peace and quiet of this region, as you pedal along country roads, punctuated by small villages filled with tradition. You can stop and sample the homemade sweet pastries and admire the locally mined limestone slate houses (known as xisto) that are populated by generations of families who still live life according to the old customs and beliefs. It seems like the more you pedal forward the further back in time you go!
Eventually your route takes you close enough to the river that you can actually dip your toes in. There's a museum and a small Roman excavation along the way or you may just fancy a cold drink and a peaceful break at one of a number of cafés that you will pass.
After a final climb you descend into Alcoutim, your destination for this night. It is a beautiful town with a rich history and a Moorish castle, that can be visited, overlooking the river, surrounded by typical white houses in the narrow streets that reflect the traditional way of life. Dinner will be a local affair with the opportunity to sample fresh fish from the river, for example river eel (enguia), or try some home reared cured ham (presunto), or the popular wild boar stew (javali).
Day 3 Cycle to Mértola (48km, 790m. elevation gain)
Your second day's cycling is a complete contrast to Day 1 as you make your way through the interior Algarve and enter the Alentejo. This particular part is the and of wheat and bread produce, a vast, scarsely populated landscape with a noticeable lack of establishments serving food and drinks. So it is a good idea to go prepared with plenty of water and snacks, which you can stock up at the minimercado near the river in Alcoutim before you leave.
Setting out the biggest climb of the day greets you almost immediately! But you are in no rush, so you can wind your way slowly up and out of town as you look forward to another day of new experiences.
As you head inland you will begin to appreciate the vastness of the land punctuated rarely with the odd farmstead and as the only sign of life the manmade dry stone walls that line the narrow roads.
Eventually you will reach Giões, probably the largest village you will encounter before your day's destination. You will most likely want to stop here for a break and a bite to eat in the one and only local café. Suitably refreshed, you will continue towards Mértola, crossing the Vascão river, which forma the natural border between the Algarve and the Alentejo.
Dating back to Roman times, Mértola is beautifully located on the crest of a hill and makes for a dramatic scene as you approach it, with its castle and city walls that dominate the landscape. It is known asd a museum city because it has many ancient streets, buildings and places of interest intact, so it is worth a slow exploration on foot.
Day 4 Cycle to Serpa (65km, 950m. elevation gain)
The central theme for today's ride is the Vale do Guadiana natural park, a huge area of open country where farmers and wild animals live in relative harmony. This is the land of wild boar, vultures and endangered Iberian Lynx. The ride is slightly longer than most days and fairly tough in places, but worth it for some of the spectacular sites you will see.
Leaving Mértola across the river you will head east towards Mina de São Domingos. This town is also a very interesting spot to linger in for a short time. But you will be returning here to stay on day 5, so better to leave some of the exploring until then. From here at first a long straight road, a good opportunity to find your pace and put some kms behind you. Before too long you will arrive in Vale do Poço, a pretty little village, where you might like a break before the final leg.
With about 20 kms to go, you will have an opportunity to take a diversion of around 4 kms to see the famous Pulo do Lobo (wolf's leap). This is a very pretty spot on the Guadiana river where the water rapids have carved out a gorge and, according to the legend, is narrow enough for a wolf to cross it in a single leap. We would not suggest you to do that with your bike, but you will cross the river a bit further on two wheels before the climb of the day.
You should reach Serpa in time for a walk around. It's a charming working town that produces all manner of goat and sheep related products. As you stroll past the impressive gates and walls of the medieval castle, be sure to notice the natural stone pavement of the narrow streets between the spotless white washed houses.
Day 5 Cycle to Mina de São Domingos (63 km, 600m. elevation gain)
Today's ride from Serpa to Mina de São Domingos is a very similar distance to yesterday, but it will feel like a considerable easier day. The terrain is not less beautiful, but less of a challenge and you should have the wind predominantly behind you most of the time. Of course there is some serious cycling to be done, but there is plenty to distract you as you travel through working farms and olive groves passing small cheese and olive oil factories.
Heading out east will take you on to a different route back down to Mina de São Domingos. You will cycle close to the border with Spain, enjoying mountain views towards the Spanish Sierra de Aracena, home to the Pata Negra, twin brother of the Porco Preto Alentejano (free range black pig).
Travelling through some sleepy villages you will begin to appreciate the different pace of life here. Sitting around the village square or café people will sit up as they see strangers on bikes passing by...but a smile and a wave is all that's required!
Heading south now, you will eventually turn off onto a dirt track through a valley, where you can enjoy the unspoilt scenery until you reach a river. Crossing over you will climb steadily for the last kilometers before catching the familiar sights of Mina de São Domingos. The town was home to one onf the largest former mining operations in Portugal and fuctional right up to 1966. There's a mining museum and worker's house to visit It also has a lovely river beach, where you may be tempted to soak your tired legs at the end of your last day in the Portuguese part of your cycling journey.
Day 6 Cycle to Sanlucar de Guadiana (47 km, 790m. elevation gain)
This is the day you cross the border to Spain. For many it will be a novelty to be cycling in two different countries on one day. It is interesting to spot the differences between them , despite their proximity.
As you cycle out of town through the mine worker's quarter and past the English Cemetery (the British owned the mines) you will head towards the border where the theme of mining is joined with smuggling. As you pass through the pretty little village of Santana de Cambas, it's worth noting Museu de Contrabande (smuggling museum) opposite the church.
The border village of Pomarão offers a good possibility for lunch. Once in Spain there's an interesting diversion to Puerto de la Laja and the remains of a port on the river. This was used to transport mined materials along the Guadiana. From the you will join the old mining railway line and follow it for a few kilometers until you arrive in El Granado. Your first Spanish town, time to sample a few tapas. From here you will follow a quiet road to your destination for the night, Sanlucar de Guadiana. The dirt road is a little rough in places, but it's quiet a sensation to arrive on the exact opposite river bank where you were just a few days ago.
Sanlucar de Guadiana is a pretty ton with several cafés and restaurants overlooking the river. A stroll on the waterfront is a pleasant way to spend the late afternoon, unless you want to join the locals and have siesta, of course. In any case the Spanish don't dine until 21.00 hrs at the earliest, so you will most certainly have some time to relax before dinner.
Day 7 Cycle to Ayamonte (52 km, 630m. elevation gain)
It's the last stretch of your Guadiana cycling experience, as you navigate your way back down the river towards Ayamonte.
There is some serious climbing at the beginning following the road out of Sanlucar for a while. Then head off road and onto somegreat traks that are scenic and fun. After a refreshment break in San Silvestre de Guzman, a former mining village on the way, you will continue south, following a rougher road that skirts the Cartaya pine forest.
You will continue cycling through some pretty varied landscape encompassing familiar sights such as cork oak, orange and olive groves. Eventually this gives way to more exposed and barren ground, where only rock rose can survive and the local industry switches to wind farming. But it makes for a invigorating ride and culminates in the last climbs of the trip.
Finally, you will join a bike lane to finish the ride 'in style' as you approach Ayamonte. This is the end of the ride and a perfect place to enjoy tapas on the waterfront or in the charming old quarter, before catching the ferry back to complete your circle in Vila Real de Santo António.
Day 8 Departure
We will tarnsfer you from your accommodation for your journey home.
- January: €730
- February: €730
- March: €730
- April: €780
- May: €780
- June: €780
- July: €860
- August: €940
- September: €940
- October: 780
- November: €730
- December: €730
- Quality bike and equipment hire
- Detailed maps and route suggestions
- Good quality hotel and accommodations along the route
- Route assistance where necessary
- Airport transfers
- Holiday insurance - recommended
- Prices are per person, based upon two people sharing a twin/double bedded room.
- Discounts are available for large groups, please contact us for details.
This tour is designed and priced as a 'self guided, carry your own luggage' holiday as this is how we can provide the best value for money for our clients. Howecer, if you prefer to have the services of a dedicated guide, a support vehicle, or perhaps a luggage transfer service, we are happy to arrange these for you at the following rates:
- Luggage transer: €275
- Support vehicle: POA
- Tour guide: POA