Trails of the Authentic Algarve
This is a scenic trans Algarve mountain bike tour across the back hills of the Algarve, exploring some of the best tracks, many of which are seldom ridden. It will give you a taste of the authentic countryside life whilst testing your fitness on some fabulous natural tracks.
- Activity: Self guided mtb holiday
- Bike type: mountain bike
- Duration: 7 nights, 5 daus cycling, 1 rest day
- Activity level: Intermediate
- Accommodation: 3 and 4 star hotels/guesthouses
- Daily Average: 45 km
- Price: From €610
Day 1 Arrival
Upon your arrival in the Algarve, we will collect you and take you to Vila Real de Santo Antonio (VRSA), an interesting old town on the banks of the Guadiana River, which forms a natural border between Portugal and Spain. Largely redeveloped after the great earthquake of 1755, VRSA was recreated on a town grid system introduced by Marques de Pombal. Yet still it 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 shops and cafés, is an ideal place to spend your first evening. You can enjoy a spot of people watching as you tuck into some fresh local food and wine. This you set you in the mood before you set off on your trip across the Algarve.
Day 2 Cycle to Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo: (51km, elevation gain 840m)
It's a nice easy start to the day as you leave by the ferry terminal and trace the outskirts of VRSA. Almost immediately you are amidst aromatic pine forests, cycling along sandy tracks, where you won't expect to meet many others apart from the odd jogger or fellow cyclist. Before long you will find yourself heading north in unspoilt, open countryside. The gravel tracks offer the odd challenge but you are inevitably rewarded with far-reaching views. As you pass by through tiny hamlets and cross river beds you can't help but feel like you are already at the heart of the real Algarve.
Gradually turning south again, your route passes through a scenic National Forest, which provides a welcome shade in the hot summer months. Emerging from the forest you will pass close to a waterfall and natural pool Pego do Inferno. Popular with locals and tourists alike, it is well signposted and could make a perfect spot to rest a while and wash off the dust of the day's ride.
From here you will head west to your destination for tonight, a beautifully restored rural boutique hotel. The hotel is located in the hills just outside Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo. It is a somewhat unassuming little town, that has gained notoriety as a result of the famous terracotta tiles, still traditionally manufactured using local, red coloured claylike soils. Your scenic route passes right in front of these old fashioned small artesanal factories. There is a final climb up to your hotel, but you can look forward to a well-earned dip in the pool or massage before indulging in a delicious home cooked meal.
Day 3 Cycle to Salir: (54km, elevation gain 940m)
After a hearthy breakfast you will head south along some pleasant undulating trails, offering splendid views down to the coast, passing through farmland and the odd settlement. This is an authentic view of countryside living that not many people get the chance to experience. You will traverse rocky tracks that appear to be untouched and it's hard to believe that you are actually still not far from civilization. These gradually make way to a wider, dusty road that takes you through a beautiful valley towards the traditional old town of São Brás de Alportel, home to one of the best preserved Roman roads in the area. You can make a little diversion into town where there is a pleasant town centre square. But if you can hold out a little longer, you will soon reach the neighbouring village of Alportel, a typical and charming place, home to a rather special café that sells fabulous homemade cakes. Suitably refuelled you will head out of the village and onto single tracks which then lead down to a beautiful valley, with old oak trees and free range black pigs wandering about lazily in the Algarvian sunshine. At the end of the valley you'll find Fonte Filipe, an old working well and water pump and here you will join a shaded track that cuts across a little gorge towards the main road.
From here you may take a slight detour to the hill-top village of Querença, with its beautiful church square and friendly café. Alternatively continue on your route through Fonte Benémola, a well known local beauty spot. There is a natural spring where it is possible to see water bubbling up out of the ground all year round. Crossing over the stream and along the single track your route heads up and over the hills towards Salir, well visible with its characteristic water tower. It's quite a long climb at the end of the day, but worth it for the views and you should arrive here in plenty of time to freshen up before venturing into town to sample some of the tasty local food.
Day 4 Cycle to São Bartolomeu de Messines: (46km, elevation gain 770m)
You are in the hills proper now. It's a far cry from the bustling tourist destinations on the coast. Your route leads straight up a steady climb but the outstanding scenery provides a natural distraction. Past a farmhouse and an abandoned school (of which there are, sadly, many in the Algarve countryside), you will head north along dirt tracks in the direction of Malhão and its renowned hill top. There is a Buddhist monastry at the summit. The intrepid bikers amongst you might decide to tackle this iconic climb. It does not make part of this trip's original route, so alternatively you just head west and across a somewhat less daunting valley, where a sweeping dirt track crosses several rivers and streams and eventually leads to the remote village community of Aguas Frias de Baixo.
A café and traditional store marks the centre of this sparse village. The area is is famed for its production of locally distilled medronho. At the end of the year it is sometimes possible to see local farmers collecting the wildly grown berries, that are used to produce this strong but well appreciated licquer. A café stop is recommended here to experience the slow-paced local life. Eating the ripe berries on the way is recommended, butt best to leave the sampling of the drink until after the ride as there still is a way to go and a few hills!
Your route follows the wide Arade river valley for several kilometers. It's a perfect opportunity to savour the remoteness and total tranquility of this beautiful region for a while, before you encounter further glimpses of 'civilization' as you pass under the Algarve-Lisbon motorway viaduct. making your way through a small forest and across farmland your final leg will take you alongside the Lisbon railway line and into São Bartolomeu de Messines, a small, yet busy market town, where it is easy and pleasant to mix with the locals and enjoy some fine food and wine at very reasonable prices.
Day 5 Rest day in São Bartolomeu de Messines
After 3 days of enjoyable riding, it's a good day to have a day out of the saddle, here in Messines. This is a traditional Algarvean market town that plays a pivotical role in the farming community of the area. It really isn't aimed at tourists, which is its principal charm. There are several cafés and restaurants where the regional produce can be sampled as well as a traditional market building in the centre of town in use virtually every day. Your accommodation is located nearby and run by locals who are only too happy to suggest activities and places of interest for you during your day off.
For those not wanting to rest all day there are some excellent opportunities for ride out of town, with some of the most scenic reservoirs (barragem) that you can circumnavigate at a gentle pace to keep those legs moving. We've included an optional loop circuit of around 32 kilometers and just over 500 meters of elevation gain. The circuit follows the contours of the hills around Barragem do Funcho, passes over the dam on the Barragem do Arade and then circles back towards SB de Messines. It makes for a beautifully scenic half day ride.
Day 6 Cycle to Nave Redonda: (43km, elevation gain 710m)
Crossing the Algarve-Lisbon railway line you are almost immediately pedalling along a quiet road through undulating countryside for a couple of kilometers. From here you will cross over a bridge and head along dirt tracks that hug the reervoir that provides the irrigation water supply for farmers and is a peaceful location for freshwater fishing. Evidence of the manmade nature of the reservoirs soon manifests itself as the route passes a partly submerged school building, no doubt once the hub of a diminishing community. The forest and varied countryside scenery all make this an interesting ride, without many serious challenges. Eventually you will make a steady climb into the hillside town of São Marcos da Serra, one of the few café stops available today, as you gradually head further inland.
Leaving northwest out of São Marcos da Serra, initially following the railway line, your route continues through quiet rolling countryside. Here you will cycle along meandering country lanes with small homesteads and abandoned farms scattered on the hilltops. It is reminiscent of the land that time forgot, but the peace and tranquility make for a pleasant and relaxing ride. You approach your stay for tonight by crossing a vast canvas of hills that stretch for as far as the eye can see, connected mostly by dirt tracks similar to the ones you are cycling. It is an impressive end to a varied day's cycling. Your hotel for the night is a rural guesthouse set on the top of a hill overlooking the village and valleys beyond. The pretty garden and outdoor pool are a perfect oasis in which to relax before heading down to the one and only little local restaurant.
Day 7 Cycle to Odeceixe: (47km, elevation gain 690m)
The final day takes you towards the dramatic west coast of Portugal. It's a great day to finish on, as you will be cycling through yet more virtually uninhabited countryside, punctuated with the odd farm and occasional little settlements. As well as great cycling terrain, it gives you an opportunity to really soak up the region's natural beauty and serenity as you amble along authentic, hidden trails. As you approach the coast you will join a short section of the famous Rota Vicentina, a historical trail that forms the backbone of another popular mtb tour. From here it is evident you are getting closer to the seaside as the tracks become sandy and you can start to feel the freshness of the sea air. There are some fabulous trails leading you up and over the hills towards the coast and you can enjoy a good pace as you navigate your way down towards the final stretch.
Today is not just the end of your trip, it also marks a significant landmark in your journey. You are on the border of the Algarve and Alentejo provinces, marked by the pretty town of Odeceixe. With its whitewashed houses leading up to the well maintained corn grinding wind mill, it is a welcome sight. The area has a naturally beautiful location, where the Odeceixe river runs towards the ocean and the meadows pave way to the rugged coastline. A few kilometers further along the road is Praia de Odeceixe. It is worth the extra cycling to overlook the spectacular beach below where the river surrenders itself to the Atlantic Ocean. With the fresh sea air to blow away the dust of the day's cycling it's a perfect end to your holiday.
- February: €610
- March: €625
- April: €665
- May: €685
- June: €715
- July: €765
- August: €795
- September: €765
- October: €675
- November: €610
- December: €610
- GPS hire, GPS tracks and detailed maps
- Quality accommodation
- Route assistance where necessary
- Transfers to hotel or train/coach station
- Luggage transfer, €250 per group
- Bike hire
- Holiday insurance - recommended
- Choice of good quality 29'' hardtail mtb
- Safety helmet, €12 euro per week (we suggest you bring your own)
- A Choice of pedals, €18 euro per week (we suggest you bring your own)
- Guiding service by experienced mtb guide €POA
- Extra overnight stays in Odeceixe, or Albufeira (price tbc)