“Now is no time to think about what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is” – Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man of the Sea
With our year on the road quickly coming to an end (they do go quickly), we set off to the southern coast of Portugal for more sun and some cycling along the Rota Vicentina – the fisherman’s trail.
The trail follows the coastline through the Alentejo and Algarve regions of Soutwest Portugal. We didn’t cycle it the complete route (hiking is the best way to cover it all) but road some very scenic pieces while adding some mountain biking in the interior and some road cycling through the cork forests to complete a solid week of cycling in the region.
The scenery is incredible and parts of the trail are quite wild and remote.
We started in the sleepy town of Grandola and ended in the surf town of Sagres stopping in Porto Covo, Vila Nova de Milfontes, Odeceixe, Arrifana, and Pedralva. Grandola was a mostly forgettable town, but we did have a surreal experience there. The town is small with 15K people but hardly tiny. When we arrived on a hot Sunday afternoon, there was absolutely no one around. Parks were empty. Streets were empty. The roads had no cars. It felt liked we stepped into a ghost town.
But as the night cooled, people started to emerge. Most of the other towns we visited were much more vibrant as they were a bit closer to the coast and still drawing many visitors.
And the beaches that are scattered all over the coast near towns and in remote and seemingly unreachable locations were “filled” with surfers and sun-worshipers.
But the true gem of this journey was the endless coastline with its craggy rocks, stork nests, beach flowers,and sea vistas. The coastline is wild, gorgeous and mostly undeveloped…and a sight to see.
Sagres was a great place to finish up. It is one of the larger surf towns on the coast and has a number of beaches and surf breaks within walking distance from the center. There is a castle and ruins and the Cape St. Vincent, only 4km or so out of town, which is the Western most part of continental Europe. There are plenty of restaurants and watering holes and a strange outdoor laundromat that is a great place to meet backpackers and surfers hanging out drinking beer and waiting for their dry cycle to complete.
The scenery on the southern coast of Portugal was really amazing. The cycling was a good means to get the views and experience the untamed lands, but if you are after a pure cycle vacation, there may be better spots in Portugal, the North on the Camino route as an example or east of the coast. On this trip, we ran into a lot of dogs – especially on the off-road routes. Most of them were farm dogs defending their turf. Some were security dogs protecting particularly remote homes. Most were chained but enough were not that we were a bit on edge from the many encounters each day. Often there were options to do a bit of riding on the road but because of the lack of options in the areas, cyclists need to share the road with transport trucks. If you do cycle here, make sure to carry extra water during the hotter months and a bit of extra food because it can get so remote that you can find yourself hours from any option for food or water.
But if you are a surfer or beach goer, rent an RV and head for the coast. There are so many spots to pull over and spend the night, take a swim, throw out a line, and chill. It was a great spot for us to spend the last two weeks of this year’s adventure!