At the western edge of Europe lies a country which possesses natural beauty to rival almost anywhere else in the continent, along with a cultural and historical tapestry that borrows from all corners of the globe: Portugal. Less globally significant than it once was (it was the first global superpower), Portugal now harbours more of a sleepy air in many of its villages and rural areas, but in the capital Lisbon and a handful of other cities they still party as hard as the best of them.
While their days of economic hegemony are long behind them, the Portuguese are a proud people, and for good reason; their country is home to a long and diverse coastline that is dotted with beautiful beaches that cover the whole spectrum from quaint coves to wild expanses of sand.
For those who have ventured to the Algarve in the past and want to dive into the pool of which you have barely dipped a toe, heading further north will reveal delights aplenty. And if you are seeking a holiday with a difference, how about trying a cycling holiday? Not only will you get a lot closer to the sublime nature and enticing culture Portugal has to offer, but it comes replete with health benefits for body and mind.
The Alentejo coast – which stretches northwards from the western Algarve for some 150km – is the perfect place to cycle: great weather, a fantastic array of flora and fauna and views to die for. The Parque Natural Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, an immense protected coastal Natural Park, encompasses amazing scenery of rolling hills, pristine beaches and river valleys that are just perfect for picnic stops. Cycling beside fields of lavender with olive trees punctuating the route makes for a blissful afternoon, and with over 300 days of sunshine in the region, chances are you’ll have the sun warming your back all the way.
From cork oak meadows to poppy-dappled fields, from rugged cliff-top byways to quaint fishing villages surrounding impressive fortresses, your trip along the Alentejo coast will bring variety, exhilaration and no shortage of excellent seafood.
For those seeking even more wild scenery but with enchanting lagoons, fervent pine forest tracks and a glass or three of Port wine thrown in for good measure, the Atlantic coast north of Lisbon – known as the silver coast – could be the place for you. Many of the wide, windswept beaches are perfect for various water sports, from surfing to windsurfing, kite-surfing to dinghy sailing. But for the cyclist, there are aesthetic delights gleaned from the often deserted beaches as the mighty Atlantic attacks with barrage after barrage of crashing waves.
Traditional ways of life prevail in many areas along – and inland from – this coast, with donkeys still a common mode of transportation in many a village in the area. With weekly or fortnightly markets selling a fine variety of produce or artisanal wares, and small cafes and restaurants providing the fuel you will need for your cycling adventures (in very sizeable portions) you will have many opportunities to stop and explore on every day of your trip. There are Cistercian monasteries, azure lagoons, stunning castle ramparts and much more in an area of Portugal that is increasingly catching the eye of those seeking something a little different from their two weeks in the sun.
Wherever you travel along Portugal’s vast coastline, if you take to two wheels, you are sure to gain an understanding of the country that is near impossible when zipping around in a hire car. You’ll discover off the beaten track delights in the form of beguiling fishing villages, fascinating markets, mouthwatering good restaurants and panoramas that epitomise scenic beauty, and you’ll love every minute of it. So, if you have an interest in going on a cycling adventure, consider exploring Portugal’s fine coastline and find out why those who have been there fall in love with it within hours of making its acquaintance.