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Cycling Portugal Castles and Wine – A Self Guided Bike Tour

July 26, 2017

This past spring, I traded some “atypical” chilly, rainy spring weather in Italy for a warm up in sunny Portugal. Our flight arrived to Lisbon in the evening, so we opted for a relaxed start to the trip and arranged for transportation from the airport to our hotel in Arraiolos. The ride from the airport was a great introduction to the area as our local driver was happily answering many questions about the region.

I traveled to Portugal in order to familiarize myself with our self-guided cycling itinerary in Alentejo, Portugal. ExperiencePlus! has been running fully supported guided bicycle tours in Alentejo for a few years now so Cycle Europe (after continually hearing great things) decided to offer a similar route as a self-guided tour. The Alentejo, though the largest of the regions in Portugal, is the least populated, making this an ideal place to cycle from one historic city to the next.  History is steeped in every corner of this region as it has been a crossroads for trade and a battle ground for the retention of land and power since before the Romans arrived to build their impressive cities and monuments.

Portugal’s fall and spring temperatures are ideal for cycling. I went in early June, so on the edge of the “spring” but it was still a great time to be there. After a quick but comprehensive briefing from the local staff, we hit the road. The days on tour soon settled into a delightful rhythm: each morning we woke well-rested in lovely hotels full of character.  We’d eat at the hotel’s breakfast buffet, fueling up for the day of cycling that laid ahead.  We had both a road book with turn by turn directions and a gps for navigation.

After packing up our belongings, we’d hop on our bikes and cycle along quiet roads admiring groves of cork and olive trees, ancient Dolmens and little villages. The roads were generally paved but there were a few detours onto well packed dirt roads.  The bikes were appropriate for this type of terrain and taking some of these roads took us even further into the countryside.  Our route took us to explore Unesco World Heritage sites such as Evora and its churches as well as by delightful wineries or tascas (taverns). One day we saw an amazing collection of old horse-drawn carriages at the Ravasquiera winery. The unidentified Antonio dos Potes Tasca (a tavern) was worth the search — a reminder that often the best places are the hardest to find. When I stepped into the tasca I found homemade wine in clay pots. It was a perfect spot to enjoy traditional petiscos for lunch in the company of old men having a lengthy chat. We normally rode for around 3 or 4 hours before arriving at our destination.  We had a mix of loop rides and point to point rides where our luggage was transferred for us when we were moving from one hotel to the other.

The freedom of cycling through a destination often makes for stumbling on unexpected treasures such as when we stumbled upon a cheese factory; the smell of fresh milk and cheese was simply unforgettable. We also toured a leather factory where people still make leather bags and goods by hand.  We met the Patalim family that has 4 generations of potters that have passed their skill down from father and son with the current generation working hard on keeping up the family tradition.

In the evenings, with a rewarding day of cycling adventures behind us, we savored traditional meals washed down with superb local wines. Staying in ancient convents or renovated castles night, we often felt transported in time. Our comfortable accommodations left little to be desired.  Travelers thirsty for cycling adventures through an authentic Portugal will find themselves quenched on tour in the Alentejo.

To learn more about Stefania Casadei, check out her bio on our About Us page.