Cycling adventures in Portugal

bicycle riders
Cycling on the Portuguese coast near Figueiro de Foz

Before I came to Portugal in 2019, I had been an enthusiastic cyclist in New Mexico. Every weekend saw me out riding with the New Mexico Touring Society bike club. Rides were great opportunities to see parts of Albuquerque I would never have explored by myself, or get out of town on rural routes. We shared coffee, lunches and many social occasions. The club became my extended family.

So, when I moved to central Portugal I hoped to find kindred spirits. Unfortunately, it’s been hard. But through the wonders of modern technology–think Facebook groups–and sheer persistence, I have found a few cycling companions. It has meant driving a lot farther than I was used to in Albuquerque, but it has given me the opportunity to see different areas of the country, like the coastal town of Figueiro de Foz and the mountainous region around Figueiro de Vinhos, near Coimbra. Some of my best rides have been with Jean-Remi Chapelon who runs an adventure tour company called My-Green-Break.

Challenging Terrain

I live in a hilly area of central Portugal which means lots of climbing if you’re on a bicycle. As you can imagine, this poses a challenge to the legs and lungs. I mentioned this to my brother, who is also a keen cyclist. His response was, “Oh but you used to live near the Sandia mountains, so what’s the big deal?” True, I did live close to the Sandias, which are part of the Rocky Mountain chain, but the difference is that there are hills everywhere here. They may be short, but they are very often steep–an 8 percent to 12 percent grade is not uncommon!

Nevertheless, I have grown to love the different style of cycling I can do in Portugal. I have met some wonderful people, enjoyed some great coffee, pastries, lunches and conversations. I have also learned to appreciate that a bike ride doesn’t have to be about killer mileage or training for some exhausting event like a century or the Iron Horse Classic, all of which I did while living in New Mexico.

Bike Friendly Drivers

Portuguese drivers are tolerant of cyclists, something I very much appreciate. Even though I ride mostly on narrow, winding country roads, there is so little traffic that I never feel in danger. Another wonderful thing about Portugal is the absence of broken glass on the roadside. Drivers in New Mexico had a habit of tossing beer bottles out the window. And, there are no goat heads, those nasty little seedpods with the wickedly sharp thorns that were deadly to bike tires.

National Cycling Guidebook

My interest in cycling also gave me the change to pitch a story to Portugal Living, the online lifestyle magazine I have freelanced for since 2021. On page 26 of the summer issue of the magazine is my article about Paulo Guerra dos Santos and the Ecovias Portugal, National Cycle Tourism Network. Dos Santos, a 49-year-old engineer with a passion for cycling, has created an online guidebook which has downloadable maps of cycling routes throughout Portugal. He researches the routes and updates the guidebook annually. The 2022 edition of the guidebook now has maps of more than 6,400 kilometers of bike routes.

There are 19 long distance routes complete with maps, advice on towns and accommodation and cycling specific technical information. Cyclists can follow trails that take them to historic towns,  past rivers, beaches, through hilly areas or the gently rolling countryside of the Alentejo south of Lisbon or among the orange groves of the Algarve. Santos divides the routes into segments of 30 kilometer s (18.6 miles) to 50 kilometers (31 miles), so cyclists can have ample time for sight-seeing and enjoying a coffee or meal along the way.  

The National Touring Guidebook is available online and appears in Portuguese and English. The 2022 edition sells for 64 Euros or $70. (Purchasers get an 80 percent discount on future guidebooks.) The guide is downloadable as a ZIP document which includes the road book and GPS tracks, there is also a PDF file with a general map of the network. Each route section can be downloaded to a smartphone and used with a GPX-capable app.  

Paulo Guerra dos Santos
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One thought on “Cycling adventures in Portugal

  1. Such a great story … especially with it’s personal twist. Portugal Living Magazine is honored to showcase your writing and looks forward to publishing new and novel articles. You inspire so many of us!

    Liked by 1 person

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