With the easing of travel restrictions imminent for many countries, could a cycling holiday in Portugal be a good place to start? For keen cyclists and family holidaymakers alike, Portugal is one of the hidden gems of Europe that you should seriously consider making your next destination. Perhaps not as popular with cyclists as The Alps or Mallorca, Portugal can still offer some excellent riding opportunities for all types of rider, both on and off road. Whether you’re after a hard week of training with plentiful climbs and swooping descents, epic mountain or travel trails or you want a more leisurely ride along the coast to absorb your surroundings, Portugal is an incredibly diverse place with lots to offer cyclists and their families too. Read on to find out exactly why you should be booking a trip.
It’s easy to get there
The UK government has recently announced its plans to allow international holidays from the 17th May, and with it, has unveiled a traffic light system to indicate which countries you can visit without the need for quarantining on your return. Portugal is part of the green list of countries, making it an ideal destination for those of us desperate to get abroad this year. However, do check Portugal’s government website for updates on the rules specific to British citizens as the info may differ to the British government advice.
In addition to being on the green list, Portugal is only a couple of hours away by plane, and because it’s short, it’s relatively cheap (for now). You should be able to pick up a return flight from the UK for under a couple of hundred pounds, although you could find much cheaper flights depending on where in the country you’re heading and your departing UK airport.
One of the great things about Portugal is the climate. After a year or so of being stuck in the changeable British weather, sunning yourself in the Algarve sounds like a dream. In the northern parts of the country, the climate can be cooler and is more susceptible to rain, but the further south you go, the warmer and drier the climate becomes, with summer temperatures in Lisbon and on the Algarve coast averaging around 24ºC. On the border with Spain the climate is somewhat continental due to the mountain ranges. Overall, there is a great mix of temperatures to suit most rider’s needs, particularly if you’ve been in a sun drought over the last year!
Great climbs for the roadies
For the purists roadies reading, a cycling holiday is not complete without some fantastic roads to ride and climbs to suffer on. What’s more, Portugal’s road surfaces are excellent in most places so you’ll not be pothole dodging as much as at home.
Which area of Portugal you set up camp will determine the type of terrain you’ll be riding, so for those who love hills, we recommend looking into the central area of the country. Here you will find climbs such as the Col’ de Manteigas, a 15km section of road with switchbacks and stunning views of the glacial valley. Averaging at 4%, but with a cheeky lull in gradient not long after the halfway mark, this will wear you down due to the length rather than the steepness.
If you were inspired by the recent Volta ao Algarve, then perhaps the category two Alto do Malhao is more your speed. At only 2.8km the energy sapping climb has an average gradient of 9% to really make you question why you had so many pastel de nata at the coffee stop. No matter where you go, Portugal rises to the occasion and offers plenty of lung-busting climbs for you to enjoy.
Epic trails for those who prefer off road
Portugal’s off road gravel and mountain biking scene is small but definitely worth checking out. With hiking a less of a national sport, conflicts with hikers are few and far between. If you’re new to the area, it’s definitely worth hiring a guide and letting them take you to the best spots. If you’re wondering where to base yourself there are a few options.
The Algave is probably best know as a summer holiday beach or golf destination but you’ll be able to combine some stunning cliff top rides with everything that comes with proximity to beaches ands bars! You’ll also not be far from Serra de Monchique which offers some great trails for enduro riders, as well as some grave tarmac climbs for the roadies too. We’ll be delving into Portugal in more detail in a later blog so watch this space.
Just north of Lisbon is the Sintra-Cascai Natural Park with a small mountain range (Serra de Sintra) and a UNESCO world heritage sight. There are managed trails, many of which offer dramatic views of the Atlantic and nearby Lisbon.
Even further north lies Serra de Lousa which is known as the birthplace of Portuguese enduro and downhill mountain biking, so you’ll be in good company with a number of European elite riders choosing this area for winter training and many of the trails have been mapped and signposted. If you’re after some epic single track through historical woodland and ancient villages and the chance of meeting some wild boar and horses along the way, it’s worth a look up.
Reputable tour operators
As Portugal becomes more popular with cyclists, more and more tour companies are opening up. Using a tour operator takes the guesswork out of where to ride, which can be tricky to plan if you’ve never been to the area before. You can also often hire a guide from the area who will have extensive local knowledge and will be able show you the hidden gems that you might otherwise miss which is particularly important if you’d like to explore the off road. Often you’ll be able to secure a package deal with accommodation and food as well as a riding itinerary which is great if you’re looking for more of a training camp setup or just want someone to organise your days for you!
If you’d prefer to DIY, then Komoot’s handy guide to cycle routes in Portugal could be a good place to start.
Something for all the family
Of course, not everyone has the time or inclination to book a holiday that is wholly dedicated to cycling. The good news is that Portugal can be a fantastic place to take the whole family on their summer holidays, with the sunny weather and sandy beaches being a great environment for everyone plus there are loads of safe paths for kids to cycle on too. And of course, if you’d like the best of both worlds, there’s nothing to say you can’t hire a bike or take your own – balance the novelty of new roads and good weather with family time at the beaches and restaurants.
If you do decide to take your bike abroad, make sure it’s insured against damage and/or theft. We’ve all seen the videos of unwieldy baggage handlers, so why not get a quick quote to see how much it would cost to cover your pride and joy before your long-awaited first international holiday. You should also check you have appropriate travel insurance that covers cycling if it is a primary focus of your holiday.