The old ways are the best…

Mountain Biking Across the Algarve

Few might agree, especially in this world of constantly evolving technology where, at the push of a button or the command of a voice, you can have pretty much anything delivered and be delivered pretty much anywhere.

But if, like me, you sometimes get the urge to step away from our modern world and enjoy a few days of peacefulness, then mountain biking across the Algarve hits the spot. Of course, it means you will not see a great deal of what we now refer to as ‘civilization’ for the best part of the day. And running under your own steam means that you need to expect the unexpected; be prepared to picnic on a handful of nuts, charm a pyjama-clad old lady into opening her café just to top up your water bottle, or hand over the last of your chocolate to a shepherd in return for a photo. It’s all part of the fun of a self-guided mountain bike holiday across the Algarve.

Of course there are many options for those wanting to cross the region on two wheels and it largely depends on how quickly and how directly you want to travel. We opted for the slow, indirect route because we had the time and the inclination to explore some of the hidden gems that this beautiful part of the world has to offer. We covered the distance in five days, making our way from VRSA (on the border with Spain) to Odeceixe (on the West Coast). This meant we were cycling around 50kms a day and arriving at our destination each afternoon with plenty of time to freshen up before dinner, having lingered lots amongst the breath-taking scenery, taking photos or just living the moment.

Although the route starts from the centre of the bustling border town, it leads you almost immediately to the middle of aromatic pine forests, cycling along sandy pathways. And, before long, you find yourself heading through unspoilt, open countryside, pedalling along gravel tracks that offer the odd challenge, but inevitably reward you with far-reaching views. Each day brings with it a new adventure as you pass through tiny hamlets, cross river beds, traverse rocky outcrops and meander through beautiful valleys and meadows, where animals graze lazily in the sunshine. The terrain varies from km to km, as you negotiate single tracks, wide dusty trails and quiet country lanes. There is never a boring moment and, best of all, this is an authentic view of the Algarve that not many people get the chance to experience.

The accommodation, naturally, consists of rural hotels and guesthouses. They each have something unique to offer, but they have in common a rustic charm and willingness to please that is lacking in many modern establishments (in my opinion). We ate well and slept well, waking up each morning refreshed and ready to explore the day. What’s not to like?

As we approached our final destination we felt tired, but mostly exhilarated; there is a certain sense of achievement that comes from completing a trip like this. Of course, we knew all along that support was close at hand should we need it. But we enjoyed playing the part of the intrepid explorers. We really felt like we had been at the heart of somewhere very special and we relished the fact that we had most likely followed in the tracks of farmers and country folk of yesteryear.
It’s not a trip for someone in a hurry and there are plenty of faster and more direct ways to get from Vila Real to the West Coast. But if you want to savour the natural beauty and tranquillity of the authentic Algarve, then the old ways are most definitely the best (even if we did use a Garmin to guide us along them!)