Grande Rota Guadiana River Tour
Activity: Self-guided MTB holiday
Bike type: Mountain Bike (optional e-bike)
Duration: 5 nights 4 days cycling
Activity Level: Intermediate and experienced
Accommodation: Quality rural hotel and B&B
Daily Average: c. 60km
Price: from €550
This is a four day cycling adventure that can’t fail to impress as you cycle first upstream on the Portuguese side of the Guadiana River, and then downstream on the Spanish side. It is, of course, a novelty for most to be cycling in two different countries on one day, let alone in one trip. And it is interesting to spot the differences between them, despite their proximity. But above and beyond, this trip offers ever-changing scenery and terrain, far from the beaten track. It’s challenging but there is still plenty of chance to take in the different pace of life as you travel through sleepy villages and working farmland.
Grande Rota Guadiana River Tour
Day 1 Arrival
Upon your arrival in the Algarve, we will collect you and take you to Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA), an interesting old town on the banks of the Guadiana River, which forms a natural border between Portugal and Spain. Largely redeveloped after the great earthquake of 1755, VRSA was recreated on a grid system, yet still retains a character of its own. It has a relaxed atmosphere and the central square, edged with orange trees and host to an array of shops and cafes, is an ideal place to spend your first evening; enjoy a spot of people watching as you tuck into some fresh local food and wine. This should get you in the mood before you set off on your river valley adventure.
Day 2 VRSA – Balurcos: (54km, 850m elevation gain)
Starting out from the ferry terminal on the Guadiana river, you will follow the GR 15, an established hiking and biking trail. Initially flat, the route heads North towards the ancient settlement of Castro Marim. You will enjoy views across the widest point of the river Guadiana to Spain, before turning off to traverse the salt pans (a still thriving local industry), and entering the town via the medieval castle. North of Castro Marim the terrain changes into rural single tracks and heads deep into the countryside towards the ancient villages of Junqueira and Azinhal. Eventually you will find your way down towards the Guadiana river and follow tracks alongside the water, before navigating up and down the side of the valley and through the villages of Odeleite and Foz de Odeleite (where a riverside café makes a perfect lunch stop). The afternoon will be be spent mainly in the heart of the valley before your final ascent to the tiny, traditional village of Balurcos, where you can enjoy a wholesome meal and a good night’s sleep.
Day 3 Balurcos – Mértola: (71km, 930m elevation gain)
You can look forward to some fairly challenging trails today as your route heads back down towards the riverside and then on to the small town of Alcoutim. Historically Alcoutim was a trading route to Spain and you can see the Spanish town of Sanlúcar de Guadiana on the opposite side of the river (your destination at the end of Day 4). Alcoutim has a few cafés and shops and is a good place to sample some of the local sweet pastries, which will provide much needed fuel for the difficult sections ahead. Leaving town you will follow a mixture of single tracks and some wider dirt roads. From here the trail becomes quite technical, but before long you will leave the valley and head uphill to the tiny village of Monte de Vascão.
Crossing the Vascão river, which forms a border between the Algarve and the Alentejo you can look forward to some gentler terrain as you make your way through open countryside to another tiny village, Lombardos, and then onto Mértola, your destination for tonight. Mértola is beautifully located on the crest of a hill and makes for a dramatic scene as you approach it, with its castle and city walls that dominate the landscape. It is known as a museum city because it has so many ancient buildings and places of interest intact, so it is worth an exploration on foot.
Day 4 Mértola – Sanlúcar de Guadiana: (69km, 910m elevation gain)
Heading North out of town the central theme for today’s ride is the Vale do Guadiana Natural Park, a huge area of open country where farmers and wild animals live in relative harmony. But it is a day of contrasts as you leave the unspoilt countryside behind and enter Mina de São Domingos. Home to one of the largest former mining operations in Portugal, functional until 1966, there is a mining museum and a former worker’s house. It also has a rather lovely river beach, where you may be tempted to soak your tired legs as you enjoy a well-earned coffee break.
As you cycle out of town through the mine worker’s quarter and past the English Cemetery (the British owned the mines), you will head towards the border, where the theme switches from mining to smuggling. As you pass through the pretty little village of Santana de Cambas, it’s worth noting the Museu de Contrabande (Smuggling Museum) opposite the church.
Once in Spain, you can take a small diversion down to Puerto de la Laja and the remains of a port on the river. This was used to transport mined materials along the Guadiana. From here you will join the old railway line and follow it for a few kilometres towards El Granado, picking up a single track (Grande Rota 114) that traces the river and brings you to your destination for the night, Sanlúcar de Guadiana, a pretty town with several cafes and restaurants overlooking the river. A stroll on the waterfront is a pleasant way to spend an hour or two before dinner.
Day 5 Sanlúcar de Guadiana – Ayamonte (54km, 1060m elevation gain)
It’s the last stretch of your Grande Rota Guadiana River tour, as you find your way back down the river towards Ayamonte.
There is some serious climbing at the beginning so it’s a good idea to eat well at breakfast time. You will follow the road out of Sanlúcar for a little while, then head off road and onto some great tracks that are scenic and fun. After a refreshment break in a former mining village, (picture postcard material and somewhat deserted), you will continue South, following a rough road that skirts the Cartaya pine forest.
You will continue cycling through some pretty varied landscape encompassing familiar sights such as cork oak, orange and olive groves. Eventually this gives way to the more exposed and barren ground, where only rock rose can survive and the local industry switches to wind farming. But it makes for an invigorating ride and culminates in the last climb of the trip.
Finally, you will join a bike lane to finish the ride ‘in style’ as you approach Ayamonte; this is the end of the ride and a perfect place to enjoy tapas on the waterfront or in the charming old quarter, before catching the ferry back to complete your circle in Vila Real de Santo António.
Day 6 Departure
We will transfer you from your accommodation in VRSA for your journey home.
Price per person, based upon two people sharing a twin/double bedded room.
Single room accommodation subject to availability, please specify if preferred .
- Transfer between the Central Algarve and Vila Real de Santo António on Day 1
- Transfer back to the Central Algarve on Day 6
- 5 nights b&b stay in comfortable guesthouse or hotel based on 2 persons sharing a twin room.
- Daily luggage transfer between accommodation
- Garmin with loaded routes
- Support maps and route advice
- Flights to and from the Algarve
- Lunches and evening meals
- Bike rental is available on request
- Helmets and SPD pedals. You can hire at a small fee, but we suggest you bring your own
- Personal accident insurance, which we strongly recommend you take out
- Guiding service by experienced MTB guide €POA