Guadiana River Guided Tour 9th to 12th January 2020
Activity: Guided Touring Bike holiday
Date: 9th to 12th January 2020
Bike type: Touring Bike (optional e-bike)
Duration: 3 nights 4 days cycling
Activity Level: Intermediate
Accommodation: Quality rural hotel and B&B
Daily Average: 50km
This four day guided tour takes in the natural beauty of the Guadiana and its surrounding towns and villages. Every day brings with it a new experience as we follow the twists and turns of the river, cycling on quiet, empty roads and enjoying the unassuming authenticity of the region, far away from the tourist resorts that characterise much of the Algarve coastline.
You could be fooled into thinking that cycling along the riverbank is fairly flat. However, we will leave the valley for higher ground in places. This makes for an even more interesting ride, of course, and the ascents soon give way to spectacular views of the bending and twisting river and the far-reaching countryside beyond.
We have designed this trip for those who cycle regularly and appreciate the odd challenge, but who enjoy a relaxing pace and are interested in the nature and culture that surrounds you as you navigate through ever-changing landscapes.
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Guadiana River Guided Tour 9th to 12th January 2020
Day 1 Vila Real de Santo António – Alcoutim: (47km, 600m elevation gain)
We will meet in central Loulé, where we will be transported with our bikes and luggage to the beginning of the route and to our first sight of the majestic Guadiana River, at Vila Real de Santo António. After a quick coffee and briefing from our tour leader, we will set off towards the ancient settlement of Castro Marim. We will initially enjoy views across the widest point of the river to Spain, before turning off to traverse the salt pans (a still thriving local industry), and entering the town via the medieval castle.
Heading out through the nature reserve we are surrounded by marshlands, where we may spot some interesting wildlife, before continuing North and leaving the last remnants of the Algarve tourist region behind us.
Here the landscape starts to change and we will climb a little as we follow the road that runs parallel to the river. It is an opportunity to really savour the peace and quiet of this region, as we pedal along country roads, punctuated by small villages filled with tradition. We can stop and sample the homemade sweet pastries and admire the locally mined slate houses (known as xisto) that are populated by generations of families who still live life according to the old customs and beliefs. It seems like the more we pedal forward the further back in time we go!
Eventually our route takes us close enough to the river that we can actually dip our toes in. There’s a museum and a roman excavation along the way or we may just fancy a cold drink and a peaceful break at one of a number of cafes that we will pass.
After a final climb we descend into Alcoutim, our destination for tonight. It is a beautiful town with a rich history and an impressive castle that overlooks the river, surrounded by typical white houses on narrow streets that reflect the traditional way of life. Dinner will be a local affair with the opportunity to sample fresh fish from the river or the home reared smoked ham and sausages.
Day 2 Alcoutim – Mértola: (48km, 790m elevation gain)
Our second day’s cycling is a complete contrast to Day One as we make our way through the interior Algarve and enter the Alentejo, the land of wheat and bread produce. It’s a vast, scarcely populated landscape with a noticeable lack of establishments serving food and drinks, so it’s a good idea to go prepared with plenty of water and snacks, which we can stock up on before we leave Alcoutim.
Leaving the hotel this morning the biggest climb of the day greets us almost immediately! But we are in no rush, so we can wind our way slowly up and out of town as we look forward to another day of new experiences.
As we head inland the roads become straighter and we begin to appreciate the vastness of this land as we cycle along narrow lanes surrounded by low-lying hills. Punctuated rarely with the odd farmstead we go for long stretches where the only sign of human life is the manmade dry stone wall that lines the road. Eventually we reach Giões, probably the largest village we will encounter before our day’s destination, so we will stop here for a break and a bite to eat. Suitably refreshed, we will continue towards Mertola, crossing the Vascão river, which forms the natural border between the Algarve and the Alentejo.
Dating back to Roman times, Mertola is beautifully located on the crest of a hill and makes for a dramatic scene as we 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 a slow exploration on foot.
Day 3 Mértola – San Lucar de Guadiana: (53km, 960m elevation gain)
This is the day we cross the border to Spain. And, whilst the crossing of the line itself may seem a trifle understated, it’s certainly a photo opportunity and a novelty for most of us to be cycling in two different countries on one day. It is interesting to spot the differences between them, despite their proximity.
As we cycle towards the border we can enjoy an invigorating stretch of open countryside and rolling hills. In fact, it’s surprising how much we climb without really noticing it. Besides, there is plenty to keep us distracted. The theme for today is all about mining and smuggling and it is fascinating to imagine as we cycle along, how the smugglers coped with what would have been quite hostile territory back then. As we 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, we 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 we join the old railway line and follow it for a few kilometres until we arrive in El Granado, our first Spanish town; time to sample our first tapas? From here we follow the quiet road down to our destination for the night, San Lucar de la Guadiana.
The road is a little rough in places, but it’s a lovely descent to the river once more and it’s quite a sensation to be on the exact opposite bank from where we were two days ago.
San Lucar de la Guadiana is a pretty town with several cafes and restaurants overlooking the river. A stroll on the waterfront is a pleasant way to spend the late afternoon, unless you want to join the locals and have a siesta, of course! In any case, the Spanish don’t dine until 9pm at the earliest so we will most certainly have some time to relax before dinner.
Day 4 San Lucar de Guadiana – Ayamonte: (52km, 630m elevation gain)
It’s the last stretch of our Guadiana cycling experience, as we navigate our way back down the river towards Ayamonte.
There is some serious climbing at the beginning so it’s a good idea to stock up at breakfast time. We follow the road out of San Lucar for a little while, then we head off road and onto some great tracks that are scenic and fun. After a refreshment break in a former mining village, we continue South, following a rough road that skirts the Cartaya pine forest.
We 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, we join a bike lane to finish the ride ‘in style’ as we 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 our circle in Vila Real de Santo António.
We will be transported back to Loulé, having cycled c.200kms and climbed c.3000m, over 4 days in 2 countries. Not a bad weekend’s work!
Price per person, based upon two people sharing a twin/double bedded room, is €395pp
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 from Vila Real de Santo António on Day 4
- 3 nights b&b stay in comfortable guesthouse or hotel based on 2 persons sharing a twin room.
- Daily luggage transfer between accommodation
- 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.