Guadiana River Touring Bike Holiday
Activity: Self guided touring holiday
Bike type: Touring bike (optional e-bike)
Duration: 7 nights
Activity Level: Reasonably experienced
Accommodation: 3 and 4 star hotels/guesthouses
Daily Average: 58km
Price: From €750
This self-guided bike tour along both sides of the majestic Guadiana River offers a welcome escape from busy towns and tourists. You will enjoy exploring some of the more remote areas at a leisurely pace, experiencing the peaceful and authentic rural way of life that can still be found along the route. You will witness the centuries old traditions and sample local products and dishes in the pretty towns and villages that have relied on the river for many years for their livelihood and their security.
It is a trip of many parts as you cycle upstream in Portugal, through dramatically changing landscape, and then back down the opposite bank in Spain. The two countries have their obvious differences and the castles that you will see along the way are clear evidence of past conflicts. But it is also interesting to see how, more recently, they have thrived as close neighbours, with ferries running back and forth between the principal border towns on a daily basis.
The daily rides do incorporate the odd challenge but there is also a fair chunk of flat riding as you follow the twists and turns of the river. In any case the distances are such that you can take your time and embrace your surroundings, whilst building up a good appetite for dinner during your overnight stays.
Day 1 Arrival in Vila Real de Santo António
Upon your arrival in the Algarve, we will collect you and take you to Vila Real de Santo António (VRSA), on the banks of the Guadiana River, which forms a natural border between Portugal and Spain and the backbone of your trip.
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 trip.
Day 2 Cycle to Alcoutim: (47km, 600m elevation gain)
After breakfast you will set off towards the ancient settlement of Castro Marim. You will initially 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.
Heading out through the nature reserve you are surrounded by marshlands, where you may spot some interesting wildlife, before continuing North and leaving the last remnants of the Algarve tourist region behind you.
Here the landscape starts to change and you will climb a little as you follow the road that runs parallel to the river. It is an opportunity to really savour the peace and quiet of this region, as you pedal along country roads, punctuated by small villages filled with tradition. You 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 you pedal forward the further back in time you go!
Eventually your route takes you close enough to the river that you can actually dip your toes in. There’s a museum and a roman excavation along the way or you may just fancy a cold drink and a peaceful break at one of a number of cafes that you will pass.
After a final climb you descend into Alcoutim, your 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 3 Cycle to Mértola: (48km, 790m elevation gain)
Your second day’s cycling is a complete contrast to Day One as you make your 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 you can stock up on before you leave Alcoutim.
Leaving the hotel this morning the biggest climb of the day greets you almost immediately! But you are in no rush, so you can wind your way slowly up and out of town as you look forward to another day of new experiences.
As you head inland the roads become straighter and you will begin to appreciate the vastness of this land as you cycle along narrow lanes surrounded by low-lying hills. Punctuated rarely with the odd farmstead you can go for long stretches where the only sign of human life is the manmade dry stone wall that lines the road. Eventually you reach Giões, probably the largest village you will encounter before your day’s destination, so you will most likely want to stop here for a break and a bite to eat. Suitably refreshed, you 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 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 a slow exploration on foot.
Day 4 Cycle to Serpa: (65km, 947m elevation gain)
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. This is the land of wild boar, vultures and the endangered Iberian lynx. So you will want to keep your eyes open for some rather special photo opportunities. The ride is slightly longer than most days and fairly tough in places, but worth it for some of the spectacular sites you will see.
Leaving Mertola across the river you will head East through the park towards Mina de São Domingos, passing through a couple of small villages along the way. Mina de São Domingos is an interesting spot to linger in for a short time, but you will be returning here to stay on Day 5, so better to leave some of the exploring until then.
From here the road is long and straight, so it’s a good opportunity to pick up the pace and put some kms behind you (but keep half an eye out for those lynx!). Before too long you will arrive in Vale do Poço, a pretty little village, where you might like a quick break before the final leg.
With about 20kms to go, you will have an opportunity to take a small diversion of around 4kms to see the famous Pulo do Lobo (wolf’s leap). This is a very pretty spot on the Guadiana river, where a waterfall has carved out a gorge and, according to legend, is narrow enough for a wolf to cross it in a single leap.
You will cross the river yourselves (though on two wheels) before the final climb of the day. You should reach Serpa in time for a walk around. It’s a charming working town that produces all manner of goat and sheep related products. As you stroll past the impressive gates and walls of the medieval castle, be sure to notice the natural stone pavements of which they are so proud that they hold an annual competition to see which are the whitest!
Day 5 Cycle to Mina de São Domingos: (63km, 600m elevation gain)
Today’s ride from Serpa to Mina de São Domingos is a very similar distance to yesterday, but the good news is it will feel like an easier day because the terrain is less of a challenge and you should, with luck, have the wind behind you most of the time. Of course there’s some serious cycling to be done but there is plenty to distract you as you travel through working farms and olive groves, passing cheese and olive oil factories.
Heading out east will take you on to a different route back down to Mina de São Domingos. You will cycle close to the border with Spain, enjoying spectacular mountain views towards the Spanish Sierra de Aracena, home to the Pata Negra, twin brother of the Porco Preto Alentejano (black pig).
Travelling through sleepy villages you will begin to appreciate the different pace of life here. It’s not uncommon to see people sitting around in the village square or in front of the church, just chatting or dozing in the shade. They will no doubt sit up when they see strangers on bikes passing by…but a smile and a wave is all that’s required!
Heading South now, you will eventually turn off onto a dirt track through the valley, where you can enjoy the unspoilt scenery until you reach a river. Crossing over you will climb steadily for the last few kilometres, until you see the familiar sight of Mina de São Domingos. Home to one of the largest former mining operations in Portugal, which was functional right up until 1966, there is a mining museum and a worker’s house worth a visit. It also has a rather lovely river beach, where you may be tempted to soak your tired legs at the end of your last day in Portugal.
Day 6 Cycle to Sanlúcar de Guadiana: (47km, 790m elevation gain)
This is the day you 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 to be cycling in two different countries on one day. It is interesting to spot the differences between them, despite their proximity.
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. It is fascinating to imagine as you cycle along, how the smugglers coped with what would have been quite hostile territory back then. 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 until you arrive in El Granado, your first Spanish town; time to sample your first tapas? From here you will follow the quiet road down to your destination for the night, Sanlúcar de 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 you were just a few days ago.
Sanlúcar de 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 you will most certainly have some time to relax before dinner.
Day 7 Cycle to Ayamonte: (52km, 630m elevation gain)
It’s the last stretch of your Guadiana cycling experience, as you navigate 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, 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 8 Departure
We will transfer you from your accommodation for your journey home.
- Quality bike and equipment hire. Options for upgrade to E-Bike.
- Detailed maps and route suggestions
- Good quality hotels/guesthouses along the route
- Route assistance where necessary
- Airport Transfers.
- Holiday insurance – recommended.
Prices are per person, based upon two people sharing a twin/double bedded room.
- Discounts are available for large groups, please contact us for details.
- We also offer options for daily route extensions.
This tour is designed and priced as a “self guided, carry your own luggage” holiday as this is how we can provide the best value for money for our clients. However, if you prefer to have the services of a dedicated guide, a support vehicle, or perhaps a luggage transfer service, we are happy to arrange these for you at the following rates:
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