Mountains protect Portugal from Spain, and though their geographical proximity encourages amalgam, their cultures are distincts as those of any two of of Europe's neighbors. Windmills stand atop hills overlooking the ocean and the sight of an ox dragging a plow is common. For a short while longer, Portugal will be a unique showcase of European life in bygone times. It is time to get acquainted.
Day 0: We fiddle with our bikes in the Vigo station parking lot, and set out through the port town and along the ocean to Baiona, the first town to hear of Columbus’ probe of the “New World” (the Pinta landed here at the end of its return voyage, and a surprising replica still sits in the harbor). Then a dramatic afternoon of ocean-front cycling. Beautiful isolated beaches allow for dips in the Atlantic. Evening brings us to a ferry to Portugal, for two nights in smiling Caminha, on the ocean.
Day 1, Sunday: Arrival in Vigo, Atlantic Coast to Portugal
We meet in Vigo on Sunday morning. If you have subscribed to our Access Package, you will arrive either via a Saturday overnight sleeper train from Madrid or Barcelona, or via a Sunday morning train from nearby Santiago de Compostela. Thru travellers on "Atlantic Coasting," who will have ridden this route in reverse on arrival, may prefer to spend the day in Santiago, or to travel direct to our evening stop in Caminha, for a loop ride out to the glorious beach with a view of the fort that guards the mouth of the river. (35 km)
Day 2, Monday: The Minho Valley
Up the river valley to Valença do Minho and Tuy, twin Portuguese and Spanish fortress towns facing each other across the river. A flat route is available on the Spanish side of the border, a hilly one in Portugal. In the afternoon, we head inland via small lanes passing through smaller towns. Trademark trellised vineyards and ornate white churches decorate the route. Once you’ve climbed over a couple of ridges, turn back out to the ocean, following a little river as it tumbles back down the hill. (45 - 80 km)
Day 3, Tuesday: Caminha, train to Porto
A train ride into Oporto (Porto in Portuguese), on more-or-less whatever schedule your please. Get an early start for a full day in Portugal’s second city. If you would rather go for a bike ride in the morning, plenty are available. Or break from the train trip with a visit of beautiful Viana do Castelo, half way along. Manueline architecture, fresh sardines, and a pm train on south. When you reach Porto, spend what’s left of the day exploring the city. Visit the Port wine houses, have dinner in one of the waterfront bars. Perhaps an evening of fado down by the Eiffel bridge. (0 - 60 km)
Day 4, Wednesday: Back Country to Luso
A morning train gets us clear of the city, and to Aveiro, down the coast. Then it's “head for the hills.” We travel inland to Agueda, and then turn south on a beautiful forest road. Through loads o’ eucalyptus, and little villages where your helmet will be enough to identify you as a space invader. Our ride ends in the spa resort of Luso, famous for its radioactive hot springs (which would worry us if we lived around here), and for its position on the edge of the Buçaco National Forest. This will be our home for two nights. (55 km)
Day 5, Thursday: Loop in the Buçaco Forest
We use today to explore one of Portugal’s most extraordinary sights. A relic of the colonial era, Buçaco has been planted with trees from around the world, some 700 species at last count. Beautiful forest walks, and a visit to the magnificent palace hotel in the middle of the woods are on the menu. For those who prefer military history, a little museum crowns the park, testimony to an early face-off between Napoleon and Wellington. And bike routes into the Bairrada back country abound. Variable k, or hike instead.
Day 6, Friday: Mondego Valley, Coimbra
We continue along the trail of one of Napoleon’s most famous (and costly) campaigns, across the Serra da Penacova and down the now peaceful Mondego Valley toward the Atlantic ocean. Coimbra, reached as we come out of the hills, is one of Europe’s premier university cities. The old university buildings crown a hill, and look out over a beautiful jumble of a town. Shop for your very own filagree shrine, then spend the evening singing fado by the cathedral. (45 km)
Day 7, Saturday: Cross Country to Leiria
A long day, though you may shorten it with a train ride, if you wish… Through picturesque valleys, across ranges of hills: the best and the roughest of rural Portugal. If you decide to take the whole thing on, it is one of the two longest days on any Blue Marble itinerary. But it is also one of the prettiest, and one of the most unusual for a North American. Leiria, our destination, is a pleasant maze of narrow streets and large “praças,” crowned by a spectaculary-lit abandoned castle. Dinner tonight can be eaten on top of a barrel in a wine bar. You'll probably prefer to crawl in. (95 km)
Day 8, Sunday: Batalha Monastery, out to the Atlantic
Leave Leiria following a ridge, with views forever on both sides. This pleasant morning ride brings us to one of Portugal’s most stunning structures, the Batalha monastery. A text book on Portugal’s great contribution to architure, the ornate Manueline style, which characterized the Age of Discovery. Then a quick roast chicken at the bus station, and back to the bikes. Out to the coast through vineyards and forests of pine. Visit Sitio for a spectacular view of the Atlantic, and of our night's destination, Nazaré, far below. The age-old fishing port has largely transformed itself into a resort town in recent years, but traces of its past abound, and it remains one of our favorite places. (50 km)
Day 9, Monday: Nazare Loop, to Alcobaça
It is tempting to just park in Nazaré for the day, and you may do so if you please. Visit Sitio, the original town perched on top of the cliffs and accessible by funicular. Make an all-day affair of lunch by the beach: the arroz de marisco (a Portuguese paella) and a half bottle of vinho verde will put you in a fine mood for an afternoon siesta on a hot day. But Alcobaça, home to Portugal’s largest pottery market (and another imposing monastery) also beckons, just a few (pretty, baggage-free) k away. Tough choice. (30 - 50 km for the loops)
Day 10, Tuesday: Along the Ocean to Obidos
Down the coast on a glorious ride through São Martinho (where a Blue Marble group once ordered a golden bream big enough to feed 6 hungry bikers), and to Foz do Arelho. Beach stop! Then to the back of the bay, and to Obidos. This walled town proudly dominates what used to be the sea and is now just more fields. Absence of ocean takes nothing away from a walk around the ramparts… we strongly advise sobriety (and your helmet) for this activity - you will see what we mean! (50 km)
Day 11, Wednesday: Loop Ride to Cape Carveiro, Berlinga Island
Out to the ocean and back again. Stop in sleepy cafés, pedal through gnarled olive groves, gawk at old windmills. Cycle around the Cabo Carvoeiro, pounded by the Atlantic. Perhaps take a boat to the sea caves on Berlenga Island. Peniche, Portugal’s second fishing port, has great fish restaurants along the old harbor: a long lunch and a stop at Baleal beach for the lazy. The more energetic can spend time abusing seagulls, or canning tuna. Then back to Obidos for more risking your necks on the city walls, and a celebratory “last night on the road” dinner. (65 km)
Day 12, Thursday: To Lisbon
A short morning cycle to the local railhead, and a 2-hour train ride, combine to bring us to Lisbon. A free day to discover the Portuguese capital. Lisboa is one of our favorite cities. Great food, architecture, and a charming nightlife combine to form an ensemble that would easily satisfy for a week, if not a lifetime. You will have to pick and choose, and it will not be easy. Climb up to the castle for incomparable views. Shop the boutiques of the Baixa, or wander the alleys of the Alfama, perfumed with fresh sardines grilling in impromptu sidewalk kitchens. At the Jeronimos monastery, you can find yourself eerily alone in a chamber with the mortal remains of Vasco de Gama. High school history suddenly in front of you in a stone tomb. Our trip includes dinner, and a hotel night in Lisbon, to help you towards your ongoing project the next day. (40 - 65 km)
Day 13, Friday: Travel Day. We actually recommend another night in Lisbon, if you can afford the time and the funds. We will book additional nights in our Lisbon hotel with no reservation fee, if you so wish, for a Saturday or a Sunday flight.
- Bike rental is included!
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