If you love sunshine, sea breezes, and stunning coastal cycling, Portugal's the perfect choice for your next European bicycle tour. More interested in tackling mountains or winding your way along quiet country roads? Portugal's got that, too. Miguel Anjo and Eva Pfarrwaller share more about why Portugal deserves a top spot on your bicycle touring bucket list.
Reason #1: There’s something for everybody
Being a small country does not mean there is no variety. Beginners and families can go along the coast on nice and flat cycle paths, or follow trails in one of the many forests. More experienced cyclists can explore the Portuguese countryside and its villages on small roads with little traffic. And those looking for a challenge will find plenty of mountains to cycle up (and down), such as continental Portugal’s highest point on the Serra da Estrela at 2000 metres altitude.
It’s a hard climb up the Serra da Estrela, but we were rewarded with beautiful views and fresh air.
Reason #2: Food
Cafés… easily one of our favourite things while cycling in Portugal. Besides a good black expresso (café) or a big milky coffee (galão), you can taste many different small pastries, typical sandwiches (ham/cheese), or Portuguese-style hot sandwiches with meat (bifanas/prego).
Restaurants, especially away from the touristy regions, always serve good soups and a small selection of meat and fish dishes for next to nothing. There are also more than ten wine regions with distinguished qualities. Did you know you can get a full bottle of wine for less than ten euros in a restaurant?
If you prefer to self-cater, you can buy fresh vegetables, fresh fish, and other local produce at one of the many markets or from a roadside stall. And when we cycled in September in the south of Portugal, we could pick fruit – figs, pomegranates, almonds – just by the roadside, without even getting off our bicycles.
Grilled sardines are a specialty not to be missed, especially in the summer by the beach.
Reason #3: Culture
The next city, town or village is never more than one day of cycling away. For the culturally interested bicycle traveller, Portugal’s main cities, like Lisbon, Porto and Coimbra, present a huge cultural and historical offer, but smaller towns and villages do not stay behind with a big heritage of monuments and traditions.Wherever we went on our cycling discoveries of Portugal, there was a castle, church, or medieval city wall around the corner.
Enjoying the view of the town of Silves with its castle and churches.
Reason #4: Village life
Although Portugal has seen a lot of its citizens emigrate for economic reasons, many villages are still alive, mostly with old people. Take a break and observe old men getting together on the village square and women doing their laundry by hand in the villages’ washhouses. Almost every village still has a café, which often represents the centre of village life. It’s a great place for bicycle travellers to get a coffee and ask for directions, or simply have a chat with the locals (if you speak a bit of Portuguese).
Our funny bicycles are always a good reason to start a chat with the locals.
Reason #5: The climate
Being surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, the climate in Portugal is mostly temperate. The best months are from March to September. But if you don’t mind some rain from time to time in the winter, all year round is good to cycle in Portugal (we admit that rain can be heavy, but it usually doesn’t last too long). The summer is excellent with a sea breeze, and sunny winter days are wonderful.
Cycling in Portugal in February, during the orange season and in mild temperatures.
Extra tip: Beaches
We couldn’t resist adding an extra tip…
When cycling in the warmer months (May-September), you can easily enjoy a swim in the sea every day if you cycle along the coast. The water is rather cold most of the time – this isn’t the Caribbean or the Mediterranean – but it feels very refreshing after some hours of cycling. The beaches are beautiful and the sand inviting for a rest. And this being the Atlantic Ocean, you can get some really nice waves.
There are many cycling paths along the beaches – perfect for easy riding with lots of breaks.
About the authors
Miguel (from Portugal) and Eva (from Switzerland) love cycling and travelling. After one year backpacking around the world in 2009-2010 and numerous short cycling trips in Switzerland and around, they left their home again in 2016 for another year off, this time on their recumbent bicycles.
They have cycled from Switzerland to Portugal and crossed South America from east to west. When they are not travelling, they are cycling every day around their hometown Geneva. They also give some of their time to the local cyclists’ association, trying to get more people on a bicycle.
Follow their adventures on their blog: www.nextstopwhere.com