Biking in the Algarve
The first thing I did when I arrived in Portugal (way back in the year 2000) was to purchase a bicycle for the princely sum of 60,000 escudos. That is about €300 today and is more or less how much you need to shell out for a half-decent mountain bike.
I set off from the grimy garage where I bought it. It wasn’t a modern shop. It was a bicycle repair shop and whilst it was raging 35 degrees outside in the sun, the musty garage afforded a calm and shady comfort. It was richly festooned with old fashioned parts and classic bicycles from before the Portuguese revolution.
Cigarette smoke hung lazily in the air as an overalled mechanic unhurriedly prepared my bike.
The dull noise of distant traffic was muffled in the tranquil interior of this place, that was so authentic and so inviting I wanted to stay there all day.
Eventually, I padded the mechanic’s oil-painted hands with notes and hopped on my new orange and blue transport. Heading directly for those glorious cliffs around Carvoeiro, I started a new era of exploring. To be honest, I haven’t stopped since!
When I was a kid at school in South Africa, cycling was transport. It was a necessity. In Portugal it became a treasured pleasure, affording me fitness and an incredible opportunity to experience the region. You feel so much more on a bicycle. You understand the power of a hill. You smell the scent of orange blossoms and chicken grilling by the side of the road. You really are thrust into the environment a lot more than drifting past in the cosseted comfort of a car’s cocoon.
My first Portuguese summer in the year 2000 was spent in Carvoeiro and I declined the offer of a car. I revelled in the realness of a bicycle. As it hardly ever
rains in summer (I think I spotted a few drops back in 2004), there is no fear of being caught out in the elements and bicycling is the perfect way to get around.
You can even go out drinking with your friends on a bicycle because, as far as I am aware, the chances of being asked to blow on a breathalyser while cycling is rare. Out of a pure desire for survival and simultaneously in the pursuit of natural beauty, I have always preferred the most remote roads I could find. Sharing a road with cars in Portugal doesn’t strike me as the wisest idea and, in the last 20 years, I have preferred the dusty back ways to their modern tarmacked cousins.
Originally, my bicycling adventures were constricted pretty much to Carvoeiro. I moved to Algoz and soon found myself threading through groves of delicious smelling orange blossoms. Pause, kick back and sit on the ground. Eat an orange. Marvel at the world.
Cycling isn’t all about fitness, times and racing here and there, and pumping up a sweat… that’ll come anyway. I like to take my time.
You, on the other hand, may want to enjoy all the incredible fun things that come along with technological tracking. Here is a classic case in point: One day I was toiling up my local hill (having moved to mountainous São Brás de Alportel) and, after I hopped off my bike, I checked my phone. I had decided to track this ride and noticed a very cool function on Strava. The section of my hill had been virtually marked as a race track and Strava very proudly told me my time had enabled me to declare myself the 342nd place of 600 participants. Not bad! I trained and trained and managed to slip up the ranks slightly (not much though!).
However, if you’d like to experience the Algarve by bicycle, I’d suggest you do one of the following things. Firstly, you can just simply explore your region where you are. Get outside, troll the quietest roads you can and return the way you left. Simple.
Secondly, you can complete a mission. Set a task like riding the “Via Algarviana” in four days and do it. Ride the Ecovia (google coastal ecovia) like so many have done before you or head west and cruise the sandy pathways of the Rota Vicentina. Many biking companies will help you and rent you a bike to do it. Some will even provide a guided tour for you.
Thirdly, if you live here, join a cycling group or build your own. See the “sport and leisure” section of the “What’s on” guide in this paper.
Cycling is an incredible pastime, a great sport and a mind-altering lifestyle for many as it affords you a wonderful way to get fit, fuels your need for adventure and shows you the region. Please be safe out there though, and I suggest you find the quiet back roads of the Algarve. You will be blown away by the beauty you will find in all corners of our incredible region.
By Nick Robinson
Nick Robinson is growing a community which helps people explore the outdoors in the Algarve and assists people in moving to Portugal using online content. His blog, audio podcasts and videos are available for free on www.algarveaddicts.com