Algarve’s hiking and biking trails to lure off-season tourists

The Algarve has been chosen as the “pilot region” for a new online portal that aims to promote the country as a top destination for “cycling and walking”. The website, entitled ‘Portuguese Trails’, features 140 Algarve trails for taking to the road on foot and on bicycle, 111 companies described as “bike- and walk-friendly” and 60 holiday programmes aimed at adventure-loving people.

Available in English, Portuguese, French, Spanish and German, the website was officially launched during a ceremony in Vale Fuzeiros, Silves on Friday, December 15.

“The Algarve is a great place to start because it has shown great capacity in our joint goal to fight seasonality,” said Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, at the ceremony.

The plan is to add the Alentejo and Central Portugal to the platform soon and the remaining regions sometime in 2018.

The bottom line is that more and more tourists are looking for alternative holiday experiences, which are more in touch with nature and “what the Algarve is really about”.

It is also a niche that thrives during the so-called low season, as in the peak summer heat it can get too hot to ride a bicycle or walk. In other words, it brings more people to the region exactly when more tourists are needed.

Hopes are that the website can become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for the hiking and cycling sector, offering all the information holidaymakers need to book their trip without having to search through many different platforms.

Ana Mendes Godinho told Barlavento newspaper after the ceremony that the plan is to have ‘Portuguese Trails’ follow in the footsteps of other successful websites that have been launched with the support of tourism authorities, such as ‘Tourism for All’ and ‘Meetings in Portugal’.

Algarve tourism boss Desidério Silva said he was happy to see alternative niches like cycling and walking finally making headlines.

“A few years ago, no one talked about these activities. These days, town halls and businesses know how important cycling and walking is to the region,” he told reporters.

In fact, hotels and resorts that once frowned upon tourists who wanted a more adventure-based holiday are now welcoming them.

“These days, people want to play golf, ride bicycles … they want experiences. There are families that travel together and then each member does something different. Ever since hotels started working alongside outdoor adventure companies, things have been working in a way that no one ever thought was possible.”

His statements followed the same line of thought of an interview he gave to the Resident in October, when he said that the main focus of his job has been to “bring more tourists to the region between October and May, the Algarve’s “low-season”.

That is why RTA has been so committed to promoting cycling and walking, he told us, two activities which are perfect for when the weather is cooler.

But it isn’t all sunshine and rainbows. The future of the Algarve’s Via Algarviana walking trail is still very much uncertain. While it is managed by environmental association Almargem, the association has long warned that it does not have the financial ability to carry out the maintenance works it needs and the support it receives from local councils is minimal.

The tourism chief said that he has tried to encourage AMAL – the Algarve’s municipalities association – to come up with a management model that would help the walking trail thrive, but a consensus has never been reached.

Algarve part of European cycling network
It was just two months ago that the Algarve joined the ‘Atlantic on Bike’ project, which involves promoting the region as one of the routes of the European cycling network EuroVelo 1.

It is a 9,100km network along the European western borders, including “the majestic fjords of Norway, the wild Irish coastline and the sun-kissed beaches of Portugal”.

EuroVelo 1 crosses the Algarve along a 200km route called the Ecovia do Litoral, “leading cyclists across the magnificent landscapes of the Algarve coast”.

The Portuguese partners of the project are the Algarve Tourism Board and municipalities association AMAL, which will manage a €350,000 budget for the next three years.

By MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]

Photo: From left: Dora Coelho from the Algarve Tourism Association, Desidério Silva, president of the Algarve Tourism Board, and Ana Mendes Godinho, Secretary of State for Tourism