If you’ve travelled between Southern Portugal and Spain, you may be familiar with the Guadiana River, which forms a natural border between the two countries. But you may not be aware of the significant role that this majestic river has played in their history or continues to play for those working towns and villages nestled on its banks today.
Many of them still respect the centuries-old traditions, and visitors to this region can sample local products and dishes in family-run businesses that have relied on the river over generations for their livelihood and security.
Of course, there are a number of ways to explore this beautiful landscape, but, in my humble opinion, there is nothing quite like the freedom of a bike trip.
It allows you to explore some of the more remote areas at a leisurely pace, taking in the natural beauty as you go. Every day can offer up a new experience as you follow the twists and turns of the river, cycling on quiet, empty roads far away from the tourist resorts that characterise much of the Algarve coastline. And if, like me, you like to get your money’s worth, you can take the opportunity to visit both countries in the same week!
This is most definitely a trip of many parts as you cycle upstream in Portugal, through dramatically changing scenery, and then back down the opposite bank in Spain.
The two countries have their obvious differences and the castles that you 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; one even takes groups of adrenalin seekers across to Spain where they can zip line back across the river (at a mere 720m high) to Portugal, arriving before they took off (thanks to the time difference).
If you don’t have a week to spare, you can always opt for a fully guided weekend. It’s a more concise version and, whilst you only get to experience the Portuguese side of the Guadiana, you will still enjoy four days packed with adventure. It’s also ideal if you prefer the support of professional guides and the company of like-minded people.
In the words of people who joined recent guided tours:
“I had the most incredible adventure – filled with spectacular scenery, beautiful villages and people…an experience forever cherished…”
Carla Alves, Guadiana River Guided Tour, January 2020
“I feel very privileged to have seen a bit of unseen and authentic Portugal…”
Guadiana River Guided Tour, January 2022
Of course, your trusty steed should not be a stranger. In other words, these are not really trips for the occasional rider. With daily distances of between 50 or 60kms, you would want to build up a certain level of cycle fitness in preparation.
But if you are new to cycling holidays, this is not a bad one to start with, since another great thing about cycling along the Guadiana is that there is a fair chunk of flat riding as you follow the natural course of the river.
Naturally, you will leave the valley for higher ground in places. But this makes for an even more interesting ride and the ascents soon give way to spectacular views of the bending and twisting river and the far-reaching countryside beyond.
So, whilst the daily rides do incorporate the odd challenge, you have all day to cover the distances. You can take your time and embrace your surroundings, whilst building up a good appetite for dinner during your overnight stays.
Personally, I can’t think of a better way to see this beautiful part of the country where we live. It’s a holiday that is active for the body and the mind as you explore parts you just wouldn’t see in a car (or in this case, by boat). There is a whole world on your doorstep to explore … on two wheels!
By Samantha Diamond
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Samantha Diamond arrived in the Algarve in 2006 and has made it her home. Her passions are travel, cycling, languages and dogs.