A cycling holiday in Portugal

17/04/2014 by .

To all intents and purposes it is a small lonely fort atop a bluff on the Portuguese Atlantic coast. However, just two months previously it was a front row seat at one of the most extraordinary events Mother Nature can throw at us. Not bad for a cycling holiday in Portugal then.

With alarming regularity, this bit of the Atlantic conjures up some of the biggest waves known to man; (something about the shape of the sea floor and converging tides) waves nearly as high as Tower Bridge. Big enough to bring world class surfers here from September to February each year to attempt to break the world’s highest wave surfing record

This is Nazare and just two months ago, British surfer Andrew Cotton may well have broken  Garrett McNamara’s  long standing official record, also made here of over 70 feet. We still await the official verdict.

Today the ocean is serenely calm up here by the old fort, it is difficult to imagine those monster waves reaching up this far, but apparently they most certainly do.

The mind boggles.

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I’ve stopped overnight in coastal Nazare after a delightful bike ride across Portugal’s Centro region, a route meticulously planned out by Headwater, the outdoor holiday specialist. Even better, I’m riding an electric bike, which means I’m still pedalling, but with a flick of a switch, I can get a bit of help driving those pedals from an electric motor up those otherwise very painful hills. Of course you can still elect for the non-electric version if you prefer old fashioned cycling, the one where your legs do all the work, but who am I to judge?

Nazare is a very popular resort for the Portuguese in the high summer months, other than that; it is a quiet fishing town where it seems tartan fashion is all the rage. A tale is told about a certain Scottish gent who landed here many years ago wearing his tartan colours. It seems the local ladies took to it and began knitting their own versions and to this day you’ll see many of them decked out in a combination of tartan socks, skirts and scarves.

This eight night Contrasts of Coastal Portugal self-guided Headwater holiday begins in Tomar where you pick up your bike, an hour by train from Lisbon and finishes in the delightful medieval walled town of Obidos some 160k later.

In-between, you’re off the beaten track, pedalling through some beautiful national parkland and more than few sleepy villages on your journey west to Portugal’s stunningly rugged Atlantic coast.

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Our first night was in Alvados, a rural valley on the fringes of the Serras de Aire e Candeeiros Natural Park where the Cooking and Nature Emotional Hotel treated us to a regional cooking lesson before we sat down to dinner and scoffed it all up. The Emotion Hotel is a thoroughly quirky ultra modern boutique hotel with 12 emotionally different rooms , everything from Passion to Past -Times and everything else in-between. A labour of love from owner Rui Anastacio.

So It’s not all hard graft; in keeping with the Emotional Hotel standards, there are good quality 4 star hotels with breakfast to look forward to, you get reunited with your luggage each night of course, and you’ll get to visit some extraordinary UNESCO protected sites including my personal favourite, the stunningly gothic Batalha Monastery built to celebrate the famous Battle of Aljubarrota in 1385 when the Portuguese defeated the Spanish to win their independence.

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This may well be a self guided tour, but you aren’t completely on your own as Nunu, Headwater’s go to man in Portugal was quick to point out. “What, you think we just throw a couple of bikes at our customers and leave them to it?” Now remember this is a man who had previously demonstrated picking up my electric bike with just one hand, so I was not going to challenge him on this point. ” No way. These are modern bikes and vigorously tested. We provide every client with their own GPS device, a map, detailed route instructions and of course, our 24 hour phone numbers in case of any problems.”

So that was that straightened out as far as I was concerned.

Our tour ended at Obidos, a charmingly medieval walled town (you can, quite literally, walk all the way around the ramparts) where you’re never far from a medieval reminder or two.

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So is it hard work?  Yes and no. Parts of the route are hilly  but my electric bike helped out with those. You don’t have to be a highly experienced biker to enjoy the ride and the distances each day are no more than around 30k. But eight days on a saddle can be sore and you need to bring your own helmet with you due to local laws.

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The joy of riding freely  through rural Portugal away from the traffic is a delight and there is no question you will get to see local life literally at grass roots level. Headwater’s route provides plenty of sightseeing opportunities where you can stop at a Knights Templar Monastery or an historic castle, have a coffee and a pastry and take things at your own speed. There are two dinners included in the tour but the choices of where to eat along the way are endless.

Now, just let me hit that turbo switch for this next hill and watch me go.

Getting There

Headwater’s Contrasts of Coastal Portugal tour £1,237 per person and includes flights (Electric bikes £50 pp supplement)

TAP Portugal has daily flights from Manchester, London Heathrow and Gatwick to Lisbon, prices start at £116 return including all taxes. For further information, visit www.flytap.com or call 0845 601 0932.

 All images (c) Andy Mossack

 

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