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It is a lot easier to get out of bed in the mornings now, when the sun streams through the window almost every morning as soon as we pull up the shutters. It’s not just us either – everyone around from the locals to the tourists seem to be giving off far more positive vibes, and right now this coastal region of Portugal is a more than pleasant place to be!
Our new solar-powered energy has found us walking and exercising a lot more and last week we decided the time had come to purchase some bicycles. We had noticed an offer in our local supermarket – some basic bikes for the bargain price of 50 euros each, and my wife was especially excited – not about getting the bike itself so much but because hers was purple and had room for a basket on the front!
It doesn’t seem to be publicised very much but there is now a route of cycle paths called the Ecovia, which stretch the full width of the Algarve from Sagres to Vila Real De Santo Antonio. These routes are marked with signs and blue arrows and are primarily on dedicated cycle paths or traffic-calmed roads. It is not perfect – occasionally it becomes unclear where the route goes and you have to use an element of guesswork to find the next blue arrow, but for us that all adds to the fun.
Over the weekend, we tried two stretches of the route – the first a short one there and back between Cabanas, Conceicao and Tavira, and the second a longer ride from Cabanas to Manta Rota and back.
The Tavira route takes you over fields and meadows, then into the Ria Formosa Natural Park and across the salt pans. This is a mainly flat route – perfect for our first day on the bikes. This route is gorgeous at this time of year as the meadows are covered in yellow flowers as far as the eye can see. We are told there is not usually such an abundance of these flowers but the extreme wet weather we had followed by this hot sun has made for a stunning landscape.
Coming back from Tavira approaching dusk, the flowers start to close, turning the yellow fields into yellowy green fields. The only downside to this sun-down journey being that marshy ground + dusk = hordes of mosquitoes, and a wife with a right arm which is currently double the size of the left after an allergic reaction!
Our Sunday ride was much longer and more strenuous for two unfit people with a fondness for food and wine, especially with hot sun beating down. The track seems to disappear in Conceicao for a little while, but using a map we were able to guess the route and after a wiggle through Conceicao village and over the railway line we again found the blue arrows.
This ride took us across dirt tracks and small roads – through fields of olive trees and fragrant orange groves. The whole ride was a wonderful assault on the senses with heady scents of orange blossom and the faint aniseed smell of wild fennel.
After the fields the route follows along the side of the treacherous N125 road, though not on the road itself, then cuts towards the coast on a dirt road between the Qunita De Ria and Quinta De Cima golf courses. I can only imagine how fabulous it must be to play on these luxurious courses – maintained to perfection and stunning to look at. Sadly my pitch and putt skill level and limited budget preclude me from being allowed anywhere near the first tee.
Once through this long dirt road with plenty of challenging hills, not helped by the rough road surface, the track then joins a normal but very quiet road, which runs towards the beautiful traditional hamlet of Cacela Velha. We took a small detour down to the tiny fishing village of Fabrica and had a soft drink and a rest. Whilst there I had to take a picture of the enchanting little boat shown in the centre of the picture in which it would be a challenge to accommodate one tiny person.
We pushed the bikes up the hill out of Fabrica and pressed on towards Cachela Velha, our original destination, past quintas with fruit trees and horses outside. We got to Cacela Velha pretty quickly and were amazed at the number of cars there compared to the few we saw when we visited off-season – this gave us a bit of a taste of just how busy the Algarve is going to be in a couple of months time!
The amount of people, along with the temptation of a very steep hill to rocket down on the way, persuaded us to press on to Manta Rota – a decision we came close to regretting as soon as we realised that what goes down must go up. This was a very hilly road which made us wish we exercised more often and ate less pies. The road down into Manta Rota was fine with a steady downward incline to cruise down, but all the while I was very conscious of the fact we would have to get back up it again later.
We arrived at Manta Rota, and after a refreshing paddle in the sea, we enjoyed a lunch of razor clam rice in a cafe. As suspected that steady downward incline into Manta Rota became a torturous mile long upward incline on the way back, not helped by a stomach full of seafood and the onset of heartburn!
It is fair to say the ride back wasn’t quite as fun as the ride there but our poor level of fitness is to blame for that. Wanting to look closely at the golf courses gave a good excuse for
pushing my bike rather than riding it up several of the hills on the return journey! Despite the hard work, we still had that slightly sad feeling when we drove up our road, which made us feel a bit like young children having to put their bikes away at the end of a summer Sunday.
Once the aching limbs and sore bits have subsided we very much look forward to riding some more of the Ecovia – and I’m already starting to wonder about how long it would take to cover the whole distance with some nice overnight stops along the way…
Information on the Ecovia can be found at http://www.ecoviasalgarve.org/ – In Portuguese only.