Day 17 - The Big Iberian Trip - Tavira

To get back on schedule we caught the train from Lagos to Faro and then cycled 40 kms to Tavira. We then have three days to get to Seville when Christine flies to and from London. After that 4 day break we will set off on the main Spanish leg of our trip up to the north coast.

Today's trip was controversial. As we left Faro on a busy main road Christine saw a sign that said Tavira was 20 kms away and somehow this became fixed in her head as the correct distance. Despite the fact that we had plenty of time she then couldn't understand why we were on a route that was 40kms long. The tension between getting from A to B the fastest and usually easiest way and taking the scenic and usually more interesting route is a constant.

Anyway today started well and the train journey was great fun. The coastal train starts in Lagos, stops everywhere, takes forever and runs every 2 or 3 hours. Today the four carriages were packed with locals and holiday makers on their way to Faro airport. Bikes were​ stored in a tiny compartment at the end of the train. Initially there were 9 bikes but more kept arriving and after a few stops there were 16. The conducter was determined not to turn anyone away and every time a new bike arrived all the other bikes at to be moved to accommodate it. It was good to see everyone getting involved and despite the risk to paint work, people' cooperated.

This stretch of the Eurovelo 1 is classed as planned but not adopted but generally speaking the signage was better today than it had been on the adopted stretch along the west coast. Like the west coast the route was both on and off road but here even some of the 'road' stretches used by local vehicles were also gravel. This of course added to Christine's sense of conspiracy.

We did actually make things even harder for ourselves at one point and followed a stretch of Eurovelo marked on the map but not signed on the ground. This took us into deep undergrowth and involved 'wading' through a stream and climbing over a railway line.

The route took us through an interesting landscape but one which even I, desperate to defend it, couldn't describe as beautiful. This is the land of the saltpan, I've never seen so many, and the route generally followed the raised banks that seperated their otherwise endless rank. If you're at all interested in birds this is a place to visit. I'm slightly interested, saw lots I haven't seen before, but Christine unfortunately isn't and refers to them generally as 'birdies'.

Our meandering route meant that we also got to visit the local villages. It was surprising really, given that these places felt well off the beaten track (not beaten enough for some people), how lively they were. There were many restaurants and they were all packed with people eating grilled fish.

After cycling for exactly 40kms we arrived at Tavira just in time to watch the semi-final of the FA cup were the best team unfortunately lost. An imperfect end to an imperfect day.

Days 15 and 16, The Big Iberian Trip - Lagos

It's very windy in southern Portugal at the moment, so windy that we've decided to stay 2 days in Lagos.

Yesterday we cycled about 40k from Sagres but with a 40kmh headwind it felt twice as far. We chopped off​ all the wiggly bits and stuck with the cycle lane alongside the main road, but even I, Mr Schedule Man, had to accept that there might be better things to do than spend another day cycling into a gale.

To be honest yesterday's cycle ride to Lagos yesterday was close to insane. There were other cyclists in the hotel we were staying at in Sagres and they were getting a taxi but we decided to give it a go. The wind blows back home in Brighton but when in does the bike stays in doors. I've never cycled in a wind as strong and gusty as this.

According to the weather forecast, which had a black wind warning, it was gusting up to 60kms a hour. On the route to Lagos we had a side wind for the first 10kms or so and a head wind for the rest. The side wind was the worst and the variable sheering sensation made the bike feel consistently unstable. Into the wind wasn't as scary, just hard work particularly as there were some big hills.

The hotel we booked in Lagos turned out to be really nice. The gale we had cycled through promised to get worse so staying an extra day here wasn't a problem. It's Christine's birthday and of course she thinks that hanging out in Lagos is a brilliant plan. Tomorrow we'll make up the difference by catching a train

Day 14 - The Big Iberian Trip - Sagres

After 13 days heading south, today's ride reached a milestone. This afternoon we reached the Portuguese equivalent of Land's End and, instead of south, for the next 250kms or so until Seville we will be traveling east. We have turned an important corner. We're now in Sagres which, despite giving it's name to Portugal's most popular beer, is a bleak and very windy place.

Wind was in fact the defining feature of today. It started to blow just as we left our accommodation outside Odeciexe and got stronger as the day progressed. As I write this in Sagres, it's blowing a gale.

Our first target was Aljezur, very much a town of two halves, a new half and an old half. Last time we were here we stayed in the new half, the horrible half, and the experience scared our memory. The old half is much nicer and it's stone buildings are gradually being restored. Interestingly we met some German carpenters dressed a little like the Amish in the film Witness. They were following a tradition of traveling after completing there apprenticeship. The Walz tradition, has died out in most places but still lingers on in Germany and the journeymen were dressed in the traditional outfit.

Getting to Aljezur had involved some tricky off road cycling including a particularly savage gulleyed descent down a dirt track into the valley where Aljezur is sited. With the wind blowing hard into our faces or sideways on, we decided to avoid any unnecessary byways on our journey south and from Aljezur stayed with the main road to Carapateria. It was a good decision, the road turned out to be empty, and the last 7 kms involved a totally unexpected downhill descent, absolutely brilliant. It was a beautiful stretch on good tarmac through wooded countryside and there was little traffic.

From Carapateria things got increasingly open and more exposed and on the final approach to the Cabo de São Vicente it was hard to stay upright.

Despite the crowds, the Portuguese version of Land's End was well worth the visit and the light house and the huge and very beautiful cliffs made a memorable impression. To celebrate we got someone to take a picture of us on the edge of the cliffs and ate an ice cream.

Day 13 The Big Iberian Trip - Odeciexe

After an overlong first day, a second day spoilt by navigational cock-ups, Christine's third day on the Big Iberian Trip went to plan. Helped by the distance, it was only 55km long, flat roads and very strong tail wind, we arrived at our destination without any significant moans or groans. If only every day could be like this.

We've walked through this part of Portugal before. The coastal scenery is amazing with low cliffs and frequent and very beautiful sandy beaches. The main difference between cycling and walking is that on a bike you rarely get to see the sea. If we hadn't walked the coastal path this would have been very frustrating but with the wind behind us on long straight and mostly empty roads we more than coped with scenic disappointment.

We stopped for coffee at Almograve, a place we had visited before, and were amazed to see the number of walkers heading up the coast. I've blogged about the Rota Vincentina and get hundreds of visitors to this part of the website. The number of people walking the trail explains why, it's becoming like the 'camino' - a must go to route with young people in particular.

The next stretch of cycling down to Zambujeira do Mar was particularly good, definitely my fastest cycling since yesterday's efforts to escape the clutches of the motorway.
Having buzzed along for 40km, the route then suddenly goes off-road and into sandy, dusty and even difficult terrain. The range of conditions we encountering, from road cycling to mountain biking is strange and at times tests our confidence in the route.

At Azenha do Mar we stopped for lunch and met, bang on schedule, Roger and Sue friends from London, who are walking the Rota Vincentina. The only think that went wrong was the time needed to make the Bouillabaisse​, which at 50 mins was just too long. It was great to meet them out here in Portugal and thanks Roger for the excellent photograph.

It was very hot when we eventually left the restaurant and there were some more horrible dusty trails to navigate before dropping down into a lovely valley at the end of which is Odeciexe. We are staying to the south of the town in an agriturismo, nice swimming pool, very spacious and very quiet. A perfect end to a perfect day.

Day 12 - The Big Iberian Trip - Vila Nova de Milfontes

Today didn't go that well, a combination of confusing road signs, poor navigation, and well intentioned but misleading advice meant that not only have we been led up the garden path but along a motorway as well.

The start was OK. Once we had found it, last night's stay in our rural retreat, the Seranada Enoturismo, was lovely. It's a very classy place. We had a great dinner and drank four different types of wine from the owner's vineyards. The wine was wonderful and we got so carried away that we bought some and the 24 bottle case should get back to the UK before we do.

Setting off this morning we discovered how much work we had done yesterday. The Seranada Enoturismo was on top of a big hill and we enjoyed about 5km of steady descent before we got onto the main road again and made good progress towards Sines. At a place called Villa Nova St Andre we came upon some road works, a sign saying motorway ahead but nothing indicating a cycleway. My GPS continued to say straight ahead so that's what we did, although the road did start to look increasingly like an empty motorway.

Christine was behind me and she saw the no bikes sign at a junction but I missed it and continued south. As she said there was no point both of us getting killed so she stopped and phoned me up, getting no reply. By the time I realised my mistake I had gone too far to come back. I then spotted the old road on the other side of the motorway rang Christine back and agreed to meet her at the next junction. I covered 10kms along the hard shoulder in record speed, saw about 10 cars, and managed to leave the motorway without getting arrested.

Christine then turned up escorted by a Portuguese cyclist who directed us into Sines and to 'The Algarve'. By this time I had given up on my own navigation skills and it took a while to realise we were going round the houses, or more accurately a giant chemical works. By the time we finished our grand tour of the very impressive Sines industrial quarter (albeit on a beautifully surfaced red tarmac cyclepath, courtesy of Eurodollars) we had cycled 57 kms and were ready for something to eat.

The additional distance, the heat, our loss of confidence and perhaps the effects of a tough day yesterday persuaded us to cut our losses in the afternoon and get to Vila Nova de Milfontes by the fastest means possible. This meant abandoning the coastal route, with its great views but difficult surface, and mixing with the lorries and tourist traffic inland. It was not particularly pleasant but we managed to get to our destination and off the bikes before 4 and into the hotel swimming pool. All in all a somewhat frustrating day.

Day 11 The Big Iberian Trip - Near back of beyond

What would have been an excellent first day for Christine on the Atlantic Eurovelo was sadly spoilt by a complete breakdown in discipline towards it's end. If this was a football game Christine would now be facing a three day ban.

It was a hard start to the day. Staying down on the coast meant we had to climb 170m up through the town to rejoin the route. That went well, and was followed by a really lovely stretch of gravel cycling through high pasture dotted with beautiful Corsican pine looking like giant sprigs of broccoli.

The next stretch of cycling, over a ridge and down to Setubal was amazing and the best I've been on so far. On a well surfaced road we had to firstly climb up to 250m and then descend on a curving undulating road for about 9km down to the town. With the mountains on our left and the sea on our right we shared the trip with a local cycling club enjoying a route which must have a reputation. A Portuguese corniche.

Next thing we had to do was catch a ferry. Beautiful day, lovely views and a great way to relax.

On the other side everything was suddenly flat again, sand-dune country, a bit like the landscape south of Porto but dryer. We stopped at about 2 o'clock for lunch at Comporta, famous apparently for rice production and featuring a museum dedicated to rice growing. The lunch was wonderful, with the star item lamb slow cooked in orange juice, a lot better that perhaps it sounds.

Surprisingly the lunch didn't add a zip to proceedings and either the kilometres became longer or we became slower. After what felt like an age a sign finally pointed us left up a side road and towards our accommodation. I said there was still a 'few' kilometres to go and Christine said that as long as we didn't have to climb that hill on the distant horizon she didn't mind. After climbing the hill on the distant horizon I said I think we turn.left. Christine was unconvinced (unlike me she has sixth sense but no map) and followed me reluctantly. When I turned back after a couple of kilometres she followed me for a bit then went on strike and said she wasn't going any further. By now we had been going 7 hours in the hot sun. I went alone, brilliantly found the accommodation (obscurely located down a dirt track) and returned to find Christine who by then had gone. We then spent half an hour trying to find each other in the back of beyond speaking to each other on the phone and helpfully describing locations as 'I'm here you bloody idiot' or 'I'm next to the barking dog'.

Anyway all's well that ends well. The accommodation, an agriturismo sort of place, once found has turned out to be wonderful. It's a vineyard on a little hill with amazing views over a canopy of cork oak all the way back to sea and the hills we climbed this morning. We cycled 90 kms and managed 1400m of climb, toughest day of the trip so far.

Day 10 - The Big Iberian Trip - Sesimbra

It's great when a plan works. Christine flew out this morning from London, I met her at the airport, we cycled across Lisbon, caught a ferry and then cycled cross country to Sesimbra. We've cut a corner in terms of the Eurovelo route but we're now perfectly positioned to rejoin it tomorrow and continue our journey south.

I was worried about today and when I started cycling out the station in Lisbon it seemed that my concern was justified. The combination of hills, cobbled streets and ancient trams was lethal. Then I clicked into the cycle ways, devised a route to the airport along a cycle route and it was all fine.

Bigger report back when we get back on the route.