Day 3 makes the transition from a landscape dominated by the River Tagus and its huge and intensively farmed flood plain, to something much more mountainous and, from a cycling perspective, challenging.
First the metrics. Theoretically today's route was 62 km with climbs and descents of 330m. Because I missed a couple of turns, and we had to retrace our steps, we ended up cycling 72 km with a riding time of just under 5 hours.
Despite their electric MTBs, Christine and Robina are very cautious about "mixed surface" cycling. The bikes are horribly heavy and a fall could be serious. Today we came up with alternative routes to avoid what looked like the dodgy bits. In practice this meant that they stuck to the roads which are very quiet but occasionally cobbled.
We split the route into three sections: the first to Azinhaga, mid morning coffee destination; the second to Vila Nova da Barquinha, where we stopped for lunch; and the third, the final section into Tomar. Golegã looked the nicest place, with the biggest choice of cafes and restaurants but it would have been too late to stop there for coffee and too early for lunch.
The first leg followed the River Tagus although you didn't get to see it that much. Constant irrigation and heavy agricultural traffic meant that the path was rutted in places but I think Robina and Christine could have got through. The route was mixed, going from shady wooded lanes into huge open fields growing peas, potatoes, and maize. It's a long leg and coffee didn't come a moment too soon.
We parted company, after 7 km of cobbles, at Golegã, and Mike and I headed into what we thought was an off-road stretch with Christine and Robina sticking with the road. We should have stayed together because it was a great surface all the way to Vila Nova da Barquinha.
The only thing Vila Nova da Barquinha had going for it was lunch. Christine found a place full of locals and we were rewarded with something very cheap, wholesome but not exactly vegetarian.
The last leg was tough with a lot of climbing along a gravely surface through a eucalyptus forest. I enjoyed it but it was very hot and for the first time on the trip we had to do some sustained pushing. At the top of the pass there was a handily placed water hydrant which we shared with a couple of friendly pilgrims from Slovenia. So while we should have stuck together for the first two legs it was a good job Christine and Robina stayed on the road on the third.
Tomar is the biggest place we've stayed at so far, the magnificent Templar castle overlooking a town full of bars and restaurants. We finished the day with another amazingly priced dinner consisting of various types of crustaceans and lovely slightly fizzy Portugués white wine.
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