Nature of the
Ride: The Alentejo, literally the province across
the Tejo River, is a mainly flat, arid land filled with scrub oak,
cork trees, olive groves, vineyards, a few fields, and whitewashed
hill towns. As you proceed from South to North, the land gains elevation.
Yearly precipitation increases. Pastures and orchards begin to make
The Alentejo, from South to North, occupies about 2/5ths of the
length of Portugal. It is ounded on the east by Spain, on the south
by the Algarve coast, to the west by the Atlantic Ocean, and to
the northwest, and north by the province of Lisboa et Vale do Tejo.
Never a fertile or resources-rich land, if today the villages are
becoming more wealthy, it is in large part due to the return with
their savings of those who worked in France, Germany, and Switzerland.
From the biker's point of view, the Alentejo has four advantages:
It is full of natural charm; it is relatively free of traffic and
tourists; it is warm and dry earlier in the spring and later in
the fall than the rest of Europe; and it is inexpensive: You can
sleep in high quality hotels and pousadas (government hotels in
historic buildings) at moderate cost.
You will cycle, in the Alentejo, almost entirely upon highways
(and, locally, upon village streets, and bumpy roads). On most highways,
fortunately, automobile circulation is light, and trucks are few
and far between.
Most restaurants serve copioius amounts of simple, plain, local
food. Though many riders like these meals, they are far from gourmet.
The pousadas, on the other hand often do serve more complex meals.
The Alentejo has many excellent potters, and beautiful earthenware
pieces may be obtained at reasonable prices, carried in luggage,
and used at home. Other handicrafts, while enticing, are less practical.
When to Go:
The ideal months to bike in the Alentejo are March and April. May
is much hotter, with highs in the 80s, but still a good month for
biking. In the summer, temperatures are scorching and rainfall minuscule.
Temperatures remain quite warm into the month of October, but the
countryside is parched and sere. It is rainy and cold throughout
The Alentejo has a variety of open landscapes, described above,
that make riding enjoyable. But the icing on the cake are the charming,
whitewashed hill towns, many along the so called "castle route".
Each town is different; each more attractive than the next. There
are a few "tourist sights", for example, a ducal palace
that belonged to the Portuguese royal family, and a breeding farm
for some of Europe's finest horses, open for group tours. Here and
there are sprinkled dolmens, Moorish fountains, and historic churches.
Information on sights may be found on the Portuguese government
web site: http://www.visitportugal.com .
How to bike it:
The following difficulties are involved in self-organizing a trip:
Biking out of Lisbon requires use of major
highways and bridges The distance from Lisbon to the main tourist
area is about 175 kilometers. Little English is spoken. Bike shops
are uncommon. However, it is possible to self-organize a trip.Thanks to Evan White, who self-organized such a trip, for his input on this. You should carry any bicycle repair tools and supplies you might need. If your group is large, you might want to consider hiring a van one or both ways, perhaps through Lisbon Taxi, perhaps meeting you directly at the airport. Although expensive, the other costs of the trip are very reasonable when compared to France or northern Europe, so the total cost of the trip may still fall within your budget. Biking out of the airport is on major highways, and is ill advised.
Another option is the train. The Portuguese train Internet site is not easy to use. The best bet may be to take your bicycle by cab from the airport to a Lisbon lodging, and to arrange your trip at the railroad station or perhaps a local travel agent. If you will be biking from south to north, possible destination stations are Beja, Viana, or Évora. Return station possibilities are Elvas or Abrantes. Intercity trains to not carry assembled bicycles, but should take cycles packed in bike bags. See my discussion of home made, portable bike bags, here. Regional trains do usually carry assembled bicycles. Using regional trains may involve several transfers to reach your destination. Train fares are reasonable. It may be economic and desirable to use taxis or vans from your starting or ending towns to regional train stations to avoid major highways.
The author normally bikes on self-organized trips. The Alentejo,
however, seemed to be best biked with an organized group. On a typical
organized bike circuit through the Alentejo you will ride about
330 kilometers 200 miles. The first and last days of your
trip you will be transported by van from and to Lisbon. The author's
well-run trip was with perhaps the only commercial touring company to cover this area, Easy Rider Tours: (http://www.easyridertours.com),
Because the Alentejo is not particularly suitable for an individual tour,
and because the author has no organizational experience in Portugal,
no itinerary is given. Individuals interested in constructing their
own tour can obtain ideas from the above mentioned government tourism
site, and from the general itineraries published by bicycle touring
companies on the web. The key Alentejo tourist towns, from south
to north, are Mértola, Serpa, Beja, Alvito, Monsaraz, Evora,
Arrainlos, Vila Viçosa, Estremoz, Portalegre, Castelo de
Vide and Marvao. You could also combine the Alentejo with other parts of Portugal if you have more than one week of time free to cycle.
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