Cycling TravelMountain Biking

Lesser-known cycling destinations: Portugal

The towns of Spain’s Mediterranean coast are well-used to packs of cyclists rolling in and out, with places like Calpe and Malaga becoming hotbeds for riders both professional and amateur over the winter months. That’s saying nothing of Girona in the north-west of the country where around 200 professional riders make their home, or the islands of Mallorca and the Canaries – all of which also draw hordes of bicycle-riding tourists every year. And then there’s Bilbao, the first entry in our series of lesser-known cycling destinations.

It’s tough, then, for Portugal – Spain’s smaller neighbour on the Iberian Peninsular – to get a look-in when it comes to bike tourism. Nevertheless, even though it may fly under the radar, we’re here to tell you Portugal is a fantastic place to escape with your bike.

We’re going to focus on three places that each offer something very different for cyclists, so hopefully, there’s a perfect cycling break for everyone.

torre belem building

Lisbon, Portugal’s thriving capital

Lisbon is enjoying a real boom at the moment with city-break tourism, but actually has a lot to offer bikers who also appreciate a bit of culture and a pastel de nata at the end of their ride too.

There are no massive mountains to go and conquer, so if you’re looking for a place to really smash yourself to pieces, other parts of Portugal may hold greater appeal. If, however, you fancy a decent leg-stretcher, followed by an afternoon or art galleries, Aperol Spritzes and maybe even a snooze… this will definitely be your bag.

We picked out this stunning 80km loop from the city’s central district to the architectural gem, Torre de Belem, then out along the coastal road and back via some dreamy lagoons as a real winner.

The Algarve, year-round sun and challenging rides

While the name ‘Algarve’ may conjure up images of British retirees roasting themselves in the sun outside identikit villas, there is also a huge wealth of incredible riding to be found there – especially if you turn your back to the coast and head into the Serra de Monchique.

This 32-kilometre mountain range runs down the south-west coast of the country, delivering some jaw-dropping views out across the Atlantic ocean, as well as back across the country to the east as well.

This loop is one of the most Algarve’s most beautiful. We’ve placed the start at Monchique but – depending on where your accommodation is – you can pick up the 80km circuit from any direction. The best places to stop for rest and resupply, however, are in the central square of Monchique, or a cafe in Marmelete.

Madeira, the climber’s island paradise

Portugal’s answer to the Spanish Canaries, Madeira is a gorgeous group of four islands in the North Atlantic ocean that make up one of Portugal’s two autonomous regions. The road cycling here is far less well-known than on the Canaries, however, with quiet roads and some extremely challenging ascents to the tops of its highest peaks, you’re going to want to pack your climbing legs.

The main island of Madeira is like something out of a Michael Crichton novel, with dense green jungle vegetation reminiscent of the Jurassic Park films and you’ll want to allow a few days to really explore the different roads it has to offer. This route may look like a wee spin at first glance, just 38km in length. However, when you realise that in just one climb you’ll pack in 1,800m of climbing, you begin to understand the task at hand.

As Cycling Weekly discovered last year, Madeira also has a lot of gravel roads to explore – so if you’re lucky enough to own a gravel-appropriate bike, you may want to pack that in your suitcase too!

How to get there

There are extremely frequent flights to most of Portugal from the UK, with budget carriers Wizz, Easyjet and Ryanair all offering dirt-cheap options to Lisbon. You should be looking at £50 for a round trip ticket to the Portuguese capital, although it’s worth being aware that most budget airlines will sting you with surcharges for taking a bike on board.

If you fancy spending slightly more then British Airways have flights to Faro (the major airport in the Algarve) for around £100 and you can take your bike bag with them as a piece of hold luggage without paying an extra supplement. The flight time is two and a half hours.

Flights to Madeira are that little bit more pricy and also fewer. However, having said that, BA and Easyjet both have a daily service and tickets cost between £150 and £350 for the round trip. It’s four hours of flying time.

Wherever you choose to visit in Portugal, be sure you have the right cycling travel insurance for you and your machine.