From September 26th to October 17th Jerry and Odette rode the tandem on a loop in Southern Portugal, followed by a week of sightseeing in Lisbon
Odette wanted to go to Portugal. It seemed like everyone we knew was going there this year. She settled on Elsewhere (the Lonely Planet product) based on their website and reviews and a referral from a friend of Will’s. The “local expert” that she worked with was a guy named João Daniel who evidently is an independent guide using their tools and getting referrals through their service. There was some negotiation about degree of difficulty and about highway bridges before he sent us GPX files of the route. I had no problem importing those files into RidewithGPS, converting them to routes and tracing them so that we could get turn-by-turn. Here’s the full trip we planned:
We hadn’t really ridden the tandem that many miles since we’d had it serviced for Amsterdam, but I prefer to take it in before any serious trip and returned to PolkaDot Jersey in early September. I asked them to take a look at the tires and they didn’t think it needed new ones. When we picked up the bike Odette got upset with the old tires and the shop was only too happy to order her a pair of new ones. We stopped in to have them installed and they dumpstered the old pair (which pissed me off because they still had plenty of rubber left.) In any event, I broke down the bike and packed it and the helmets and shoes and we flew out on Air France using tickets that Will had gifted us in the spring. The flight to Paris was business class and even through I didn’t sleep much it was pretty comfortable. Customs was quick but we departed from a different, distant, terminal and from the gate we took a bus out to the plane. Paris to Lisbon was economy plus, but not a super-long flight.
We met João, at the airport and he drove us across the bridge to Palmela (a rural suburb of Setubal.) The place we stayed (Biovilla) was interesting with a steep dirt driveway, a bike washing station, and decor featuring OSB plywood. I reassembled the bike with no issues, Odette helped mount the bottle cages. We used João’s floor pump to inflate the tires.
When he dropped us off João discovered that Biovilla had discontinued their dining room so he volunteered to take us someplace for dinner. Odette wanted a couple more water bottles and she had forgotten her gloves so Joao took us to Decathlon in Setubal. The restaurant we headed to next turned out to be closed, but the one down the block was really good. The next morning, after breakfast at 9:00 we headed out on a test ride which was cut short by a road closure. We rode an unanticipated climb and walked a long section of dirt road to get back to Biovilla. João took us out to dinner again that evening, going to the old part of Palmela for a look at the castle and a meal in a traditional place.
The next morning we set out on what was supposed to be the longest day of the trip – Palmela to Escoural. Breakfast wasn’t until 9:00 so we didn’t get out until about 10:00 then we lost an hour with navigational difficulties in Setubal (Odette was only seeing the route, not the surrounding map.) About half way through the planned ride Odette felt bad so we pulled over and rested for an hour. Then she called João who came and collected her. I rode on (solo on the tandem) for another 20 miles, finally giving up and accepting a ride at 6:00 in the evening with five miles left to go. The main memory of the ride was that it was hot – in the upper 90s – and that while relatively flat the road had a lot of small ups and downs through farm lands. I did a cool section of rail-trail alone. After Setubal navigation wasn’t an issue.
Accommodations in Escoural were interesting – a very small bedroom with bath connected with several similar rooms to a communal living / kitchen area. We couldn’t find the remote to operate the AC (Odette had piled stuff on it when she arrived) and we couldn’t figure out how to open the roll-up shutters, so opening the window didn’t accomplish much. We walked a couple of miles to the only available restaurant and were the only diners (although there were a bunch of guys at the bar watching football.) We locked the bike inside of the pool fence. Breakfast was at the gas station next door, where we left the key so that João could pick up our luggage.
The ride from Escoural to Evora was scheduled to be our shortest day of the trip. Mid-ride the front brake started making a horrible noise and when I went to adjust it I found that the spring was broken. I disconnected the brake and we rode on to our hotel (a Hilton Garden Inn) where we met João and explained the situation. He took us to a couple of bike shops before we found one that was open on a Saturday. They had similar springs, but not one that would work so I bought a V-brake and some cable and housing and figured that I could rig something. We spent all afternoon disassembling the cantilever and mounting the MTB unit before remembering that the pull ratio on flat-bar levers is about twice that on regular drop bar levers. I got the V-brake installed and re-wrapped the bars but even with the lever mashed all the way it didn’t have any stopping power.
We finally got out to see the town that was in some ways the high-point of the tour. We saw churches and palaces but didn’t go in. We admired the peafowl. The narrow streets were really attractive but we hurried through them. We had missed lunch but stopped and got a beer in the central plaza. We had dinner in a hotel restaurant that was quite good even if not very innovative. The two women next to us got lectured about cork trees.
The next morning we got out early and rode carefully. Evora to Cuba was routed mainly on a busy highway and about halfway there bikes were prohibited and our route took to frontage roads. Unfortunately those frontage roads were mostly dirt or really deteriorated surfaces. In one case the road shown on the map just didn’t exist and we had to backtrack and hope for the best on the other side of the highway.
In Cuba we stayed in a big old house that was gorgeous on the inside. We walked to a park for lunch and then spent the afternoon in the pool. Dinner was in a wine cellar where we got too much food and Odette ate beans that later disagreed with her.
The ride from Cuba to Castro Verde was mainly forested with some fairly significant climbs. Once we got to the town we got lost getting to our B&B – which is difficult to do considering how small the town is. The B&B was operated by a couple that organized bike tours and birding expeditions. (The guy was out on a trip but we spent some time with the woman who was very cool.) We spent some time walking around the town admiring the view and the old church. The restaurants recommended in the roadbook were both closed but the place we went to instead was really good.
From Castro Verde we rode to Salir. The ride was again a mix of forest and farm. We saw lots of wind turbines. Near the end of the ride I realized that I wasn’t going to make it up a switchback and hopped off the bike to rest for a while. We stayed at a place called Casa da Mae which was really attractive and which had a nice pool. There were only a couple of other rooms with guests, all of whom seemed to be women hikers. We had quite a long walk to a kebob place for dinner, but it was well worth the trouble.
The next morning we had trouble finding breakfast and afterwards rode from Salir to Silves. This ride was another highway / frontage road route but after a couple of unrideably steep pitches we dispensed with the frontage roads, ending on the wrong side of the river and having to ride back to our hotel. The hotel was across the river from the town, looking at the cathedral and castle on a hill on the opposite bank. Our room looked out at the parking lot. We spent all afternoon exploring the town, visiting the archeological museum and the castle. The moorish influence was obvious and the castle was impressive. Somehow everything seemed to focus on cisterns and water supply. We ate at a seafood place that was incredible.
The next morning we set out from Silves to Monchique. This day was arguably the best ride of the whole trip. We got out early and the day was relatively cool. Most of the ride was a gradual climb, not steep enough to get us out of the big ring. Unlike most of our rides, we saw a lot of other cyclists on this route – it is evidently a “classic” ride and we saw some big pelotons. We had smoothies at Velochique and then poked around attempting to head back down without climbing some more to get out of town. (It turned out not to be so bad, but the way out of town did involve another climb.) We missed the sign for the turn to the thermal resort and ended up at the piscine and a different hotel. We backtracked and found a sleepy collection of hotels around an old square. We spent some time in the lukewarm thermal pool and did a quick session in a very hot sauna. Dinner was at the resort but we discovered that the restaurant had been converted to a buffet which lacked not only service but character.
We started the next day with a speedy downhill as we headed from Monchique to Sagres. The descent from Monchique was the first time ever that we’ve engaged the drag brake for significant distances. As we approached the coast the road flattened out with little climbs over dunes. Our map had us on frontage roads but we didn’t even try. Sagres was busy but we didn’t have any trouble finding our place. We spent the afternoon in the fort, a pretty good museum about the exploration that originated from the southernmost point in continental Europe. (It was striking how differently the Dutch and Portuguese deal with their historic involvement in the slave trade.) Dinner was at a newly-opened seafood place which was very good although the women at the next table were bullied into ordering green wine.
Sagres to Odeceixe was mainly headlands. Much of the forest had been burned a couple of years before and much more recent damage was evident close to town. We walked down a really steep pitch to get to our place in the bottom of the valley. We headed to a grocery store for snacks and didn’t find the main downtown until we went out looking for a restaurant for dinner. (It’s actually a pretty cool town with a lot of restaurants.) We ate outdoors, the food was good, and the waiter told me that his dad had Parkinson’s.
From Odeceixe we rode to Sines. Near the start of the route there were two places where the road dropped to sea level. Both up- and down-slopes were very steep and cobbled. We walked. (We admired the zebras part way down the first one.) The route had us following smaller roads near the water but to get there involved dirt – or rather deep sand – so we bailed and rode the highway. Sines is a large town with a substantial port and a castle in the center. We stayed in a fancy hotel with a view of the water from our room. We looked at the roman ruins (a fish factory) walked around town. We had trouble finding an open restaurant but the one we chanced into was really excellent.
The next morning we set out for Palmela and a return to Biovilla. Sines to Palmela is along the coast, just a little in from the water – mainly featuring tree farms. The highlight of the ride was the ferry and the spit we rode to get out to the ferry terminal. Setubal was much easier to navigate coming than it had been going. It was the hottest part of the day when we got to the climb up to Biovilla, but we persevered. João caught us when we stopped to regroup just before the dirt driveway. The hotel was exactly as we remembered it (both rooms we stayed in had standard kitchen exhaust units paneled in OSB over the vanity, but no stovetop?) This time they were planning to feed us (so that João didn’t have to wait around) but we were the only ones in the dining room. Nobody said anything about the meal of stirred tofu costing extra, but the next day João called to say that they’d complained we’d left without paying.
From Palmela we rode to Costa de Caparica. First we had to climb up to the castle in Palmela, then we got turned away from a gated community, after negotiating a stretch of dirt and fresh gravel we found a park trail and finally emerged at the beach. Costa de Caparica is evidently one of the beach areas most accessible to Lisbon – lot of sand, lot of surfers, lot of beach town stuff. We stayed in another fancy hotel and ate in their restaurant ( we were the only ones in the dining room again, but this time we paid.) The next morning I disassembled the bike and packed it into the cases. We had to check out by noon but we stored our luggage and settled down in the lobby with a youth soccer club from Toronto until João picked us up a couple hours later. The bridge we went across to get into Lisbon was impressive and clearly not a bike route. Our hotel was outside of the old part of the city but really central and close to a bunch of other hotels.
The first evening we walked to A Venda Lusitania, a restaurant that was top-rated on Google maps, but it disappointed us as pretty much a tourist trap.
The next day we walked the old downtown and and the central waterfront and visited the castle and its museum. We visited the resistance museum (the victors write history) and tried to go to the zoo (we turned the wrong way at the subway and decided to just walk back to the hotel. ) We ate at Taberna do Lopes, a “steakhouse” where the meat wasn’t bad but wasn’t special, either.
The third day we took the bus out to Belem and visited the museum of art and technology (a low-slung modernistic building next to a decommissioned coal power plant.) Will joined us that evening and we ate at Otro – a traditional Portuguese place that was much like the places we’d gone to while on the bike only classier.
On day four we went back to castle and walked around the the neighborhood on the hill next to downtown, managing to arrive at time-out market at lunchtime. Will took us to eat at Al Taho where we had an exceptionally good steak outdoors.
The next day we went to the aquarium and the greenhouse in the park near our hotel. That evening (or really late that afternoon – Will got us a coveted reservation at 5:00) we at ate at Ramiro, a famous seafood place where we had some of the best and biggest shrimp I’ve ever eaten.
On the last day we were picked up by Joel, an associate of João, for a van trip to Sintra. This is apparently a mandatory activity for tourists and Joel had a well rehearsed itinerary with stops for coastal villages, rock formations, viewpoint from the westernmost point of Europe, etc. It rained – the first time on the whole trip. We had lunch at a seafood restaurant after walking on the beach for a while and it was a really good meal. Joel hit a pothole while driving us up the last section of the road to the Sintra palace so we walked the last bit and ended up blowing off the inside of the palace because our timing was wrong. Joel had to have his car towed so he got us an Uber back to our hotel. That evening we ate at Cevicheria which was good and a really cool spot. A stand-in for Joel picked us up at 2:45 in the morning for 5:30 flight to Paris. Customs were slow but better than we’ve seen on other trips. Economy plus seats on the long leg of the flight were fine even if they didn’t recline.
Our cases came off the conveyer with no problems and customs in Seattle was pretty good (they could still improve line management.) The first cabbie in the line at the taxi stand couldn’t fit our cases in the back of his prius. The second had a minivan but he didn’t want to take us – the dispatcher yelled at him and he opened up the car but made me load the cases – and unload them when we got home. Odette felt that he wasn’t doing his job and stiffed him on the tip, something we remembered a few days later when somebody used our visa at Lowes.
We got home mid-day on a Tuesday, got unpacked , organized ourselves and tried to get over our jet lag. Wednesday morning Odette developed a pain in her torso which she tried to ignore but which ended up prompting a trip to the hospital and surgery to remove her gallbladder. We consider ourselves lucky that it happened at home and not while we were in the air!
- Southern Portugal felt more like a third world country than did Southern France or Spain.
- Lots of english speakers, even in rural areas.
- Who needs a front brake?
- My training was about right – I had dizzy spells but I think that was the medication I’m on, not conditioning.
- Odette should have ridden more hills and more hot days
- I did okay without drinking very much alcohol, but it is hard to imagine traveling in Europe without eating fatty foods
- We didn’t understand that João would be personally performing all of the luggage transfers.
- For us this was the closest thing to a supported tour since the Yukon.
0/10 – Costa de Caparica. Here’s the map. 29 miles
10/9 – Sines to Palmela. Here’s the map. 53 miles
10/8 – Odeceixe to Sines. Here’s the map. 54 miles
10/7 – Sagres to Odeceixe. Here’s the map. 37 miles
10/6 – Monchique to Sagres. Here’s the map. 41 miles
10/5 – Silves to Monchique. Here’s the map. 25 miles
10/4 – Salir to Silves. Here’s the map. 27 miles
10/3 – Castro Verde to Salir. Here’s the map. 37 miles
10/2 – Cuba to Castro Verde. Here’s the map. 42 miles
10/1 – Evora to Cuba. Here’s the map. 38 miles
9/30 – Escoural to Evora. Here’s the map. 18 miles
9/29 – Palmela to Escoural. Here’s the map. 52 miles
9/28 – Palmela loop. Here’s the map. 18 miles