A relatively small country in the extreme south-west of Europe, Portugal is off the beaten track and often overlooked by cyclists. However this very much stands in Portugal's favour. With a population of just over 10 million there are plenty of open spaces and get-away-from-it all places - with some exceptions. During the summer, the Algarve in particular, sees a big influx of tourists and the large cities of Lisbon and Porto have many of the usual big city cycling issues.
Portugal has quite a varied landscape with the terrain ranging from plains in the south and along parts of the Atlantic Coast, to rocky shores, beaches and mountains.
The Algarve - the southern coast
This region is undoubtedly best known to tourists and contains some stunning scenery and amazing beaches. However this popularity means that much of the Algarve isn't suitable for bikes due to the high traffic that comes with mass development. Fortunately away from the coastal strip, and especially in the western Algarve, life is much more peaceful with traditional country towns and quiet lanes and roads.
As well as being extremely busy summer in the Algarve is very hot with temperatures regularly over 30oC. Out of season is therefore the best time for cycling - even winter.
The large province to the north of the Algarve is the Alentejo, which consists mainly of rolling plains and is the bread basket of Portugal. Cheese, sausages, smoked ham and of course wine make the Alentejo justifiably world famous as an attraction.
Summers are hot and winters mild but wet. Although gentle hills predominate, the Alentejo stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to the high country in the west along the Spanish border. Some of the worlds largest cork forests are found here along with historic villages and towns such as the regional capital, UNESCO listed Évora with it's magnificent Roman remains. Évora is also somewhat of a cycling crossroads with the Algarve to the south, Lisbon to the west and mountain trails to the east and north.
Lisbon and the Central Coast
Portugal's capital is not the most bicycle friendly city, certainly in comparison with (often) bike loving Europe. However it is full of history and culture and is a wonderful place to experience Portuguese life. Our advice is to use a good guide to show you around the best bike routes.
Close by are the easily accessible natural parks of Sintra (north-west) and Arrábida (south) which offer a great alternative to cycling in the city - particularly for mountain biking. The central coast of Estremadura has cliffs and beaches on the wild Atlantic coast and, together with inland Ribatejo, has some great riding but is more limited than southern or northern Portugal.
The Mid-north and Estrela Mountains
North of the Tagus River are the mountainous Beira provinces with a rocky coastline, upland plains and craggy peaks leading to the Serra da Estrela along the Spanish border. It is this range of mountains that offers the best cycling of the region. A string of medieval castles, fortresses, churches and towns in relatively quiet areas, along with stunning and remote landscapes, make the area very popular with cyclists. Springtime is a great time to visit with purple heather in full bloom soon after the winter snows have cleared. The traditional and restored schist villages are unique to the region and the Skyroad Granfondo is quickly becoming one of the best ways to see this country.
Prehistoric rock art and cave paintings are also found extending the historic credentials of Upper and Lower Beira from Palaeolithic times, through to the Romans, Visigoths and Moors, and on to modern Portugal following several decades of dictatorship.
Northern Portugal - the Douro Valley and Minho region
The gateway to the north is Porto, probably best known as the home of Port wine and the second city of Portugal. The historic centre is UNESCO listed and the city is an amazing blend of styles and cultures from more than 2,000 years of settlement. Like Lisbon it is not particularly bike friendly but a good guide can show you an awesome tour of the city.
Porto sits at the mouth of the Douro River that extends into Spain. The valley contains some of the top wineries in the country - undoubtedly a major factor in making this region the most popular for bike tours! Olive and orange trees line the valley with untouched landscapes making for some spectacular cycling. In fact the whole Alto Douro region is on the UNESCO heritage list.
The north-east corner of Portugal is the Minho region which is often considered a microcosm of the whole country having a bit of everything. The Costa Verde (green coast) has some great easy riding but the rest of the region is quite hilly and full of history and culture as the birthplace of Portugal. Magnificent mountains, ancient archaeological sites, wonderful vineyards (Vinho Verde anyone?) and remote villages make this a great area to tour.
Madeira and the Azores
These Atlantic outposts offer surprisingly good cycling opportunities and have fantastic climates making them suitable all year round - although July and August can be very hot. Madeira is the top of an undersea volcano and is very rocky and hilly so is most suitable for climbing and training rides although easier options are available.
North-west of Madeira are the Azores, also volcanic but much more suitable for cycling. It is an excellent destination for nature lovers and water sports enthusiasts - and with nine islands island-hopping is a great option.
Check out some of the awesome cycle tours available from dozens of operators at cycletoursglobal.com/tours/Portugal. For more information on cycle touring in Portugal we recommend pedalportugal.com.