Trek Notes - Portugal

Rural Portugal

Here, in the southwest coast of Portugal, an area still little visited, are some of the Iberian Peninsula's best-preserved landscapes. It is a perfect place to explore on two wheels. As well as untouched landscapes, there are small villages where the pace of life is relaxed, sparsely populated countryside, country roads where farm animals and horse drawn carts are still a common sight and above all else hospitable and friendly local people. This route is an invitation to discover the unexplored and ideal for leisurely cycling due to its gentle topography and eye pleasing scenery.

The Alentejo is a place to cycle away from the stresses and strains of a busy life. One can ride into the peace and tranquility of rural Portugal, where some of the most undeveloped landscapes of Europe and the traditional way of life can still be found. Explore the striking coastline and discover the agricultural heritage and hidden secrets of the small villages and gentle undulating landscapes. Enjoy the simple way of life with some great seafood near the coast and some surprisingly good wine.
This easy to moderate tour starts by heading south along the coast from the whitewashed walls and terracotta tiles of Vila Nova Milfontes. The route crosses the River Mira to cycle along the cliff tops where storks nest in the spring. There is no development just natural rocky coastline all the way to the small village of Zambujeira do Mar, a little fishing village perched on the cliffs above the Atlantic. We stop here for a night where there is a sandy beach and a good selection of restaurants.

Venturing further along the coast magnificent beaches stretch out between the cliffs. We arrive in Aljezur, a village where a Moorish castle stands guard high on the hilltop and if you are feeling hungry try some of the local sweet potatoes or goose barnacles (perceves). From Aljezur the route ventures inland to the village of Monchique. It is a tougher route up into the hills rewarded by spectacular views of the Algarve.

In the centre of Monchique you can enjoy some sightseeing along the narrow streets and test the traditional gastronomy: the honey, the candies, the medronho, are our suggestion. You can also "take the waters' or have a treatment/massage in the Spa of Monchique. Next day is much easier, you can enjoy the descent back to lower altitudes. It is a day of rolling hills, olives trees, cork trees, rural atmosphere and a sprinkling of old rustic farmhouses. We end the day in Santa Clara Reservoir. More rolling hills and two high view points bring us to the ancient village of Odemira, which is a great place to visit. You can take a walk along the river front and wander round this old country town almost stepping back in time amongst the whitewashed houses and narrow streets. The final stretch to complete the circuit passes through the last of the peaceful byways and a number of small rural communities on the way to Vila Nova Milfontes..

Duration: 7 nights / 8 days
Grade:  Easy - Moderate.
Bike Hire: Included in price
Day Stages: Min 31km, max 39km.


7 nights/8 days - A large part of the charm of this holiday is the type of accommodation used. You will stay in small guesthouses, which are quite intimate and will bring you into contact with many local people. All rooms have private shower/bathrooms and are kept spotlessly clean. The first and last nights are spent in Vila Nova Milfontes and one night is spent in Zambujeira do Mar, Aljezur, Monchique, Santa Clara and Odemira.


The vast majority of the trip is on tarmac lanes and minor roads with very little traffic. Just 3 or 4km are on well-made gravel tracks. It is quite hilly with the largest ascent of 500m on day 4 but distances are short and there is no rush.

Bike Hire
21 gear hybrid bikes with panniers, handlebar bag, puncture kit and spare inner tube, tools, a lock and drink bottle. Helmets are also provided but you may wish to take your own.

Accommodation and Meals
7 nights accommodation with breakfast in private guesthouses. The first nights meal is included but lunches and other evening meals are not. Eating out in Portugal is relatively cheap, is a really good way to sample the local atmosphere and to interact with the very friendly local people.

Start and End of Tour
The nearest international airports are Faro (the closest) and Lisbon. A taxi can be taken from either airport and a bus also runs direct from Lisbon to Vila Nova Milfontes approx. 4 times a day.


    Day 1. Arrive Vila Nova Milfontes. There are a few things to see in Vila Nova Milfontes if you arrive early enough in the day. If not then there should be time on days 7 and 8. The things to do and see are: first of all take a short relaxed walk down to the river and the sea. It is also worth visiting the old part of the village, founded by King D. João II 1546. The sight was of economic and strategic importance being on the river mouth. It was maintained as an important defensive site well into the 20th century and serves as a refuge harbor in bad weather. The excellent natural resources of the region are the main reason for the development of tourism. Rows of white and blue houses spread out along the banks of the River Mira and the Mira's estuary is the natural habitat for vast communities of birds and a remarkably preserved ecosystem. 

     Day 2. The hire bikes are delivered to you at the hotel after breakfast. Details of exact times will be given in the route notes and can be confirmed at the hotel. You can spend time in Vila Nova Milfontes before starting your ride or just take it easy, as the first day's ride is fairly short, just 32 km and mostly on the flat. You cross the river Mira before perhaps stopping near a lighthouse to take in the views. Continue along a clifftop track where, depending on the season (March to June), you might see clearly the stork nests near the sea. It is a fantastic area of natural scenery with no development in sight, just the sights and sounds of nature. The day will end in Zambujeira a small village with a nice beach and a choice of places to eat. If you fancy a stroll you can walk the clifftop paths for the views or to observe more of the flora and fauna.

       Day 3. 39 km today reaching an maximum altitude of just 120 metres, so nothing is too demanding on this the longest day in terms of distance. You will pass or more likely stop, at magnificent beaches, a fishing port and a moorish castle on the way. There is an optional loop to expand the day by 16km to a fantastic spot along the coast.

      Day 4. 36 km, starting at sea level and climbing up to 500 metres. This rather more testing ride with a good amount of uphill to get the legs and lungs working brings you to the beautiful town of Monchique up in the hills. There are spectacular views south across the Algarve. Monchique is well known for its thermal waters and the 10,000 inhabitants of this town have retained its rustic atmosphere with steep cobbled streets and small dark doorways housing various artisan trades. You can walk up to a very neglected 17th Century Franciscan monastery, which overlooks the town or visit the 16th Century Parish. The local agriculture produces beef, pork and cork and the popular "medronho", which is a strong schnapps style of drink made from distilling the fruit from arbutus bushes; try it if you dare!

     Day 5. 37 km of rolling hills riding from the elevated position of Monchique to the sea. Not all but mostly downhill so no need to rush your departure if you want a little more time to enjoy the charms of the town. You end the day back at sea level in Santa Clara having cycled through olive groves and cork plantations and past many ancient farmhouses and barns: you could not wish to be further from the pressures of modern living as you pedal through this pristine landscape. The River Mira is dammed at Santa Clara and although this is not the most natural feature on the tour it does create a popular water sports centre and summer bathing area.

       Day 6. 31 km and two cols to reach enroute the fine old village of Odemira. The two high points of the day are at 220m, which you should be able to take in your stride by this point of the tour! Odemira is a fantastic place to visit. It nestles quietly on the banks of the River Mira, 20 km inland. It was granted an official charter in 1256 by King Afonso III, and throughout the centuries was inhabited by the Romans and the Moors, who built a castle in the centre of the town they called Wadi Emir. Things to see include the fountain in the main square, the churches of Salvador and Santa Maria and located at a high point on the edge of town, one of the Alentejo's best-preserved windmills stands as a working display of the traditional methods used to process the region's wheat and corn. Odemira is also well-known for its pottery workshop, where visitors can watch the skilful production of earthenware and other local handicrafts.

    Day 7. 37 km and some short climbs on the way back to the coast at Vila Nova Milfontes to complete the circuit. The ride passes through charming small villages on the way. There should be plenty of time to see a little more of Milfontes and to plan a suitable evening meal to mark the successful end of your journey.

     Day 8. End of Tour. The tour ends in Vila Nova Milfontes after breakfast. 

End of Tour

If you are returning to Faro or Lisbon airports taxi fares and journey times are as described above for arrival. 

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