Fast facts

• Name: Kyushu trans­lates as “nine prov­inces” • Pop­u­la­tion: al­most 13 mil­lion (com­pare Hon­shu’s 103 mil­lion) • Main cities: Fukuoka, Na­gasaki, Oita • Get­ting there: Sin­ga­pore Air­lines flies di­rect to Fukuoka daily ( just over six hours)

Expat Living (Singapore) - - Travel -

#3 Row through a gorge

Carved by the Gokase River, the Takachiho Gorge in Miyazaki Pre­fec­ture is one of the most spec­tac­u­lar gorges in the coun­try. Row through the calm wa­ters while en­joy­ing close-up views of the cliffs and the tow­er­ing Manai Falls. You can also opt to ex­plore the gorge via the walk­ing trail that runs along its edge.

#4 Take a bath in sand

If you’re seek­ing to im­prove your blood cir­cu­la­tion or al­le­vi­ate an ail­ment, why not im­merse your­self in hot vol­canic sand? The small town of Ibusuki in Kagoshima Pre­fec­ture has long been fa­mous for its sand baths; so, wrap your­self in a yukata (tra­di­tional Ja­panese robe), close your eyes and sur­ren­der to the heat!

#5 Ex­pe­ri­ence au­then­tic ac­com­mo­da­tion

It’s not specif­i­cally a Kyushu thing, of course, but a stay in a ryokan (tra­di­tional inn) is a must for a gen­uine Ja­panese ex­pe­ri­ence. Gue­stroom floors are lined with tatami (straw mats) and you sleep on a fu­ton on the floor – but don’t worry; they’re thick and comfy, and come with a plush blan­ket to keep you warm through­out the night. One of the best things about stay­ing in a ryokan is en­joy­ing a tra­di­tional kaiseki (mul­ti­course) din­ner, and a breakfast that typ­i­cally con­sists of rice, miso soup, grilled fish and of­ten a lo­cal spe­cial­ity or two. Most ryokan also house an on­sen (com­mu­nal bath). If you’re still a lit­tle shy about the nu­dity as­pect of these, check if your ac­com­mo­da­tion has a pri­vate one where you can en­joy a dip in soli­tude.

Cy­cling is un­doubt­edly the sport du jour. Whether you live in Sin­ga­pore, Syd­ney or Seat­tle, you’ve no doubt eye­balled the packs of ly­cra- clad cy­clists speed­ing around your neigh­bour­hood. For some, ly­cra is a ve­hi­cle for their midlife cri­sis (you know who I mean) but for oth­ers, cy­cling is a more re­lax­ing pur­suit.

When a friend sug­gested a cy­cling jaunt in Por­tu­gal, I ini­tially scoffed. While I don’t mind rid­ing to the mar­ket on a Satur­day, pil­ing the bas­ket high with fresh pro­duce, then rid­ing the 10 min­utes home again, cy­cling for a hol­i­day seemed quite be­yond my pedal power.

Af­ter a lit­tle re­search, though, I be­gan to think that not only could I tackle such a hol­i­day, I might also en­joy it. The al­lure of pic­turesque land­scapes and ex­cep­tional food and wine, with some ex­er­cise thrown in, didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

Des­ti­na­tion: Por­tu­gal

Self-guided bik­ing hol­i­days are hav­ing their mo­ment in the sun. An or­gan­ised, ac­tive hol­i­day where you don’t have to en­dure the pain of a big tour group can make for a re­ward­ing trip. The other beauty of this kind of travel is its flex­i­bil­ity. The key is to work with a tour com­pany that can cre­ate an itin­er­ary to suit your needs. In our case, those were to en­joy some fairly easy cy­cling while also hav­ing time to ex­plore.

Por­tu­gal is an ideal coun­try if you’re look­ing for some­where away from the tourist hordes. What par­tic­u­larly ap­pealed to us about the North­ern Por­tu­gal itin­er­ary we chose was the op­por­tu­nity to see Porto and the Douro Val­ley. We’d be en­joy­ing a vi­brant Euro­pean city break and also ex­pe­ri­enc­ing some spec­tac­u­lar na­ture.

The wind­ing Douro River is the vein of life that pulses through the Douro Val­ley. It has been the ma­jor trans­port route for wine into and out of this

area for cen­turies. Pin­hão, our first stop, is one of the more pop­u­lar towns along the river. Our ac­com­mo­da­tion at the aptly named Vin­tage House had views stretch­ing for miles along the im­pres­sive wa­ter­course. Dur­ing our autumn visit, the vines were chang­ing from the vi­brant green of sum­mer to a rusty or­ange in prepa­ra­tion for fall­ing from the vine.

With river scenes and ter­raced vine­yards filling ev­ery square inch, the Douro is one of the most pic­turesque wine re­gions you could visit. I may have been a lit­tle ner­vous about our cy­cling, but I was look­ing for­ward to see­ing these views with my own eyes.

Set­ting Off

For our self-guided tour, we had the op­tion of mov­ing ac­com­mo­da­tion each day, or do­ing a ride that brought us back each day to our start­ing ho­tel. Our first day was spent cy­cling high up into the hills around Pin­hão, af­ter which we re­turned to Vin­tage House. The scenery was breath­tak­ing; and, while clear skies eluded us, we were happy to have the cloud cover keep the tem­per­a­ture down.

Our hy­brid bikes eas­ily ne­go­ti­ated the steep stretches, patches of cob­ble­stones and bi­tu­men roads. Hand­ily, they come equipped with small bas­kets or bags for you to pack all the lit­tle es­sen­tials in: phone, food, a cheeky bot­tle of wine and a jacket or pon­cho.

Af­ter pack­ing our bags on Day Two, we stepped on the ped­als to cover a dis­tance of 37km to our next ho­tel. No go­ing back this time! Con­ve­niently, our lug­gage was moved for us, so the rid­ing was free and easy. What’s more, we were wel­comed by beau­ti­ful, clear skies that set the scene for what was to come. We lapped up ev­ery mo­ment of the un­du­lat­ing hills, the cof­fee stops in lit­tle vil­lages, eat­ing a packed lunch at the edge of a vine­yard, and the quiet, traf­ficfree roads we’d been guided through.

A high­light of a cy­cling trip is the feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion and achieve­ment af­ter each day’s ride. While there’s some hard work in­volved, the joy of ped­alling to­wards a pic­turesque ho­tel sur­rounded by rolling vine­yards is some­thing special.

Food, wine and more

I’m a keen foodie, so one of my great­est hol­i­day pleasures is to ex­pe­ri­ence the eat­ing and drink­ing cul­ture of a coun­try. Por­tu­gal is fa­mous mostly for its port, but the Douro Val­ley also pro­duces ex­cel­lent wine. Part of the ap­peal of this hol­i­day was the prospect of en­joy­ing both food and wine at the end of a hard day’s cy­cling.

Each af­ter­noon as we ap­proached our des­ti­na­tion, we’d imag­ine the culi­nary de­lights that were in store. And we were never dis­ap­pointed. From the petis­cos (Por­tuguese ta­pas) served with our evening drink to hearty stews and choco­latey desserts, we de­voured ev­ery­thing. The good thing about cy­cling all day is that you can gorge at ev­ery meal­time, com­pletely guilt-free.

The best times for a cy­cling hol­i­day in Por­tu­gal are spring and autumn, when cooler tem­per­a­tures make things more com­fort­able. We chose autumn and were treated to mixed weather that in­cluded spec­tac­u­lar days of sun­shine, some cloud cover and a lit­tle rain.

Ex­plor­ing the Douro is only one must- do in Por­tu­gal’s north; it’s well worth adding a few days to your itin­er­ary to ex­plore the cob­bled streets of Porto. That’s where you’ll find the port houses that the re­gion is fa­mous for; Tay­lor’s, San­de­man and Fer­reira, among oth­ers, line the banks of the river and beckon not just with their port, but also their food and other wine.

Self-guided tour op­er­a­tors

We chose tour op­er­a­tor We Love Small Ho­tels for our trip; it pro­vides a range of self-guided tours – ours in­cluded door-to-door ser­vice, re­turn trans­fers from the air­port, bed and breakfast plus some lunches, lug­gage trans­fers each day, bikes, GPS units with de­tailed bike tracks, and friendly ser­vice. The com­pany op­er­ates across all of Por­tu­gal – north and south, coastal and in­land. Tours in­clude walk­ing, cy­cling and, a re­cent ad­di­tion, surf­ing.

Mediter­ras also of­fers pri­vate bik­ing tours that are strongly ori­ented to cul­tural and gas­tro­nomic ex­pe­ri­ences; ev­ery tour is cus­tomised ac­cord­ing to your in­ter­ests, so you get max­i­mum en­joy­ment from it.

On all these tours, guides will set up your bikes for you and take you through ev­ery­thing you need to know. They also run through the per­son­alised tracks that have been cre­ated for your jour­ney. These tracks were our life­line each day, as they showed our progress and po­si­tion.

An­other up­side of work­ing with a lo­cal tour op­er­a­tor is that it can build an itin­er­ary for a group that has dif­fer­ing re­quire­ments. If your group in­cludes a mix of cy­cling lev­els, let’s say, sep­a­rate tracks can be cre­ated to suit each mem­ber of the group. For ex­am­ple, if you’ve cy­cled 30km to­gether and there are keen riders han­ker­ing for more, they can zoom off and do an­other 30 or 40km, or what­ever their crazy hearts de­sire.

The rest can stay back and get stuck into the dif­fi­cult task of sit­ting around and sam­pling a few more of those fine wines.

“Self­guided cy­cling hol­i­days are hav­ing their mo­ment in the sun”

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