Your next great ride
THERE IS A land where the roads seem completely empty. And they’re great roads — sinuous and usually fantastic tarmac. The people are friendly, the food is good and it’s not particularly expensive. The weather normally ranges from the superb to the awesome, with lots of long, hot, sunny days. In other words, it’s biking heaven — especially if you head into the mountains.
What is this biking nirvana, you ask? Why, Portugal, of course. It’s actually more of a land of two halves than the introduction makes it sound. There are busy, built-up areas around the big west-coast cities of Porto and Lisbon, yet plenty of rough roads in parts that have yet to be refreshed by money from the European Union. The weather can be scorchingly hot in high summer, but later in the year the wet air blown in from the Atlantic creates some astonishingly heavy rainstorms.
So the canny traveller heads to the hillier parts of Portugal in spring, early summer or early autumn. The only real issue is getting there: it makes the most sense to take a Brittany Ferries crossing to Bilbao or Santander, then enjoy a day-and-a-half’s ride through Spain’s Picos de Europa mountains. Start planning now and you could ride the sensational N339 in the Serra da Estrela mountains this summer. WHEN TO GO Not August — too hot (and July can be savage too). Try April to June or September to mid-october. HOW LONG TO GO FOR We’d favour a ten-day trip, sailing Plymouth-santander on a Sunday, returning Santanderportsmouth the following Monday. But it is possible to do a Saturday night return for an eight-day trip. WHERE TO VISIT We’d avoid the cities (great for a city break, not for riding) and going too far south or west. The Douro Valley and Serra da Estrela mountains are our must-see areas. WHERE TO RIDE There are complete Portuguese tours and plenty of daytrips at www.ride.co.uk/spain18