Cycling vacations in the Algarve

The Algarve in summer is mobbed, especially the seaside resorts close to Faro's international airport. Coast roads are heaving and people are packed onto the sand like sardines. But mass tourism isn’t just an issue for local people in summer, it affects them throughout the year.

Avoiding overcrowded areas of the Algarve is one way that travelers can help to ease the strain, while also benefitting local people living in lesser-visited villages and towns. Cycling vacations are a great way to do this as not only will you have minimal environmental impact exploring by bike, but you'll also be able to get to areas where typical tourists don't reach.

Angie McQueen from our Algarve cycling experts, Algarve Bike Vacations, explains how her company's self guided routes help you to avoid the crowds: “The Algarve has become overbuilt in recent years, but our tours encourage travelers to get away from the busy areas by the beach and into the countryside. Rural areas are just great to experience by bike and also ensure you’re not contributing to overcrowding in locations that only concentrate on tourism. Also, we know a great coastal route that takes you along the whole of the south coast. It’s not just sand and beach in the south, there are loads of different environments that you just won’t see on a ‘normal’ vacation.”

An alternative approach to the Algarve

Housing, in particular, is one area where Algarvians are losing out. For example, it's estimated that during July and August, the seaside town of Albufeira has a tourist to resident ratio of 39 to one. In comparison, Spain's Barcelona has a ratio of five to one tourists to residents (which is still very high).

To house all of the vacationmakers, you need somewhere for them to stay. This is good news for the all-inclusive high-rise hoteliers and the Airbnb apartment owners, but not so good for local people (especially those who aren't in the tourist industry) looking to buy or rent their own property. A combination of cheap flights, package deals and guaranteed sunshine has turned certain sections of the Algarve into enclaves for tourists. This, in turn, has pushed up real estate and rental prices way beyond the means of most young people living in Portugal's southernmost region.

Tourist restaurants, souvenir shops and boozy bars are also detracting from the visions of whitewashed fishing villages that originally attracted travelers in the first place. Many local people do make a living from the tourism industry but, outside of summer, work can drop off dramatically. This means that they're left facing uncertain employment opportunities for the rest of the year.
Cycling vacations are a great way to avoid adding to overcrowding in the seaside towns of the south, as well as experiencing an authentic side to the Algarve outside of summer. As Angie McQueen from our Algarve cycling specialists, Algarve Bike Vacations, explains: “Although in some areas of the Algarve it can be tricky to find locally owned accommodation, the properties that we recommend take you away from the coast and into the countryside. Portuguese people are very obliging, polite and friendly. And this is certainly the case with our B&B hosts. You’re going to get an authentic experience, not something corporate, especially arriving on a bike.”

Self guided cycling vacations also give you the chance to stop off at roadside restaurants in between B&Bs, or you can visit village restaurants (that don't have tourist menus) once you've arrived at your accommodation: “There are lots and lots of small roadside restaurants in the countryside that provide a prato do dia (dish of the day). This is typically for the local workers, and lunchtimes often require at least a couple of hours of eating, drinking and chatting before they’re completed. You usually get cheese, bread and olives, followed by the main course, dessert and coffee. We advise cyclists where to stop in our route notes, but it’s impossible not to spot one of the local village restaurants and it’s easy to dismount and pop in for lunch.”

Your luggage is transferred ahead by a local driver, giving you the freedom to pedal at your own pace without lugging heavy bags around. It also allows your presence to benefit local people living in more isolated areas away from the busier resort regions.

What else is included on a self guided cycling vacation?

Our recommended self guided cycling vacations provide bikes, helmets, water bottles and detailed route notes, maps and GPS tracking systems. Bikes are either hybrid touring bikes, road bikes or mountain bikes. You'll be measured for the correct size of bike, as well as being offered the correct style to suit the surfaces and the distances between each town and village.

You'll also be given a cultural handbook which features some useful phrases and translations to help you make the most of the places where English isn’t widely spoken. Self guided documents also include lots of historical information and cultural references to allow you to get a deeper understanding of where you are, and where you're going, both on and off the saddle.

A basic tool and bike maintenance kit is also provided. Although you don’t have to be a really experienced cyclist, or mechanic, it will be beneficial if you at least know how to deal with a puncture. However, don't worry if you're not completely confident wielding a spanner, there will always be someone nearby that can be called by the tour company to come and help you out.

What are the Algarve's bike routes like?

Surfaces in the Algarve vary from good quality, 100 percent tarmac roads to dusty gravel tracks in more mountainous areas, inland, and sandy dirt tracks along more isolated areas of the southwest coast. You might choose a route that requires riding on a variety of surfaces. Hybrid or mountain bikes will be used on these vacations as they can cope with smooth tarmac roads and uneven trails. If you're just going to be riding on tarmac then road bikes are the best. They can also cover greater distances, so you can see more of the Algarve as well as comfortably manage steeper gradients.

Distances also differ depending on which route you opt for. For example, the Ecovia do Litoral coastal trail takes you from Vila Real de San Antonio, in the east, to Cabo de Sao Vicente, in the southwest, and features average daily distances of about 55km over a week. Another self guided week of Algarve road bike touring, which also starts in Vila Real de San Antonio, follows a more meandering route. It incorporates the pine forests and river valleys of the Serra de Tavira, as well as lesser-known sections of the south coast. Daily distances over a week are longer, around 90km, but also include a well-earned rest day close to the sea in Armacao de Pera.

Mountain bike routes are often quite challenging and will require a bit more experience, as Angie explains: “The Rota Vicentina is quite a challenging ride over 230km and takes you from Santiago do Cacem in the Alentejo, before leading down the coast and into the Algarve. It can be quite rugged, which is why we recommend it for mountain bikers. There are also some great single track mountain bike routes that lead across the Algarve from the east to the west coast. They start close to the Guadiana River on the Spanish border. It’s not a regular route for cyclists or hikers, but leads through the countryside to small villages and towns that offer an authentic Algarve experience.”
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Algarve or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Do I need to be super fit to cycle in the Algarve?

It's up to you how much practise you want to put in before you come on a self guided cycling vacation in the Algarve. You might be an experienced weekend cyclist and well used to covering long distances. Or perhaps you haven't ridden for absolutely ages but always fancied exploring the Algarve by bike. Putting in at least a little bit of practise before you go will give you the best chance of a comfortable ride, rather than huffing and puffing up even the smallest of hillocks.

Angie always advises getting in plenty of pedalling before you come to the Algarve but also understands that sometimes the old adage: 'you never forget how to ride a bike', is all you need to feel confident enough to take a two-wheeled tour: “Most people that choose to come self guided cycling in the Algarve are fairly used to bikes, but you don’t have to be. We’ve had couples over here who claim not to have ridden a bike in years. They’ve happily pedalled off and do just fine. Fitness really does depend on which route you undertake.”

Although routes aren't necessarily tailor made for each person, there are plenty to choose from. Some will take you along the coast, up into the mountains and past Moorish villages and towns. Others will be for shorter distances, along flat riversides, and include plenty of opportunities to spend afternoons sleeping off a long lunch in the shade of an almond tree or by the seaside. Be honest and ask the cycling vacation company first before committing to an easy-going or more challenging trip.

Best time to cycle in the Algarve

Angie explains why either side of summer is the best time to go cycling in the Algarve: “I’d say the best time to go cycling in the Algarve is either in spring or autumn. Early March, especially, is really nice with lots of white and pink blossom in the orange and almond groves, alongside green meadows covered in wild flowers. Cycling with the scent of citrus under blue skies is really uplifting. Summers, on the other hand, can get very busy on the coast. All the Portuguese in Porto and Lisbon head south to their vacation homes, and vacationmakers visit during the school vacations. The heat is also a bit much to be cycling in July and August. It can be quite exhausting.”
Written by Chris Owen
Photo credits: [Page banner: Algarve Bike Vacations] [Intro: Algarve Bike Vacations] [An alternative approach: Algarve Bike Vacations] [What are the Algarve's bike routes like?: Algarve Bike Vacations] [Best time to cycle in the Algarve: Algarve Bike Vacations]