Birds, beaches and bikes: Cycling through the Algarve

For 300 days a year, the sun shines in the Algarve. Maybe meteorologists would beg to differ but hey, that’s what the locals say so who am I to argue? With a coastline dappled with over 100 tantalising beaches, you don’t need to be Einstein to see why this is a favourite holiday destination for Europeans, as well as the Portuguese themselves.

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Away from the five star mega-resorts and award winning golf courses, the Algarve has an enticing, ever changing landscape of cliffs, lagoons, islands and more than 50 blue flag beaches. Add to this many quiet fishing villages and untouched beaches waiting to be discovered and you’ve got a lot to pack into a few days in Portugal. To see as much of the Algarve as possible, and keep fit while you’re doing it, a cycling trip is just the ticket. We tracked down a cycling company, Megasport, who offer trips along the area’s breathtaking highs, all from the comfort of your mountain bike. If you’re an Algarve virgin and want to see why the place is renowned as a natural beaut, I can’t recommend it enough.

Let’s get one thing straight: I’m no Bradley Wiggins. I’ve barely been on a bike in about 12 years but there are routes for every fitness level and – here are the magic words – it’s almost all on flat surfaces. And, importantly, it’s not a race. So yes fitness-phobes, you can do it! Awkward, motivational group hug coming right up.

Starting from our base in tourist favourite Albufeira, we headed to busy Vilamoura to join the Ecovia cycle path to Faro. The route is about 30km (there are other longer or shorter routes you can take) and, although to some this might sound like the least relaxing thing ever, you’re wrong. It’s exhausting, it hits muscles you didn’t know you had but – the best bit is – you’ll feel incredible after it. And you’ll fall in love with the Algarve. Trust me.

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Cycling Ecovia is the best way to discover the Algarve, whether it’s your first visit or twentieth and cycling at your leisure means stopping regularly not just to get a breather, but to take in the raw beauty of the coast.  To say the route is scenic doesn’t do it justice – we passed wildlife reserves, zoomed across meadows and fields, tackled dirt tracks and beaches, eased past olive trees and manicured golf courses – all in one heady cycle. Beats seeing the Portuguese countryside from a stuffy car any day.

At the pretty fishing village of Quarteira, we visited the bustling fish market and the fruit and veg market next door, offering an abundance of fresh produce. Along the rocky pier, clever seagulls and cats waited in the sun for the fresh catch of the day. Further down the route, pass through Vale de Lobo, the only part that offered a minor uphill struggle, and get an envious eyeful of the exquisite villas of the rich and famous.

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The highlight of the cycle was Ria Formosa, one of 7 natural wonders of Portugal and a protected area of outstanding beauty. A long bridge crosses the water, separating the calm blue waters from the even bluer sky and the reserve is spectacularly peaceful.  Boasting the biggest colony of seahorses in the world and home to many migratory birds as well as a hard-to-miss gang of flamingoes, this marshland is a birdwatcher’s paradise.

After almost four hours, we rolled into Faro’s pretty marina after midday, exhausted and pumped full of those endorphins I keep hearing about. Even though at certain points I thought I was about to collapse and never wanted to see a bike ever again, standing on the soft sandy coast and breathing in that fresh, salty air, I felt exhilarated, lucky to be there and, most of all, revived. Forget lying on a beach for a week, this is the way to see the Algarve.

Have a look at more of my Algarve pics here:

Bits ‘n pieces:

Hire a bike from www.megasport.pt. Bike hire is affordable, costing €20 for a day, €42 for 3 days or €50 for the guided tour we booked.  Megasport cater for all ages and capabilities and offer a range of scenic routes. For more information about the Algarve, visit www.visitalgarve.pt or www.algarvepromotion.pt

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