Gravel Bike Touring in Portugal: An Insider’s Guide to the Best Routes and Places
Portugal is one of the best places in Europe for gravel bike touring, with something to offer cyclists of all levels. From the stunningly picturesque coastlines and rolling vineyards of the Algarve to the rugged, mountainous terrain of the Serra da Estrela, gravel biking through Portugal is an incredible experience. With its quiet roads, challenging climbs, and stunning views, this country is the perfect destination for an unforgettable cycling adventure.
In this guide, we’ll take a look at the best routes and places to explore on your gravel bike tour in Portugal. We’ll also provide insider tips on where to stay, what to eat, and how to make the most of your cycling experience. So, let’s get started and explore some of the best gravel bike touring routes and places in Portugal!
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What to Expect on a Gravel Bike Tour in Portugal
Portugal is well-known for its stunning landscapes and picturesque villages, but its growing reputation as an adventure travel destination is attracting an increasing number of adventure travelers every year.
And a growing number of adventure travelers are discovering the joys of gravel biking in Portugal. Although it’s not yet as widely known for its gravel roads as other cycling destinations in Europe, Portuguese gravel bike routes are growing in popularity and numbers.
Why gravel bike in Portugal? You can expect to experience: A varied landscape and terrain - Cyclists visiting Portugal can expect to ride through a variety of landscapes, ranging from the rugged, mountainous terrain of the Serra da Estrela in the north, to the rolling vineyards of the Alentejo, and the sunny beaches of the Algarve in the south.
And while you’ll find some superb paved roads to cycle, Portugal has an amazing network of unpaved gravel roads, perfect for adventure cyclists. Quiet and scenic roads - While there are some busy roads in Portugal, the majority of the roads you’ll travel on your gravel bike tour are quiet, unpaved roads through picturesque landscapes.
Where to Go: The Best Gravel Routes and Places to visit
If you’re looking for the best places and routes for gravel biking in Portugal, there are a number of options, but these stand out for me as the best places to start exploring Portugal your gravel bike adventure.
The Eurovelo 1 bike tour is an adventurous but also safe way to experience Gravel riding in Portugal. I recommend starting in Porto and ending in Lisbon, or Faro, depending on your time and logistics. Along the way, you can discover secluded beaches, shady pine forests, charming seaside villages and at the right time of year you might see the world's largest waves to ever be surfed!
The Algarve, the southernmost region of Portugal that runs east to west along the Atlantic Ocean, is an incredibly scenic part of the country, known for its beaches and landscapes. The quiet, paved and gravel roads of the Algarve are perfect for cyclists, and there’s a number of great routes that you can explore while you’re there.
The central Alentejo region is home to the city of Évora, a UNESCO world heritage site, and is a great place to spend a few days on your gravel bike tour. The central Alentejo has a number of excellent gravel roads, such as the road to the UNESCO site at Évora, which is long but not difficult.
This is one of my personal favourite gravel routes anywhere in the world! Starting from Lisbon or Setubal, you can cycle down the west coast of Portugal on small country lanes or gravel roads following the rugged coastline all the way down to Lagos. There are several route options to choose from and depending on your appetite for miles, you can make it a leisurely week long bike tour to stop and sample the excellent beaches - or do the whole 300 + km route over a long weekend.
Historic Villages of Serra da Estrela
The Serra da Estrela is a stunningly rugged, mountainous region in Portugal, in the north of the country, and is a great place to ride a gravel bike. The road connecting the towns of Manteigas and Seia is a popular gravel road, and is a great route for exploring the region.
Where to Stay: Accommodation Options
If you’re visiting for a cycling adventure, you’ll likely want to stay at a place that is both close to the best gravel roads in Portugal and close to the best sights, points of interest and restaurants. Fortunately, there are plenty of world-class accommodation options in Portugal that make perfect basecamps for gravel biking, at any price point. Here are a few of my favourite types of accommodation in Portugal:
Ocean front coastal hotels
If you’re visiting during the summer months, it’s hard to top the coastal hotels along the sparkling west coast or the Algarve. These coastal hotels offer stunning views of the Atlantic Ocean, and many are just off some of the best gravel roads in southern Europe.
Historic town boutique hotels
If you’re visiting the central Alentejo or the Serra da Estrela, town hotels are a great option. These hotels are often located in historic buildings or former palaces, and are a great way to experience the culture of the region, with a touch of luxury.
Rural hotels or B&Bs
From north to south, inland or on the coast, you will find wonderful, family-run rural hotels and bed and breakfast accommodations, where you can get a privileged insight into the local way of life, often in unique locations such as tastefully decorated farms, old mills or renovated village homes.
If you are happy to forgo the comforts of a roof over your head, you are in luck too! Portugal is home to some outstanding campsites, and I do recommend using them if you want to use a tent - as wild camping is prohibited by law in Portugal. Even the most basic campsites offer good amenities onsite or very nearby.
What to Eat: Portuguese Cuisine
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when ordering Portuguese cuisine. First, a lot of Portuguese dishes are served in portions that are more than enough for one person, so you might have some leftovers.
Also, many Portuguese dishes are served with rice or potatoes as a side, so you'll never run short on carbs! Aside from the heartier sit down meals, you can alwasys find soup and toasted sandwiches on most cafe menus.
There are a couple of things that are commonly eaten in Portugal, regardless of the region. For example, you will find seafood on most menus, as the country is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean. Seafood dishes might include fresh grilled fish, squid, octopus, clams, and of course, cod.
You will also likely find traditional Portuguese meat dishes on most menus. Some of these include roast pork, steak sandwishes (which make a great cycling snack!), roast lamb and feijoada (a bean and meat stew).
Eating vegetarian in Portugal isn’t difficult, either. Many restaurants offer excellent vegetable-based options, and rich Portuguese soup is a perfect staple meat eaters or vegetarians alike!
Essential Tips for Gravel Biking in Portugal
Ensure you have the right bike for the terrain and that you can lift your bike over obstacles. Stay on marked trails as best you can to avoid trespassing and be aware of potentially dangerous natural features.
Bring water, repair kits, and snacks. Be prepared for all-weather conditions. Visit in March or October for the best weather; avoid the peak of summer and fall during harvest season if want to avoid crowds.
Bring a helmet - Although helmet use is mandatory for motorcyclists in Portugal, it is not required for cyclists, but it is still highly recommended. Especially when riding off main roads and if you choose particularly technical terrain.
Although tap water is safe to drink in Portugal, make sure you can carry enough of it across longer sections between settlements, and do not drink from unaproved fountains.
Pack and dress appropriately - The weather in Portugal can be varied, so make sure to dress appropriately for both warm and cold temperatures, and naturally the season you choose to travel.
Follow these tips and you are sure to make the most of your gravel biking experience in Portugal!
Gravel Biking in Portugal: It's Not About the Bike
Gravel bike touring in Portugal is an incredible experience, with a variety of beautiful landscapes, quiet roads, and delicious food. But whether you are a fan of riding a drop bar or flat bar bicycle, please understand that garvel biking in Portugal - or anywhere else - is not really about the bike. It's all about the experience!
You certainly need the right bike to enjoy unpaved gravel roads, but it does not need to be what the marketing team tells you to ride - it's all about finding a comfortable bike that will allow you to enjoy days in the saddle, rolling over unpaved roads and trails, away from the cars and savouring the sounds and sight of nature once more.
Whether you’re looking to explore the around the rugged mountains of the Serra da Estrela, the coastal towns along the Costa da Prata, the interior or coastal Algarve, or the historic towns of coastal and central Alentejo, there are plenty of great routes to explore. The trouble might be trying to pick a single route!
And with a variety of accommodations available in different regions, there’s no better place to book your next adventure than Portugal. So, what are you waiting for? Head to Portugal and explore the best places and routes for gravel biking in this stunningly beautiful country!
Gravel biking is quickly becoming one of the most popular outdoor activities, and it’s no wonder why! From its extreme versatility to its relative affordability, this sport has something to offer everyone, regardless of their riding experience. Whether you’re new to the sport or an experienced veteran, you can find something to enjoy about gravel biking.
With its unique blend of mountain biking and road riding, gravel biking gives you access to a wide variety of terrain, from smooth, easy trails to challenging off-road routes. Plus, it’s relatively easy and inexpensive to get started, as most of the gear needed is fairly affordable and easy to find.
So, if you’re looking for an exciting new way to explore the outdoors, gravel biking might be the perfect option for you! In this article, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about gravel biking, including its benefits, tips, and more.
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What is gravel biking?
Gravel biking is a cycling activity that involves riding on unpaved trails and gravel surfaces, including dirt roads and Byways (regional roads). While it can possibly be traced back to the ‘80s, it didn’t get its official title until 2012, when the term was introduced as a new category in the Adventure Cycling Association’s Bike Route Classification System.
Today, gravel biking has become incredibly popular, with riders of varying experience levels enjoying the sport across the globe. Gravel biking is a great option for outdoor enthusiasts who want to enjoy a wide variety of terrain types and settings, from scenic, smooth paths to challenging, rugged routes.
While the activity is similar to mountain biking, with the difference being the type of surface being ridden on, gravel biking is equally as good on road rides and more.
Benefits of gravel biking
Gravel biking offers a wide range of benefits, perfect for anyone looking to get more out of their outdoor adventures. Here are some of the biggest benefits to consider:
Improved fitness and health - Cycling adventures on unpaved trails often involve climbing hills and pedaling up steep inclines, which are great for improving your cardiovascular health, stamina, and leg strength. Whether you’re tackling a short, easy trail or a long, challenging route, you’ll be able to improve your fitness and overall health, which can improve your quality of life.
Mental health benefits - Riding gravel trails also has mental health benefits, providing an opportunity to relax and unwind from a busy, stressful life. Whether you decide to take a short, easy ride or a long, challenging route, you’ll be able to clear your head and think more clearly.
Variety of terrain types - Riding gravel trails gives you access to a wide variety of terrain types and settings, including smooth paths, winding dirt roads, and challenging, rugged routes. This allows you to explore different terrain types and settings, giving you access to a wide range of outdoor experiences.
Access to diverse communities - Another benefit of riding gravel trails is that they give you access to a diverse range of communities, including nearby cities and towns. By combining two of the most popular outdoor activities, you’ll be able to access a wide variety of communities.
Gear and equipment needed for gravel biking
It’s important to have the right gear and equipment for any type of cycling adventure, including gravel biking. To ensure you’re well-equipped for any gravel biking adventure, check out the following gear and equipment:
Gravel Bike - You’ll need a bike that’s built for off-road riding, with wider tires for better traction and durability. If you don’t have a specific gravel bike, you can still ride on unpaved trails, just be sure to adjust your tire pressure to suit the terrain.
Helmet - You should always wear a helmet when cycling, especially on off-road routes. It’s important to wear a helmet to protect your head in the event of a fall or collision.
Gloves - You’ll also want to wear gloves to protect your hands, especially when riding on rough, rocky surfaces.
Shoes - You should also wear protective shoes to help shield your feet from rocks and other debris found on gravel trails, while affording all day long cycling comfort and support.
First-aid kit - Always bring a first-aid kit on any cycling adventure, including gravel riding. It’s important to have the necessary tools on hand in the event of an injury.
Hydration and nutrition - You should also bring plenty of hydration and nutrition, especially if you plan on going on a long trail. Bring plenty of water and food to fuel your ride.
Getting started with gravel biking
If you’re interested in getting started with gravel biking, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, you’ll want to decide what type of riding you’re most interested in.
Are you looking for smooth, paved paths or extreme, challenging off-road routes? Next, you’ll want to decide what type of bike suits your riding style.
Do you prefer a drop bar bike, or a straight bar bike? You’ll also want to decide what type of gear and equipment will work best for you. Are you interested in going with a carbon fiber bike frame, alloy or a steel frame?
You may well have the perfect gravel bike at home gathering dust in your garage: a simple hardtail mountainbike or a hybrid trekking bike make perfect gravel bikes, without having to spend a fortune on an all-new dedicated gravel machine. Once you’ve made your choice and got your perfect bike, you’re ready to hit the trails!
Gravel biking tips for beginners
If you’re new to the sport of gravel biking and aren’t sure where to start, don’t worry! We’ve got you covered. Follow these tips to help you get started with the sport:
Start with an easy trail - When you’re first getting started with gravel biking, it’s important to start with an easy trail or route. This will allow you to get used to the sport and feel comfortable riding.
Build up your endurance - Cycling is a challenging sport, and it can help you improve your fitness, but only if you put in the work. To build up your endurance, try riding more often or increasing your ride distance.
Invest in good gear - When it comes to riding gravel, you never know what type of terrain you’ll have to ride on. Be prepared for anything by investing in good gear, including a durable, reliable bike and protective gear, such as gloves, helmets, and shoes.
Gravel biking safety tips
While gravel biking is an exciting, fun sport, it’s important to follow safety precautions to help keep you out of harm’s way. Here are some safety tips to keep in mind if you’re participating in the sport:
Stay hydrated - Cycling can be challenging and exhausting, which makes hydration incredibly important. Be sure to drink plenty of water throughout your ride to help keep you hydrated and energized.
Wear protective gear - Cycling is a challenging sport, and it’s important to wear protective gear at all times. Always wear a helmet and gloves to protect your head and hands in the event of a fall or collision.
Know your limits - It’s important to know your limits when it comes to riding gravel. Stay away from challenging terrain, and always follow the 10% rule when deciding whether or not a trail is right for you.
Ride with a partner - It’s important to ride with a partner, especially if you’re new to the sport. Riding with a partner can help keep you safe and encourage you to push yourself.
Gravel biking routes and maps
When riding gravel trails, you’ll likely come across many different routes. Some routes are short, easy paths, while others are long, challenging routes.
While you can choose the route you want to take, it’s important to take note of the distance so you know how long your ride will be. Another helpful tool to have on hand when riding gravel trails is a map, be it printed or digital.
A map is helpful when riding with a group or with friends, helping you all stay on track and reach your destination. If you’re interested in riding gravel trails near you, you can use sites like Trailforks, Routzz or Ride with GPS, which allow you to search nearby trails and review different routes.
Gravel biking events
As you become more involved with the gravel biking community, you’ll likely come across various events, such as local rides and races. Participation in these events is a fun and exciting way to get to know other gravel bikers, as well as to challenge yourself and improve your riding skills.
Plus, you’ll often have the opportunity to ride unique routes and visit new places. When you’re planning to attend a gravel biking event for the first time, make sure to do your research so you know what to expect.
This includes knowing the route ahead of time, what gear you need, and anything else you should keep in mind. Additionally, make sure to ride safely and follow any rules and guidelines set by the event organizers.
Gravel biking community
Gravel biking is a fairly new sport, but you'll find a ton of information and gear online. You’ll likely come across small, and enthusiastic, communities of people who love sharing their experiences with others. With that said, you may find it challenging to find people with whom you can ride when you’re just getting started.
This is why it’s important to get involved with the community as soon as possible. One of the best out there is Bikepacking.com. Joining online groups, participating in local events, and attending gravel biking workshops are just a few ways to meet other people who share your interests and ride style.
Once you’ve connected with this supportive community, you’ll have access to new gear, tips, and information that can help you along your gravel biking journey.
Gravel biking resources for beginners
If you’re new to the sport of gravel biking and are interested in trying it out, but aren’t sure where to start, there are a few resources and tips you can keep in mind - without going out and buying an expensive new bike!
First and foremost, it’s important to make sure your bike is ready for gravel riding. This means replacing the standard road tires with wider, more durable tires (here's where a mountain or hybrid bike makes a better fit that a narrow framed road bike!). Additionally, you may want to consider purchasing a wider handlebar to give you extra control and comfort.
Once your bike is set up for gravel riding, it’s time to purchase a few essentials that are necessary for riding on gravel. This includes a bike repair kit, tire repair kit, and some basic tools. It’s also helpful to wear appropriate gear, such as a helmet and gloves, to protect yourself from potential hazards.
Whether you’re new to off road riding or an experienced veteran, you can find something to enjoy about gravel biking. With its unique blend of mountain biking and road riding, gravel biking gives you access to a wide variety of terrain, from smooth, easy trails to challenging off-road routes. Here are two of my favourite routes to inspire you: Camino de Santiago in Spain and Rota Vicentina in Portugal.