The Rota Vicentina is one of the most enjoyable cycling routes in western Europe. It combines country roads, small towns and wild Atlantic seascapes with outstanding Portuguese food and hospitality.
Matt Halfmann recently cycled from Setubal to Sagres along the Rota Vicentina and shared his experience in his own words.
Day one, Portugal.
Arrived Lisbon. Special thanks to the charming young couple, originally from São Tome, without whom obtaining a train ticket from the vending machine might’ve taken a bit of time.
Perfect weather. Today’s mission, acclimate to my rental bicycle, which will take from here to Sagres over the next five days.
Portugal day 2:
Nice cycle out to Wine country, lunch in Azeitao. Then cycled (mostly) up, along and down the Arrabida ridge. Great views of the sandy point across the bay that is tomorrow’s starting point.
Realized I would need to find something to do other than biking, eating and drinking, so per Dan Chartrand I sought out the local book seller (not always easy to find).
Dinner, a Setubal specialty choco fritos (fried cuttlefish and chips). No idea the cultural significance of the multicolored dolphin statues or the pigeon boy mural, but made for a nice after dinner walk.
Portugal Day 3:
Started by catching the ferry from Setubal to Troia. 40 mile cycle initially flat through dunes and rice fields with a nice stop to dip the feet in the Atlantic at the lovely beach Praia Comporta, then rolling hills through vineyards and cork trees and finishing with grueling last leg uphill to Santiago da Cacem.
Stretched my legs with a hike up narrow cobblestone streets to the medieval castle. Sorry Pop, no cannons sighted.
Portugal Day 4:
Everything I’d hope for in the cycling trip and more all in one day.
Started with a quick ride up to the Roman ruins of Mirobriga, circa 1-4th century AD. Then an enjoyable , mostly coasting ride downhill to the ocean through rolling hills passing by pastures with Burmese herding goats, big bulls, horses and even a couple windmills.
The last stretch, an idyllic unpaved road leading to Portugal’s equivalent to a lobster on the rocks facing Nubble light, that being arroz linguierao (rice with razor clams in a tomato sauce) and (more of course) fried cuttlefish facing Ilha Do Pessegueiro.
Next a short but amazing ride along the coast, then onward to the next destination, Vila Nova de Milfontes.
But wait, to top it off, tonight‘s accommodations include a shared kitchen stocked with free beer, wine and a cordials bar as well as, get this, homemade chocolate cake in my room
Forgetting to charge the GPS helped to make the decision to “not” for today as a “biking optional” day, so now what to do?
Breakfast (sorry generally trying to not show photos of food but both meals were spectacular). A mix of exploring beaches (a half dozen nestled between the cliffs nearby with all save one offering easy access stairs, paths etc), streets, alleys, hidden gems such as the Italian artist who came to Portugal for a short stay, 25 years ago and is still here, a short paddle board session (thankfully no pictures).
Then retreated to a shaded perch here at the casa to feign reading and totally enjoy an uncharacteristic moment of peace, stillness and pure amusement watching the small birds deftly maneuver the white plaster canyons topped with terracotta tile.
Dinner, bream seasoned with salt and grilled over charcoal, amazing food and setting, and yes, the first realization I am on the WEST coast of Portugal, the sun will set over the sea and that might be worth checking out.
How I met chef Hugo Nascimento
(Yes Ray, this is a best effort at a concise version). Today, another great cycle, country roads, beaches, cliffs etc (pics to follow) GPS works great until reaching the destination, Odeceixe.
Going in circles, long uphill walk over cobblestones, found sign for hotel, where’s lobby, ok #113, another uphill climb, but the sign say Naperon, not Casa Moinha.
Staff acknowledges yea, check in here but not till 4pm (it’s 230). I plunk down in lobby with book and water, and soon nice guy says, I can check you in, cool Nice lady confirms room is ready. I go to room, start googling restaurant options.
One is too fancy, naperon, big time chef Hugo Nascimento, but pic looks a lot like the guy who checked me in, and his nice colleague, yup, his wife.
Suffice it to say, I had the surprise four moments à la carte menu at Naperon, with the chef himself chatting and presenting, spectacular!
Portugal Day 6:
Fairly long cycle from Odeceixe to Sagres (60km), however all paved road. Pic of bike fully loaded.
Kudos to the bike and the travel company, not one hitch the entire trip. More auto traffic, occasionally heavy, but the good news was the two long uphill climbs were gradual, “pedal-able”, and busier sections actually had narrow, but welcome breakdown/bike lanes.
More rolling hills, vineyards citrus trees, windmills! (No bird carcasses at their bases, perhaps Portuguese birds are smarter, or at least smarter than those who post such “news” ).
Much as I wanted to stay ahead of the potential of rain (as it turns out clouds, no rain) I was very conscious this would be the last day of something I’d waited so long for, so took the time to enjoy, occasionally laugh or hoot to myself when out of earshot and “take it all in”.
Arrived in good time, made the trek to the SW tip, then rewarded myself with a local delicacy, a very messy burger, beer and fries at 3 Little Birds (yup named after the Bob Marley song).
Portugal, Day 7, Lagos:
Hands-down the memorable moment was a group kayak trip thru caves, then catching big swells out to and around Ponta da Piedade. In addition more cliff walks, beaches, old city labyrinth streets, amazing cobblestones everywhere, great food etc.
First impression Lagos is bigger, busier, more construction, more touristy (played golf with 3 Scotsmen) less what I thought I was looking for, but as I was walking back after a great meal on my last night, I had a strong feeling, glad I was able to spend three days here, I like this place.
All text and photos © Matt Halfmann
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8/1/2022 04:11:19 am
This has been on my bucket list for some time now. I’m no beginner but I have never cycled outside the US so far. My two worries are the language barrier - zero knowledge - and the weather. I don’t get that well in extreme heat and unfortunately July and August are the only months when I can book a trip overseas.
8/4/2022 02:02:09 am
Do you recommend this route for a solo female traveler? I don’t take unnecessary risks, you won’t see me biking at midnight, I'm just talking about your usual, daylight cycling. I have my pepper spray with me as well, just in case.
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