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If you've ever been to the Algarve on holiday, you'll find this very different. This isn't a country known for mountains, and there is only one on this route, but what it lacks in mountains, it makes up for in hills. The terrain is basically very, very hilly, so you won't lack climbs - they'll just be shorter, and more frequent, and that makes it much more suitable for the average cyclist, or for mixed-ability groups. The days are quite demanding, averaging 125km per day with 2,700 metres of climbing, but we support you all the way.
We travel through ancient cobbled villages, stay in lovely hotels, including an old convent, enjoy all the local food specialities, and of course, the famous local Douro wines. We get to see the devastation of kilometre after kilometre of burned forests (in October 2017 40,000 square kilometres of forest were lost to forest fires) but also witness the amazing regeneration of nature. Did you know that Portugal is one of the major suppliers of Eucalyptus for the paper industry? It's a valuable crop, and was encouraged by previous governments, but there's a big campaign now to ban it, since it burns so easily and has contributed to the wildfire problem. You'll see strange, naked cork trees, where the distinctive bark has been harvested for the automotive, fashion, construction and wine industries, depending on the quality. And of course, mile after mile of vineyards.
The mild climate lends itself to tours in spring and autumn, when the days aren't too hot. All in all, Portugal is a beautiful place, full of history and culture, and we're sure you'll really enjoy this tour.
750KM, AROUND 16,000 METRES OF CLIMBING
DAY 1 - BOURO TO CERVA - 124KM, CLIMBING AROUND 3,100 METRES
DAY 2 - CERVA TO FOLGOSA - 135KM, CLIMBING AROUND 2,800 METRES
DAY 3 - FOLGOSA TO MANTEIGAS - 136KM, CLIMBING AROUND 3,000 METRES
DAY 4 - MANTEIGAS TO PAMPILHOSA DA SERRA - 120KM, CLIMBING AROUND 3,500 METRES
DAY 5 - PAMPILHOSA DA SERRA TO MARVAO - 132KM, CLIMBING AROUND 3,000 METRES
DAY 6 - MARVAO TO VILA VICOSA - 112KM, CLIMBING AROUND 1,200 METRES
We'll be at Porto airport to meet you, and then we'll take you to Caniçada-Gerês, where we're staying in an amazing hotel, which looks down over a stunning lake. All the tools, stands and pumps you need will be available for you to assemble your bike, after which you can relax. Finally we'll enjoy a great dinner while we brief you on the trip and then it's off to bed for a good night's sleep.
We head out of Bouro Sainte Maria, riding through one tiny cobbled village after another, as we follow the river Cávado. At Paradela there's a dam, and then the river widens out to become a lake in the shape of a cross. We descend down one side into Rio Caldo at the centre, and cross the lake, climbing through small villages and a forest with amazing views down over the lake. At last we're riding through a very open landscape, quite scrubby, and full of the most enormous rocks, which appear to have been thrown down by a giant hand. We descend again to Rio Caldo, passing the 18th century sanctuary of São Bento, which is a great place to stop for a break. Then we continue back to the river, crossing the second bridge, and climbing again to the Venda Nova dam. Now we head away from the river, riding along a ridge and looking down into a valley, and finally we come to Cerva, where we stay the night.
We leave Cerva and ride through vineyards until we come to turn off to the Senhora de Graca, a chapel on the top of a small mountain. It's a 6km climb, starting at about 6% at the bottom, but increasing to 9% towards the top, and it's marked all the way, so you can measure your progress. There's a stunning view from the top, so it's definitely worth the climb. We descend again and continue on our journey, arriving in Vila Real, where we can stop for lunch. Out of the town and we're soon back into countryside, interspersed with small, cobbled villages. More forest and heathland, and suddenly you start to get glimpses of the famous Duoro valley. This area has been heavily damaged by forest fires, but you can see where Nature has started to regenerate. Among the vineyards you'll see olive groves appearing for the first time, and then we find ourselves riding along the top of the Duoro Valley, looking down through the endless terraces of vines to the river, where there are boats passing by. This landscape is truly stunning. We descend into Pinhão on the banks of the Duoro river, crossing over and continuing along the other side. We spend the night on the banks of the river.
We start off with a 2km ride along the banks of the Duoro river (not a bad start to the day!), and then we climb out of the valley and head towards the only real mountain on our route, the Serra da Estrela. For a while we criss-cross the River Távora, before we ride through sparse forest where there's more evidence of forest fires, and new shoots of recovering greenery. We turn onto a big, wide, empty road - we can't stress enough how big and wide and empty it actually is! We can now see down into a big open valley. We cross over the motorway and then we're dropping down to the River Mondego, and on to Gouveia; perhaps a good place to stop for a break before we tackle the first real climb of our trip. As we make the winding climb out of the valley we can see down into it again, and then we're at the top, where there's nothing except a signpost to notify you that you're at an altitude of 1420m. Finally we make the descent into Manteigas, where we're staying the night.
Manteigas is a lovely little town on the river Zêzere, but is unfortunately between two mountains, so there's no option today but to ride out of town straight into the climb up the Serra da Estrela. The first 10km are at a nice, steady gradient, but then it becomes a tad more demanding, with hairpins. The summit is at 1993m, and this is the only place in Portugal where you can ski in the winter. As we descend, the view is absolutely stunning, and reminiscent of Mont Ventoux in many ways - windy, barren, and with a view that stretches for many miles across a great, flat plain. Further on we cross over the other side of the mountain, and now the view is very different; layers and layers of hills, as far as the eye can see. We descend to Vide, and then climb gently along a small, quiet valley road for a while, riding through several small towns, and along the side of the river Unhais, and the Santa Lucia dam. The road is quite undulating for the rest of the day, until we descend into Pampilhosa da Serra and our hotel.
There's a very short warm-up and then we're climbing on a quiet road through pine forest, out of Pampilhosa and the Unhais valley, at the start of probably our hilliest day. It's hard to say if these are big hills or small mountains, so we're leaving you to make up your own minds. From the top of the first "peak" we can look down onto the Zêzere valley, which provides us with yet another beautiful, but totally different view from anything we've seen before. We descend, and then cross the river, before making our second climb, and then descending into Oleiros, which is a good place for a break. Then we tackle our third climb, which takes us up to about 1000 metres. Wind turbines are a big feature of the landscape here, and you can look across and see them on most of the hilltops. We then have a long descent to the Ocreza valley, before climbing a little "bump" and crossing the river Tagus. We don't usually like to end a day with a climb to our hotel, but the chance to stay in the amazing medieval hilltop village of Marvão was just too good to miss, so we finish with the climb up to the top. It's amazing how close we are to Spain, and you can see why this town was strategically so important. It was also included in the NY Times book "1000 Places to See Before You Die".
There's only one way to go from here, and that's down, so we start with the 6km descent down into Portagem. This area is famous for pink marble and cork trees, but also wine. We finish in the historic town of Vila Viçosa, where we stay in a lovely old convent, and as it's a short day, you should have plenty of time to pack up your bikes and relax in the pool, or wander into the town for a beer, before we have a wonderful celebration dinner. You can marvel, as we did, at the lemon and lime trees that line the streets, and even help yourself to the fruit if you want.
After breakfast we load up and deliver you back to the airport. It's about an hour and a half to Lisbon airport, or we can drop you in Porto, although that's about three and a half hours away.
Ensuite accommodation in 2*-3* hotels, in shared rooms. Single rooms are available and a supplement of £275 applies.
Continental or buffet-style breakfasts every morning, supplemented with muesli if needed.
3-course evening meals every night with wine, a beer or a soft drink.
Snacks to keep you going during the day, such as bananas, chocolate, and quality energy gels and bars.
Bottled water and carbohydrate powder for your bottles, as well as High5 Zero electrolyte tablets.
Maps of the route for you to refer to as you ride and GPS files for you to upload to your device.
Souvenir full-zip Owayo Northern Portugal jersey.
As many photos of you as we can take during your trip - usually a few hundred pictures - so you can relive your journey from start to finish when you get home.
We'll never be more than a few kilometres from you at all times, so you don't need to carry loads of kit with you "just in case". We'll try to be at the bottom of every climb so you can shed unwanted clothing, top up your water bottles and grab a snack or energy bar, and at the top of every col so you can add a windproof layer before you start your descent.
We don't make our prices look cheaper by leaving out evening meals, alcohol, or even airport transfers, so if you're looking at prices, it pays to make sure you're comparing like for like.