Portugal

by e-Bike

Guadiana Route

In this first part of the Bike & Sketch Portugal Tour, we are focusing on the Guadiana river that flows, defining a long stretch of the Portugal-Spain border, separating the easternmost Algarve and Alentejo region in Portugal, and Andalucia and Extremadura in Spain. Here we cycle through fascinating historic towns and villages.

ROUTE DONE IN June 2012

Distance

248 km

days

10

Difficulty (1-10)

3

With the pandemic which has not yet stabilized, we decided to do the Bike & Sketch Portugal Tour during summer 2021. We are very careful in choosing the path we will take before we start this journey. In addition, we also pay attention to the weather and the tourist season, which usually increases in the summertime. With that in mind, we decided to start our adventure with Guadiana Route. Started at Vila Real de Santo Antonio, in the southeast corner of a country that is only as big as the island of Java, Indonesia. Talking about Indonesia, here you can read Indonesian version that I wrote for CNN Indonesia.

In this first part of the Bike & Sketch Portugal Tour, we are focusing on the Guadiana river that flows, defining a long stretch of the Portugal-Spain border, separating the easternmost Algarve and Alentejo region in Portugal, and Andalucia and Extremadura in Spain. Here we cycle through fascinating historic towns and villages.

Vila Real de Santo Antonio

Vila Real de Santo Antonio town is located at the easternmost tip of the Algarve, where the Guadiana river meets the Atlantic Ocean. We decided to start our adventure here – Guadiana route – as it is still relatively quiet. Unlike in other Algarve coastal towns, starting from the end of May, there are lots of tourists coming. This place is also unique because of its layout. It is more like Lisbon with the square decorated in the style of Pombal.

Another reason we like it here is that it is flanked by two national parks: the Castro Marim Swamp Reserve and Vila Real de Santo António and the beach dune forest of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, which makes the city a great base camp for nature lovers.

Surprisingly, while I was researching Vila Real de Santo Antonio, there was no mention of the green beach located at the southernmost tip of the city. Maybe because this green color comes from seaweed, so according to local people it’s normal. But I think it’s enchanting. I highly recommend visiting this green beach.

The coolest place to stay here is at the Grand House Algarve (formerly Hotel Guadiana). As well as being on Avenida da República (main street), this hotel overlooks the beautiful Guadiana river with views of the city of Ayamonte across the river.

Alcoutim

From Vila Real de Santo Antonio, we cycled to Alcoutim through a trekking trail – GR15 from Portuguese trail – to avoid the main road. Unexpectedly, the road we chose turned out to be tougher than we imagined.

Even though we cycled through South America and Africa for almost 3 years, the quarantined muscles this past year need to regain their strength. After several kilometers in this Guadiana route, 54 km to be exact, we finally arrived at Alcoutim.

Alcoutim village is quite small, so it’s walkable. Due to its location and geographical characteristics, Alcoutim can be visited all year round. During spring and autumn, the air temperature is very comfortable to enjoy all the potential nature tourism destinations around. While in summer, the air temperature is hot and dry, but the Guadiana River is always welcome to cool you down.

One more thing that is interesting in Alcoutim is the view on the other side of the Guadiana river, the village of San Lucar, Spain. If you want, you can cross there, go around the village which is no less beautiful, and then return to Portugal.

When we arrived, we were exhausted. Our thoughts only wanted to take a shower, eat, then sleep. Because on the next morning, we had to cycle again to Mértola.

Mértola

The journey to Mértola is shorter (31 km) than the previous day. This time we went through the main route in several parts because there were no dirt roads.

That day we left the Algarve region and entered the Alentejo region. The scenery around slowly turned yellow-brown. The horizon line widens and expands with the wheat fields.

Mértola is located in the southeastern part of the Alentejo region in Portugal. I never heard of this city until I planned this trip – Bike & Sketch Portugal Tour – and it became one of my top destinations.

The first impression when we saw the village of Mértola from afar is amazing. The castle situated right on top of the cliff enjoying the light of the setting sun. The white-walled houses below the castle were built to adjust the slope of the cliff that descended to the mouth of the Guadiana river.

Slowly we descended the hill by bicycle, enjoying what in front of us while feeling the wind refreshing our sweaty bodies.

Apart from being charming, Mértola also has a lot of history. Due to its location, right next to the Guadiana river, this village was once an important trading point. This is also what makes this place offers a blend of Christian Romance culture and Mediterranean Islam that makes it even more enchanting.

From Mértola we cycled to Mina de Sao Domingos. The journey is not far, only 15 km. The path we walked was 100% paved and cloudy all day.

Although located some distance from the river, this mine has historical importance because the British company, Mason and Barry, made a port on the Guadiana river. They also built an 18 km long railway line to this place. Here, Portugal has electric lights for the first time.

After this, we cycled towards Serpa. The path we took was still 100% paved on the secondary road for 40 km. We passed the fenced wheat fields and almond fields along the way.

Serpa

Serpa received us calmly. Portugal’s national football team was playing against Germany’s national football team when we arrived. There were hardly any cars or people on the road.

Even though Portugal lost 4-2 that day, the people in Serpa showed no sadness when we had dinner at a restaurant close to the castle walls, the Molho Bico restaurant.

Many people have recommended Molho Bico not only because of the delicious taste of the food, but the food they provide is also typical of the region. We also enjoyed ‘cante o vinho’ which means singing of wine. A musical group (not a boyband) sang in the restaurant that night.

Maybe eating while accompanied by music is common, but the thing that fascinates me is that everyone in the restaurant sings along. From the restaurant owner, the employees, to the little children, they were singing along too.

Cante is a typical Alentejo tradition where almost all of the song lyrics tell the history of each region. Not only the history of the kingdom era but any kind of history. For example, they have a song about the first coffee machine here. Maybe, soon, there could be a song about tik-tok? Hehe.

Mourão

On the journey from Serpa to Mourão, the weather was not favorable at all. It was raining continuously for 65 km. I don’t like cycling when it’s raining because I can’t enjoy the scenery around me. Fortunately, when we reached Mourão, it was no longer raining.

After showering and changing clothes, Ana, the owner of the place we stayed, took us around this small town and explained the history of this town.

She told us that the town of Morão has always been strong in agriculture, full of olive trees, a symbol of the region. On the outskirt of Mourão, a lake called Alqueva is formed by the Guadiana river with a beautiful view, and there is even a freshwater beach that the Portuguese commonly call ‘fluvial.’

Once upon a time, the Alentejo region was once the land of wheat. There was so much wheat that it is known for its bread. Today, young people go to the big cities in search of more opportunities than to work in the hot fields. And since there is the Alqueva dam, Alentejo has more pine trees, almond trees, and olive trees makes it greener than ever.

Often what makes a place memorable is not beauty or luxury but the people we meet. At Mourão, we have it all.

Monsaraz

It’s our last day cycling through the Guadiana route. The distance is only 15 km, full of the beauty of the river on our right and left. From afar, we could still see Mourão castle on our left. And when it was out of sight, we could see Monsaraz castle on the right side.

The historic village and one of the oldest in Portugal is a must-have reason to add Monsaraz to your list of places to visit in Alentejo. Especially, after this village included in one of the seven wonders of Portugal in 2017.

Traveling around Monsaraz is like traveling through the ages and enjoying the history of the present. There’s so much to see and feel in this captivating ‘Time Machine.’

Tonight, we’re laying up with the stars as our blanket at a restaurant in Monsaraz. Tasting the best of traditional Alentejo food and gazing at Lake Alqueva completes the distinct nirvana.

From the places and trails we passed in this Guadiana route, I enjoyed the most from the city of Mourão to Monsaraz. Not because the path is short, yet the scenery makes the heart calm.

Total cycling from Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Monsaraz is 248 km. It took us ten days. One day on the bike, and the next day we spent exploring the area. We cycled through a variety of paths, ranging from trekking trails to the main road.

Since the area of this Guadiana route is arguably remote in Portugal, not many cars pass by, or tourists the places I mentioned above. With all of this, Luís and I feel comfortable getting around to do Bike & Sketch Portugal Tour during the pandemic.

Sketchbook

click on the image to see the sketches of this journey

There are plenty historical villages along the route that 10 days may too short. Especially for those who like history.

Some national parks such as: the Castro Marim Swamp Reserve and Vila Real de Santo António, the beach dune forest of Vila Real de Santo Antonio, and Guadiana Valley Natural Park.

There is not much difficulty in this Guadiana route. It’s just our preferences to cycle through the dirt road which was not easy to find due to private properties. However, the cars that taken us over were quite respectful. They never honking us and gave us safe distance. We never feel unsafe through this route.

  • Restaurants or cafes are quite easy to find along the route.
  • Portuguese restaurant normally serve a big portion of food. Usually we order one for both of us.
  • Water is potable here so we just refill from the tap
  • There are plenty water source next to the road but these aren’t potable. You need to treat the water first before consume.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *