The Untouched Algarve: Walk And Cycle Along An Unseen Side Of Portugal's South Coast

Yahoo Lifestyle
Yahoo writer Chris Parsons stops for a breather on the Portugese coast a few miles from Luz. (Yahoo/Chris Parsons)

Mention the Algarve and the common image is one of coastal resorts, family-friendly beaches and a convenient, if slightly dated Mediterranean getaway.

But these days more adventurous travellers are heading to this sun-kissed corner of Europe for its newly-forged reputation - as one of Europe's top walking and cycling hotspots.

Forget fighting for a spot a sun lounger - many are getting their holiday kicks in the Algarve by taking to two wheels and pounding the Portugese coast.

I spent three days doing just that on an energising break which packed in 11 miles of walking and 19 miles of cycling along some of Europe's most eye-catching coastline.

Along the way I hiked through gorse meadows alive with the wild herby smells of hottentot fig ('ice plant'), before finishing a ramble at the Ponta de Sagres lighthouse - the most south-westerly point in Europe.

Following a transfer down from Lisbon, our first night was spent in Aldeia de Pedralva - an isolated, rural retreat the likes of which I'd never come across on my travels before. It used to be a bustling farming village home to around 200, but fell into economic turmoil and subsequent neglect.

Nine years ago its current owners set about restoring the whitewash lodgings to their former glory, and it's now a homely stop-off popular with hikers and riders from around Europe.

Our first full day saw our group take on a rousing 11 mile (18km) hike from the nearby village of Vila do Bispo to the Ponta de Sagres and its famous south-westerly landmark.

The first few miles mixed dusty country paths with winding lanes through eucalyptus-lined hills. This landscape soon gave way to breathtaking coastal views from the coastal lanes to the foamy Atlantic surf.

The walk takes in parts of the Rota Vicentina - which sprawls nearly 220 miles (350km) through south-west Portugal - and the Fisherman's Trail - a sometimes sandy stretch of coastline often used by locals to secure the best fishing spots.

The entire trail is well signposted, but in a restrained manner which doesn't patronise experienced walkers or blot the scenery.

Five hours and 11 miles later (including lunch and photo opps), the Ponta de Sagres lighthouse loomed large. Headwater, who organised our trip, offer several alternative routes - but striding towards the Sagres Fort seemed a particularly satisfying way to end this hike.

Our second night was spent in the Memmo Baleeira in Sagres. A modern, beachside, four-star hotel with its own spa and surf centre, its clean, crisp interiors were a contrast to the endearing cobbles of our first night.

My stays in both were relaxing and well-catered for, but those looking for more intimate accommodation will prefer Pedralva.

Having refueled overnight, we got our helmets on for the cycling leg. Headwater caters for walkers and riders who want less arduous trips, scaling down the mileage and time while still taking in the best viewpoints.

With added pedal power, the second route stretched around 19 miles (30km) from Sagres to Luz, further east along the Algarve coast.

Initial stretches weren't particularly eye-catching - paths alongside carriageways and the like. But within a few miles we were happily pedalling through rolling inland hills, interspersed with glimpses of that unforgettable coastline.

Our route was one of the longest available - and it certainly felt like it as we wearily approached our end point in Luz. There were no steep climbs along the way, but nonetheless my thighs were still burning from the lactic acid build-up over almost 20 miles.

I'm far from a regular cyclist, but it's fair to say that anyone with half decent fitness should cope with the physical demands of the cycle route.

There was an impressive mix of scenery throughout, from the narrow cobbles of the coastal village of Salema to the looming cliffs over the Atlantic.

Our trip was rounded off in Lagos, a picturesque, historic gem of a town perfect for markets, restaurants and photogenic squares. Before checking out the centre, we enjoyed a speedy boat ride around the dramatic 60m-high rock formations off the Ponta da Piedade.

Fishermen ferrying tourists around the hidden coves have given the various formations daft names based on their shape. In one 30-minute trip we were shown 'The Camel', 'The Titanic', and 'Michael Jackson's Face'.

It was an amusing aside and is a hit with young families, but some geological info would've been helpful to go with the wacky monikers.

Our final meal was one of the highlights of the trip - a Portugese feast at Don Sebastao, an intimate old town eaterie and local Lagos institution. As well as a superb blend of locally-sourced seafood, it also boasts an enormous wine cellar housing vintage bottled of Port worth tens of thousands of Euros.

There's no doubt that an active outdoors holiday will change your perception of the Algarve. Beneath the sandy surface there's a lot to discover in the 'Wild West' of Portugal.

* Headwater's cycling holidays are available from £989pp for six nights, including flights, accommodation, breakfast and evening meals. Walking holidays are from £769pp. Find out more on their website. *

Homely: The renovated Pedralva village, where we stayed on night one. (Flickr/Tony Lewis)
New image: Pedralva was rebuilt in 2009. (Flickr/Tony Lewis)
Scenic: Herbacious expanses and colourful surroundings on the clifftop walk. (Yahoo/Chris Parsons)
Sheer drop: The rugged Atlantic coastline close to the Ponta de Sagres. (Yahoo/Chris Parsons)
Plodding on: Our cycling group were defeated by the cobbled hills in Salema. (Yahoo/Chris Parsons)
Winding roads: The rolling hills midway through our cycle route. (Yahoo/Chris Parsons)
A possible triangular route between Pedralva, Sagres and Lagos on the Algarve. (Headwater)
The thriving centre of Lagos, where we spent out last night. (Rex)

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