Portugal’s southerly region of Alentejo remains a thankfully rough-hewn hideaway off the tourist path. It stretches from the dramatic Atlantic coastline across to the Spanish border and contains cork-oak forests, olive groves, UNESCO world heritage sites, and excellent wineries. This is where the slow-moving way of life is embraced wholeheartedly—but you’ll be zipping through it, by bicycle. Here’s how to explore the region on two wheels in just one week.
The trip begins just south of Lisbon, along the coast in Setúbal. Stay at the Pousada de Palmela, a hotel housed within the walls of a 15th century monastery. As for the biking: This 38-kilometer loop may be short, but it has some good climbing along the beautifully rugged coastline, which is largely protected by national-park status. (That means you can find some of Europe’s best-preserved beaches here, if you need to cool off in the ocean.)
DISTANCE: 39 kilometers
CASA PALMELA to ÉVORA
Catch a ferry ride to Tróia before moving into Alentejo. Along the way, you’ll pass Comporta, one of Portugal’s chicest beach resorts, and Alcáçovas, where the vanishing art of traditional cowbell craftsmanship is kept alive. The finish line is Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and Portugal’s best preserved medieval city. Be sure to see the Praca do Giraldo, which is lined with townhouses with intricate wrought-iron balconies, and stop at the Roman Temple of Évora with its large Corinthian columns. Finally, visit the Romanesque Cathedral, built in 1186 and considered one of the most sacred sites in Portugal.
DISTANCE: 131 kilometers
ÉVORA to BARROCAL
This route begins in Évora, a labyrinth of 2,000-year-old streets and city squares, Renaissance fountains, Moorish courtyards and Gothic doorways and turrets. From there, continue eastwards to São Lourenço do Barrocal, in the heart of Alentejo. You’ll ride through plains and olive groves, but be sure to stop at Sao Pedro do Corval. The small village is full of families who have dedicated themselves to a tradition of pottery that dates back to prehistoric times, making adobe bricks and terracotta objects by hand daily.
DISTANCE: 77 kilometers
Riding around Barrocal is like stepping back in time: Aside from the occasional tractor, you can expect to have the road to yourself all day. This route begins by heading north as far as Venda before turning toward Montoito and then south, passing through Reguengos de Monsaraz. The historic town—you can find Megalithic monuments carved from rock—is home to only a few thousand people, but it’s actually the second largest in the region.
DISTANCE: 57 kilometers
BARROCAL to TORRE DE PALMA
You’ll pass some picturesque towns like Borba and Vila Viçosa, but otherwise, this is a quiet ride through the rolling countryside. The reward is staying at the Torre de Palma, also known as the wine hotel, which was built in 1338.
DISTANCE: 88 kilometers
CABEÇO to TORRE DE PALMA
After a transfer, this route begins with a short climb followed by a long descent, all in the gorgeous surroundings of the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park. Pass the medieval fortress of Castelo de Vide at the edge of the reserve and then, after 32 kilometers, change direction and head south through the plains of Alentejo.
DISTANCE: 90 kilometers
MONTEMOR to CASA PALMELA
Head west from Montemor to Casa Palmela and the Atlantic coastline. For the most part, you’ll be traveling on quiet backroads, but occasionally, you’ll find rural, whitewashed towns typical of the region. Expect plenty of olive trees and wide-open views.
DISTANCE: 105 kilometers
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The PRIOR editorial team, overseen by David Prior, works together to write and produce stories that inspire curiosity about, and the desire to connect to, places and people across the world.