I often think there is no better way to explore the Algarve than on a bike and we are blessed around Sao Bras de Alportel with some of the most stunning countryside and views, much of which you simply could not reach or see in a vehicle.
Whether you simply want to stay on accessible roads and lanes or are more adventurous with cycling and wish to go fully off-road and onto the stone tracks and downhill paths you will never get bored. It would take a lifetime to explore them all. Cycling is incredibly popular in the Algarve so don’t be surprised if you see more than one fellow enthusiast while you are out on your bike.
I make no bones about the fact that I have been able to cover several thousand kilometers on a Mondraker Chaser Electric bike in my passion for exploring the area around Sao Bras de Alportel. As a friend who owns a bike shop told me, “There is no shame in getting a little assistance if it stops you putting the bike in the shed forever after the first hill!”. How true his words are. For anyone who is thinking about getting on a bike again for the first time in a while or who doesn’t fancy tackling that uphill climb without the need for dismounting then I can strongly recommend choosing the electric bike option. Of course for those who can and want to use a traditional bike I have huge respect.
So, where to go? Well other than actually cycling around the streets of Sao Bras de Alportel itself which I actually enjoy from time to time, including a ride to the Alto da Arroteia Viewpoint, there are so many options.
Let’s start with heading up to Alportel and follow the road and you reach Fonte Ferrea. Not only is this a super place for bike trails but you can choose to dismount and enjoy both walks and also the super cafe there with a great menu and beverages. The connection with cycling to the Cafe cannot go unmentioned. The cafe is called Avalanche Caffe and the family who runs it are also the owners of Avalanche Algarve Bike shop in Sao Bras. To be honest, that could be another article on its own – all I will say for now is remember what the bike shop owner once said to me – he wasn’t a million miles away! I will add that if you want to rent a bike then I can’t think of a better place to get one from.
Moving on from Fonte Ferrea you need to just follow the road up the hill and then you are in the Serra do Caldeirão mountains, a Zona De Intervenção Florestal protected for its natural beauty. You can stick to the tarmac and still see some amazing scenery but I do recommend that you choose to go off-road down one of the many tracks you will see.
I love the fact that even on the tracks you will find proper signposts so you can work out where you are going if your 3G disappears on your phone. If you go off-road you will find that you can climb so high that you will be able to see on a good clear day Tavira in one direction and way beyond Faro the other way. As you drop down from the tracks you will from time to time ride into villages hidden in the Algarve hills where there is always a cafe or cafes to find for a much-needed pit stop. I know that should be a water stop but often it is far more … a coffee, beer, tapas, or full-blown lunch.
A friend once asked me on a bike ride purely so we could stop at lunchtime at his favorite restaurant because he didn’t want to eat alone! That particular restaurant is Sol e Serra located in Corte Garcia. You can get there totally on tarmac roads but for my first experience, we certainly did not. After an hour of tracks up in the hills from Sao Bras with the least amount of time needed on the tarmac and lots of exploring we were more than ready for the wonderful lunch we ordered. Wow, what a lunch. You must save room for their homemade ice cream even though that may prove impossible. Back to the bikes though before we move on …. The owner may curse me for this part of my cycling experiences in the future and I haven’t mentioned it before. So, two kilometers from the restaurant in our approach on tarmac (I feel I need to say that) my friend had a blow-out on his back tire.
I was behind him and still don’t know how he kept control of the steep descent we were on. Anyway, that’s not the story – he was fine and we are cyclists for goodness sake. No, the point was that after he had to walk that last part to the restaurant we chatted about how he would get home over lunch. We had gone out that day badly equipped other than a spare inner tube in his rucksack. Cut to the chase on this story and we land up asking the owner of Sol e Serra if by any chance they have anything that could assist us with getting a tire off a bike. No instant “no”, no instant “we are in the middle of a packed weekend service so forget it” … a little bit of rubbing of his head and five minutes later he appeared with the right tools! His son, the Chef had saved us! Tyre sorted after lunch and we went on our way. Firstly then heading to Querenca with its very pretty church and square and then meandering back on a different route on road and then off-road tracks back to Sao Bras.
One of my favorite areas to explore are all the tracks in the hills that can take you from Arimbo all the way as far way and beyond Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo and on a clear day, you can see the bridge that links the Algarve to Spain – Puente Internacional del Guadiana. Leaving Sao Bras (at the “football roundabout”) and following the signs to Bico Alto just keep going on the tarmac road until once you get to Arimbo the tarmac ends and the dirt track starts. The first part on the dirt track is quite a steep ascent but worth the effort. You can then choose at the top to go left or right and then either explore the tracks to the left and don’t be surprised to come across tiny settlements still inhabited as well as entire villages now long abandoned.
Choosing to explore this way though you will land ultimately back on to tarmac on the M1202 – a great winding road bringing you back down through Cova da Muda, Alportel, or Almargens but ultimately always back into Sao Bras. If you go right at the top you have so many options – stay high on the ridge and you can ride with the coast and amazing views of the Atlantic on your right. Tracks dart off in all different directions and again you will be surprised at the settlements you come across. I will be honest and admit on a few occasions the decision to descend down a track has resulted in a dead-end and I have cursed at the ascent I have then had to make to get back to where I started but generally, you can’t go too wrong if you have a half-decent sense of direction.
I’ve ridden through settlements up in this area though that I have never found again! You can choose to descend down to Santa Catarina da Fonte do Bispo or keep going on those upper tracks and then get onto the N397 and if the tarmac is welcome by then enjoy the descent and then track back to Sao Bras on the N270. It is quite a ride and doesn’t be surprised if you cover 50-60 kilometers but don’t despair as there are cafes you can stop at once down from the hills. Mind you the main square in Sao Bras is always a welcome sight where you can sit out at the end of a long ride and enjoy tapas and refreshments from the several cafes and bars.
From Sao Bras, a ride that is generally on the roads will take you down to Estoi. Depending on where you are heading off from in Sao Bras you can choose various roads to avoid the busy ring road. Either cycling down to Vilarinhos and then taking the road for a short time to Loule, take a left and follow the hill up to Corotelo, and then following the M523 you will have to climb a little further before you have a super long descent, through Bordeira and right down until you get to the junction with the A22. Cut across and you then simply follow the signs and within no time you will be in Estoi. A great place to explore with a charming square and of course Pousada Palácio de Estoi, a beautiful 19th-century palace. You can of course go back pretty much the way you came but I also enjoy leaving Estoi via the route to Azinheiro taking you into Peral and back into Sao Bras via Mesquita. Leaving Estoi on the road to Moncarapacho, it is a simple case of following the signs but you will be on quiet country lanes and it’s a perfect route to enjoy the countryside.
Finally, there is one destination that you truly must add to your cycling adventures and that is Cerro de Sao Miguel. With an altitude of 411m, the views will blow you away and on a truly clear day, you really can see in either direction most of the Algarve with the coastal town of Olhao directly below you.
There are several routes you can choose to take from Sao Bras depending on whether you plan to make this just part of a bike ride or your sole destination. Riding directly you can drop down out of Sao Bras and follow the M514 and out through Barrabes and Barracha and onto the M517 through Peral and Azinheiro and then follow the signs up to Cerro de Sao Miguel.
Alternatively, you can stay on the M514 (watch out for the concrete lorries, in particular, that drive at what seems like breakneck speeds and keep going until you get to the N398 and then double back on yourself once you see the signs again for Cerro de Sao Miguel and you will ascend from a totally different direction. In truth I have done them both just to mix it up a bit, often going there via one route and back again choosing the other.
To be totally honest, your options are endless but I hope the above helps to get you started with exploring the area around Sao Bras de Alportel on your bike.
Author: Marilla Wylie