For those who do not know Portugal, it shares the Iberian peninsula with Spain. It is part of the world's oldest alliance, the 1703 Treaty of Methuen with England. Over the last 600+ years Portugal developed a large and now long-lost empire (Brazil, Goa, Mozambique and Angola to name but four components). In the mid 20th Century the country suffered under the repressive Salazar dictatorship and even had a short trial with communism. Now firmly in the EU and the Schengen agreement, Portugal finds itself democratic but struggling with large international debts and the Euro as its currency. Fortunately it shares a language with 250 million people worldwide.
The southernmost region, the Algarve, is a major holiday destination for Europeans, enjoying a long season with warm periods assured in early spring and late autumn and very hot summers. Due to the tourist demand in the Algarve you will find that English is spoken widely and golf courses seem to be everywhere. The Algarve has an east to west corridor of roads and a parallel railway along much of the coast. Faro, the local capital, sits in the centre with a good airport which provides easy access to the whole area.
The Ecovia do Litoral is one of a series of cycle touring paths throughout the country. Officially the bike path has been finished for some years but local Tourist Information offices may still deny it is complete. Some of the signs have been removed, the map on the official Ecovia website differs in places from the marked route and consequently Algarvian bike shops and holiday operators make a good living from running guided tours. But trust us, you don't need a guide. Generally, the route is easy to follow if you keep your eyes open and if you know roughly where you are. If all else fails, head for the nearest minor road and follow that to the next identifiable point on the Ecovia instead. (Algarvian roads are generally quiet apart from the coastal highway and other main roads between the larger towns.) We would recommend you get hold of the Rough Guide's Algarve map and mark the route on it before you depart, or else take printouts of our map or the one on the official Ecovia website (although the latter is not at all easy to use). If you have a smart phone you may find GPS is useful but watch those "roaming" data charges. Of course, you can always ask the locals.
There is a good range of bike hire companies, bike touring companies and a number of bike paths in the area. Possible cycle trips include Lisbon to Faro and this route, the Ecovia do Litoral from Cape St Vincent (in the west) to the Spanish border at Vila Real de St Antonio (in the east). This direction takes advantage of the prevailing winds. Hotels abound along the coast and in high summer will be fully booked, but on the shoulders of the season accommodation becomes easier to obtain on the day. Accommodation possibilities range from large beach resorts, boutique hotels and B&Bs to Pousadas (a chain of government owned luxury hotels). There are also a large number of self-catering properties along the Algarvian coast, often available at very reasonable prices outside of the summer season, so you could base yourself in one place and do day rides rather than following a linear route.
The western end of the Ecovia do Litoral is relatively hilly while the middle and eastern end are flattish. The route is pushed inland by several national parks and river deltas. There is one part of the route where we would recommend you consider either sending your luggage ahead or taking the train around (see flag on the Algarve Route).
The total Ecovia is about 180 kms long. We have allowed 7 days to do the whole journey, although you could do it in less if you are young and fit. A week allows time to explore some of the towns along the way. We have assumed for these prices that your ride is not in high season (July and August) when it would be pretty hot as well as more expensive.
||Cost in Euros
| Bike hire
|| €8/day per bike for 7 days
|| €75/night for 6 nights
| Food and drink
|| €35 per person per day, for 7 days
| Public transport
|| and getting rental bikes back
|| say €40 per person
making €1,232 in total, or €616 per person for a week's holiday. The bike path can be ridden end to end or you can do just parts of it which will, of course, affect your costs.
A lot of the smaller tourist web sites are written in Portuguese only. This should be no barrier to you using or them as Google offers a number of translation solutions. Our preferred option is the Google toolbar which can be downloaded, as the quality of translation is reasonable and in most cases the web page will appear in English as you read down it. Firefox is not compatible with this tool but you can use Translate This which is an add-on linking through to Google toolbar.
If you can read French and either Spanish or Italian, you will probably find that you can get the gist of written Portuguese. (Once your ear is tuned to it, you will be able to understand a fair bit of the spoken language too, it is just the "shhh" sounds that appear so daunting at first). To be clear the bike route is called Litoral but you will find websites spelling it Litorol and it means "coast".