When you think of the Algarve you normally think of sandy beaches, golf courses set in rolling hills, large country clubs and even larger hotels. Hidden amongst these tourist activities there is a relatively new bike route reaching right along the southern coast of Portugal called the Ecovia do Litoral, which translates as the coastal eco-way. It is not very well publicised. In fact, when I inquired at the Tourist Information office at Faro airport, I was told that it is not yet open. But it is, albeit some of the signage and track maintenance leaves a lot to be desired. Progress towards resolving these shortcomings seems slow, and there are no doubt a number of professional Ecovia guides and local tour operators who are more than happy that the route is a little hard to follow.
Faro lies somewhere in the middle of the 133 mile long Ecovia do Litoral and there are plenty of flights there throughout the year, which makes it the most convenient place to start your trip. You could head east or west, but be aware that the coastal railway line only runs as far as Lagos so you will have little option but to cycle back to there if you go any further west. If you want to do the whole route, then start by catching a train to Vila Real de San Antonio on the Spanish border, but you will be cycling into the prevailing winds.
On the Ecovia you will pass through a huge variety of landscapes, both natural and man-made, from woods and estuarine bird reserves to marinas and golf courses. Cycling westwards, the coastline gets wilder and rockier the nearer you get to Cape St Vincent on Europe's southwestern tip.
The Algarvian weather is usually sunny even in winter. That time of year, when warmth and sunshine are in short supply in the British Isles, is ideal for a few days cycling on the Ecovia, while in the summer it would be unpleasantly hot. If you think that flying with your bike is more hassle than it's worth, there are some rental options locally. I have used Megabike of Loule who will deliver to Faro airport.
Information on the Ecovia website is sparse, and what there is is in Portuguese. The interactive map is not easy to use and the actual path does not always follow it precisely. What you need to know is that the path is marked in a number of ways: a blue line on the road to lead you to the route and, on the route itself, white or yellow bicycle symbols painted on the road or 1 metre high yellow-topped grey poles. There are also infrequent, taller pillars with a map of the route in the locality. But there are long stretches with no way-marking at all, either because the road has been resurfaced, obliterating the on-road signage, or because no one has got around to it yet. This means that, to have a hope of staying on the right track, you will either need to print off maps from the website or download GPS co-ordinates for key points on the trail.
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