From Odemira Back to Faro
From the western end of the Ecovia do Litoral bike route along the Algarve coast, one possible way to return to Faro is by following the west coast for a couple of days and then curving inland to Odemira before looping back towards the south coast. Odemira is a pleasant town that sprawls up the side of a river valley. The library is to be recommended; not only does it have a dramatic position on the side of a cliff, but it offers free internet access and a first floor cafe with foreign newspapers to read while partaking of excellent coffee and cakes at prices that, I can only assume, are subsidised by the local ratepayers.
Once you have dragged yourself away from the library, pay a visit to the helpful tourist information office to stock up on maps. Then follow the N263 eastwards up quite a steep hill. If you haven't bought a picnic lunch already, there's a supermarket half a mile off the main road at the top of the hill where you can have a sandwich made to order. Then coast down to the village of Bemposta, looking out for the N123 turning off to the right when you get there. This road is a little hilly, but it is a real treat. It meanders through woods of cork oaks and strawberry trees, past ancient terracing and lonely farms. There is little traffic but the road surface is good and there are fine views. You may end up pushing your bike up the steeper stretches, but it will be worth it. Make sure you bring some water and a snack because you will be lucky to find anywhere to eat or drink between Bemposta and Santa Clara a Velha.
The N123 eventually brings you down to tiny Luzianes Gare, on the railway line running south from Setubal to the Algarve coastal strip. After that, it isn't far to Santa Clara a Velha. This is a small town with a couple of places to stay and a bar (by the petrol station) where you can get a simple snack. There's also a restaurant near the church which serves hearty local dishes - just what you need after a day cycling in the hills - and a shop selling local craft products, from leatherwork and wood carvings to candles and embroidery. It is staffed by volunteers and you can be certain that anything you spend there will not go into a middleman's pocket. If your budget will stretch to it, there is a Pousada about 3 miles away up at the reservoir (Portugal's largest) - follow signs to the Barragem (dam). Even if you don't stay there, it's worth riding up for the views and there is a Roman bridge to have a look at on the way.
Sooner or later, you will have to return to the point on the south coast where you started your Ecovia do Litoral trip. Santa Clara, although in the middle of nowhere, is within easy reach of Faro by train, thanks to the station of Santa Clara-Saboia just a few minutes' ride away. There are three trains a day to Faro via Tunes, and it takes less than 2 hours. One thing to be aware of at the station (which is unmanned) is that there is no footbridge or underpass, just a level crossing, and no indication which platform is the one for the southerly direction to Tunes. That is because the line is single track in this area, with a split into two just for the station. Trains from each direction pass here and it appears that the platform each takes depends on which reaches the station first. That means that you will need to pick a platform randomly, but keep an eagle eye out for the approach of the train from the north and be prepared to run across the level crossing if necessary.
Once back in Faro, try to leave a few hours to explore the city before you need to get to the airport for your flight home.