Travel: Porto Region
Best known for the fortified wine of the same name, Porto is not only a great city to visit as a tourist but the region also offers some fantastic riding options. This short Blog summarises a couple of possible routes to give you a flavour.
A compact city with its own international airport you will likely stay in the old city which borders the Douro river, from where is it easy to ride out of the city. Though a charming city, the centre itself isn’t the best for riding with plenty of cobbles, cars and steep inclines.
The best weather for riding can generally be had around April or May (when the vegetation will also be blooming and at its best) or after the summer heat has passed between September-November.
As the area is still relatively untouched by cycling tourism, bike rental options are somewhat limited so plan ahead to source a bike if you are not travelling with your own. One local rental option is "Oporto Special Rental Bikes".
As you’ll discover, within a short distance of leaving the city you’ll forget your preconceptions of Portugal and find quiet roads, winding climbs, lush vegetation and delicious food and fruit.
Our primary route starts in Porto and heads inland east along the Douro River before turning south to Arouca. For meat lovers the destination also offers the motivation to stop, rest the legs and to sample the famous regional speciality of “Carne Arouquesa”.
Whether you’ve enjoyed a large lunch or not the return leg offers serpentine descents with wide open views of scenic orchards and picturesque vineyards.
From the paper printing museum (Museo da Imprensa) next to the newly built Hotel Pestana, you ride for around 40km along undulating terrain on the N108 close to the Douro River. It’s an enjoyable road to ride but take care on weekends when you are more likely to have company in the shape of motorbikes.
Alongside the river you’ll pass small villages with well maintained gardens full of fruit and vegetables. This area gives a great taste of the authentic Portuguese country life set upon small hills between 400 and 500 meters above sea level.
On the N108 close to the village of Sebolido you’ll have the option of a great coffee stop at Cafe da Senhora do Monte where you can not only tuck into the famous Portuguese Pastel de Nata, but also try many other delicious homemade pastries.
A little further east you arrive at Entre-os-Rios, meaning “between the rivers” due to the confluence of the Rio Tamega and Douro and cross the Hintze-Ribeiro bridge (image below). The bridge is poignantly overlooked by a large golden angel statue to commemorate the tragic collapse of the previous bridge in 2001 which killed 59. From this part of the ride you will start to see the terraced vineyards which characterise the famous Douro valley.
Heading towards Castelo de Paiva you have the feeling of complete isolation with only beautiful vegetation for company. Eucalyptus and lemon trees provide a fragrant backdrop and in season you’ll see huge heads of hydrangeas.
Shortly before Arouca, having ridden 70km and climbed 1000m you will find a small water fountain to refill bottles and from there on clear days you can also enjoy distant views of Porto. From there you roll around 10km down to Arouca, where you can enjoy the "Carne Arouquesa" of the regional cattle breed. Restaurant A Assembleia is a good choice where you can enjoy excellent fillet mignon.
Whatever your lunch choice you then head in the direction of Geoparque de Arouca with a 5km climb averaging around 5%. The parque includes an open air geological museum and the rock formations certainly create an interesting backdrop as you ride past. At the highest peaks you are rewarded with views over the surrounding mountains Serra da Freita, Montemuro and Arada should you want inspiration for other ride routes (summit view in image below).
A long and much needed shady descent leads through the gorge of the river Paiva. If you want you can relax at the river beach, Praia Fluvial de Espiunca (image below).
A shady 3.3km climb at 6.3% in the direction of Vila Vicosa will certainly get the legs moving again and in the area you will also find the longest pedestrian suspension bridge in the world.
A relaxed descent of about 15km follows and provides respite for the legs, after which you then cross the river Paiva for the last time. In the river gorge you can again find another water fountain.
Heading north towards Castelo de Paiva and the river Douro again you will leave behind the peaceful countryside and return to the busier N108, bringing your ride to an end in Porto after 150km and 2000m of climbing.
As an alternative route, and one that perhaps fulfils the traditional expectation of Portuguese beaches, you can leave Porto via the iconic Ponte Dom Luis I bridge toward Vila Nova de Gaia. You’ll pass many of the port wine warehouses towards the west, these are well worth a visit as a tourist when not on the bike.
From the southern bank of the Douro you can enjoy beautiful views over the old town of Porto. Heading to the coast road and then riding south allows for long stretches of oceanside road. Be warned, the flat and fast ride south may not be matched as you turn and return north if the famous Nortada wind is blowing. Heading in either direction you’ll pass plenty of beach bars to stop and enjoy your time in Porto!
Huge thanks to Margarethe (@cyclemagia), official adopted daughter of Porto, for sharing her passion and knowledge of the area