words by Guti Martin, photography by Marc Gasch
I openly declare myself a big fan of Portugal. Only separated from my hometown in Spain by the Miño river, it’s the place where I used to cross with my grandfather a few decades ago through the International Iron Bridge. On top of that, when I was a kid, my first cycling adventures were dedicated to taking tourists on secret shortcuts to avoid the long lines that formed to cross the border, in exchange for some coins… Apart from this more sentimental thing, the coast of Portugal from Sagres, to the mouth of the Miño in the border city of Valença, is one of the best cycling destinations in Europe for its landscape, culture, and gastronomy. Amazing is as well the development of bike lanes designed for exclusive use by touring lovers, so there you go, I already had all the ingredients so that Marc Gasch could not refuse my offer of a new three-day gravel adventure with our 3T Exploro.
Syncing agendas in the current world in which we live is not easy for us, and less so in my case, since it’s been a crazy busy year for us at Sherpa Project, my company, hooking one project after another. Thanks, Marc for his patience, showing him, in addition, that even with cyclogenesis forecast, Portugal is a “365” country to visit throughout the year.
A big storm on the Atlantic Coast does not scare a Galician guy like me, and in a couple of days, I had planned the itinerary and all the logistics of the trip. The plan was very simple, pick up Marc and Loren at the Sá Carneiro Airport in Porto, with direct flights from virtually anywhere in the world, get a transfer to Aveiro, known as the small “Portuguese Venice” for its navigable channels, and from there trace all the Atlantic coast and the Miño river until we finish our trip in Tui, that is, at the door of my house.
We leave from “Praia da Costa Nova”, the name of a beach in the Aveiro district that belongs to the city of Ílhavo. It is located next to the Ria de Aveiro, in the tourist area of Rota da Luz. It is something like a small beach hood that differs from all the surrounding villages for its “palheiros”, its famous houses of striped colors. Palheiros were born as warehouses for local fishermen who worked in Costa Nova when the area was not built and was used only as a fishing zone.
The first kilometers lead us to the north terminal of the port of Aveiro, to catch a ferry and cross to Sao Jacinto, where a military paratrooper base of the Portuguese army is located. The neighbors in the ferry ask us about the reason for our trip on a bike, while one of the sailors provided us with us some duct tape to solve an incident with my GPS mount…
The Aveiro estuary accompanies us in the first kilometers since we left the ferry, and we began to enjoy the Natural Reserve of the Dunes of Sao Jacinto. A road that has an exclusive lane for cyclists and is filled with artisanal wooden structures from where local fishermen spend the day waiting for the fish to bite the hook.
The profile of the route (flat!) help us to make progress at a good pace until we reach Espinho. Marc and Loren are struck by the twisted shapes of this estuary, and the gravel tracks and roads with a great quality to ride with our Exploro bikes. The canals have small berthing areas where the typical boats in the area are decorated with bright colors and do not go unnoticed.
The forest road that brings us to Porto is simply a pleasure for our eyes and our Exploro gravel bikes. An exclusive paved lane that allows us to enjoy a raging sea at this time of the year, where the huge waves hit the coast generating a huge strip of white foam that catches our attention.
I explain to Marc and Loren, that in Nazare, during my years linked to the big wave surfing projectthere, all American surfers called that white foam sea that is generated near the coast “White Water”.
The entrance to Porto by Vila Nova de Gaia brings us closer to one of the main European fashion capitals of recent years. The beautiful historical buildings have been recovered, today home to some of the most important wineries of the famous sweet wine of Porto, one of the gastronomic signs of the country, call our attention, as well as the number of tourists.
Crossing the Douro River through the iron bridge of King Luis I is the last gift I have prepared for my travel companions. At the Pestana Vintage Hotel they welcome us with a glass of wine. We finished the day dry, and I think we are very lucky since the forecast was very bad, and in Galicia and half of Spain, just a few km away, it’s been raining hard all day. It looks like we enjoyed a window of good weather just for ourselves. I begin to think that someone wants this trip to go well.
In the hotel buffet, there are three kinds of tourists: Americans attracted by the European glamor of a country like Portugal, Asians wanting to photograph everything that lies ahead of them (as well as not understanding anything about the food that is served), and three guys dressed as “astronauts” eating everything we can to prepare almost 100km to reach our final destination today in Viana do Castelo.
We leave Porto following the coast and amazed at the clear commitment of its authorities to facilitate cycling and pedestrian mobility infrastructures that ensure excellent coexistence with cars.
People running, walking, arriving late for work, while we are delighted to enjoy the first kilometers, again next to the Atlantic Sea, where we begin to meet pilgrims who begin their first day of pilgrimage on the Portuguese Way to Santiago de Compostela.
We arrive at Vila do Conde along the shore of the Ave River. In this city thew Nelo canoe company has its headquarters, and it is apparently the biggest manufacturer of canoes in the world. In the river you can see several athletes training, if we are having a little cold on the bike, I can only imagine what it means to paddle in the month of November at 10:00 in the morning…
Our next destination is Póvoa de Varzim. The bike lane at this point acquires dimensions that Marc and Loren have not seen in all the trips they have shared. Once again we “take off our hat” of the clear commitment of the Portuguese government to facilitate the trip to the cyclists. Endless bike lanes, km after km. Amazing.
The Atlantic Sea continues to hit the coast hard, and we have become accustomed to its company, the endless beaches and the wooden walkways that bring us a smile from ear to ear. “If I don’t see it, I don’t believe it,” Loren keeps repeating, amazed at the size of the cycling lane network. We are happily sharing a day of travel like today, and with each step we take, the more we fall in love with this country.
Esposende welcomes us with some rain and wind. This famous surf spot area is architecturally designed with similarities to the area of the French Basque country and to destinations such as Hossegor or Capbreton. Similar forests, dunes, and houses. I suggest stopping to eat something in a snack bar, very typical for this coastal area, to recover some strength and face the last part of the day.
Until Viana do Castelo, I suffer a little physically, as my fitness is not the best for this time of year, but Loren acts as a “windbreaker” and sets a good pace for one of the few sections of paved road. Don’t forget that I am the “sherpa”, the travel guide, so I decide to take a shortcut on a road under construction. Everything is going well, although every time we see more heavy machinery on both sides and signs that warns of “road cut”. In the background, we see a group of construction workers and a separate group that looks like “the engineers”. We glimpse a cut on the road and we might have made a bad decision, well, “we” I mean I have, the “sherpa”. I screwed up. With my perfect Portuguese I approach the ditch, at least 8 meters wide by several meters deep, concerned, but amazingly the workers give us indications that we can go through a narrow land bridge made just a few hours ago for some verification work. We made it! … this is an adventure, right? What is life without emotion?
In Viana do Castelo I have prepared the second surprise of the trip: Cabedelo beach is one of my favorite places in the summer, and a hotel 100% focused on sports has been built in its surroundings a few years ago. The Feel Viana Hotel is simply “spectacular”; its wooden construction, its decoration and its integration with the dunes and the beach are perfect. After “checking in” we enjoy the spa and a relaxed dinner. By the way, who is taking care of us on this trip does his job very well again, just four drops of rain and the sun on the sky for a while!
After performing a good “food-test” at the hotel buffet, we went down to the sports shop where the hotel has a “bikefriendly” area to collect our bicycles. The hotel staff has taken care of drying and greasing them. Amazing. We cannot leave without paying a visit to the pump track under the pillars of the hotel. Without a doubt, we are the first to get into that circuit with a gravel bike and the Exploro kill it, get on the drops and go with the flow. This experience helps us to quickly get warm and have a laugh; we may be inventing a new category: “gravel freestyle”….
I act as a good guide leading out on a wooden walkway in the back of the hotel that leads us to the beach. There are a few people who have woke up earlier than us, and we met several local surfers already in the water, and a group of amateurs in a surf class. It smells like sports tourism, one of the big tourist positioning bets for which Portugal is making more efforts.
We cross the iron bridge that separates Cabedelo from the urban center, and we head again towards the North Atlantic coast. We are in one of the best surfing areas in the north of Portugal. This is clear at the beaches of Carreço, do Bico and Afifem that we cross along a coastal path shared with the Camino de Santiago, and that brings us more smiles! We can’t stop talking to each other about the “gift” that for a cyclist means enjoying these pavement conditions and remote motorized traffic.
We arrive at Vila Praia de Ancora by a wooden walkway that forces us to walk a few meters since the sand of the dunes has invaded it. It is a small town on the coast, very busy in summer and where I recommend you enjoy its swordfish festival in the month of August. Oh, by the way, we continue along the infinite bike lane that accompanies us from the first hour of the day and that is already become “standard” for us.
In the direction of Caminha, we stop at Moledo to enjoy the “best snack bar in the world”. I tell Marc and Loren that they are going to try one of the best sandwiches they have ever tasted. The manager is a friend, and after being astonished to see me dressed as a cyclist, and not in shirt and barefoot shorts, my usual attire when I come here in the Summer, serves us food and we are happy again, ready for the last stretch.
After enjoying a good coffee, the weather, for the first time in three days, reminds us that we are in the end of November. The heavy rain accompanies us to Caminha, the delta of the Miño river, and the border with Galicia (Spain) and the Santa Tecla mountains. The Ecopista del Río Minho, awarded in 2017 as the second-best European greenway, accompanies us through the cities of Vilanova de Cerveira and Valença, where we contemplate its famous fortress, a place of pilgrimage for any tourist who visits the Alto Minho area.
We only have to cross the famous iron bridge from Portugal to Spain, built by an Eiffel disciple, from where we can already see how the Tui Cathedral crowns one of the main historical centers of Galicia. Every time it rains more and we want to get to the hotel as soon as possible and get a good shower. Ideas Peregrinas Hostel is where our trip ends, a hostel designed with exquisite taste for cyclists and pilgrims right in the monumental area of the city of Tui.
Portugal is no doubt about it, one of the best cycling destinations in Europe. This tour we have taken, which is part of Route 1 “Atlantic Coast” of the Eurovelo Network, and that connects Vila Real de Santo António with Caminha, and soon with Valença, is simply spectacular. In addition, its culture, landscape, gastronomy and the warmth of the Portuguese people meet two fundamental requirements for a wide segment of bicycle tourism: safety and cyclability. A very comfortable altimetric profile and a wide path and pavement typology that are an example to follow.
On a personal level, traveling enriches, and doing it with my Exploro is one of the best things that can happen to me at any time of the year. I keep telling Marc Gasch that the XPDTN3 project is a great idea that allows us to discover with our computer, tablet or smartphone, from our homes, unique destinations in the world to explore with our bicycles. If, on top of that, I am one of the lucky ones that 3T chooses to design one of those trips, and to be able to accompany them, it is simply one of the best gifts they have given me in 2019. Get your bikes ready and travel the world!
I do not want to finish this text without thanking Alexia, my life partner, for her patience in these days of pre-trip stress, I am sure we will surely enjoy together an experience that at least matches what I lived these three days in my second house, Portugal.
Location: Porto, North of Portugal
Distance: 245 km
Ascent: Virtually flat, only 740m ascent in the 3 days
Best Time: Well, as you can see in the pics, December is likely to be rain and grey skies. But skip also June, July, and August, cause those small tracks and the wooden passages can get crowded with tourists. I would choose Spring or Fall.
Terrain: Flat. Easy gravel, bike lanes, and wooden tracks. You cannot make it easier than this.
Tires: Any tire would work here, from a “roadie” 700x30c to a WTB Venture 47 like the ones we had. If it’s raining, the wood and rocks can get slippery though.
Gearing: Flat, any combination would work here, just think how fast you want to be.
What to wear: If you come in Spring or Fall, you will only need a short sleeve kit and maybe a vest for the chilly mornings. We chose the complete PEDALED ODYSSEY collection. The Odyssey Waterproof Jacket was our life-saver this time. The new Fizki Powerstrap X4 are our new favorite shoes! Specially made for gravel, we appreciate the slightly less stiff sole, which makes it more comfy for long days in the saddle, short walks to shoot photos or the stops for lunch or gelato. We don’t need carbon soles in these trips, no rush anyway. Marc, with circulation problems on his toes (that’s what he says, but he is just getting old!!!), played it safe and went with the new Fizik Terra Artica X2 shoes, waterproof and warmer than the X4. Loren and me, we were using the Fizik Tundra carbon saddles and Marc went with the Fizik Alliante.
Thanks again to all our partners for making this adventure possible! 3T, WTB, BUFF, FIZIK, PEDALED and KOMOOT!
Pre ride: IDEAS PEREGRINAS HOSTEL
Rúa Porta da Pía, 1, 36700 Tui, Pontevedra
986 07 63 30
Day 0: We used AIRBNB and scored a cheap apartment by the beach, so we had space to arrange all the bikes and bikepacking packs.
Day 1: PESTANA VILLAGE HOTEL in Porto
Praça Ribeira nº1, 4050-513 Porto, Portugal
+351 22 340 2300
Day 2: FEEL VIANA HOTEL in Viana do Castelo
Rua Brás de Abreu Soares nº 222 Praia do Cabedelo, 4935-159 Viana do Castelo, Portugal
+351 258 330 330
Day 3: IDEAS PEREGRINAS HOSTEL in Tui, Spain
+34 986 07 63 30
Day 1: DUNAS CAFE (lunch)
Av. da Barrinha n-44, 3885-402 Esmoriz, Portugal
+351 256 392 419
Day 2: CONCHINHA (lunch)
R. dos Barcos C, Fão, Portugal
+351 253 981 911
Day 3: LA CAMINHA (lunch)
Rua 25 de Abril 434 Moledo, Caminha 4910-232 Portugal
+351 258 722 606
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