Upon departing the offices of Love Velo in gloomy London, it was only a short 5 hours later that 3 members of the Love Velo team would be stepping into the warm, welcoming sunshine of the Algarve Coast in Southern Portugal. From Faro airport we transfer up into rolling mountains that were, until recently, clad in heavy forest. The wildfires caused widespread evacuations during the height of the holiday season.
The mountain range has begun its rehabilitation process and signs of regrowth and recovery were visible. Our destination was the sleepy town of Monchique, famous for markets, local sausage made from wild black pigs and the natural spring waters of Caldas de Monchique (Spring of Monchique). Nearly every local we bump into over the weekend mentions the PH levels in the water. At 9.5 PH, the water is considered to be the highest alkaline water available in Europe, perhaps the world. Famous for it’s healing properties and age-defying antioxidants.
That evening we settled into our hotel with fantastic views of the mountains and coastline and sipped (spluttered) on some of the local brew ‘Medronho’. Also referred to as fire-water, the fruit brandy is made from distilled berries from the Arbutus/Strawberry tree and is rumoured at 58% alcohol. Not too many of these before our big day on the bike tomorrow we agreed!We were met early by our guide ‘Mr Rui’ at the hotel. Today we were riding full carbon Cube road bikes that were set up before our arrival including our specific pedal requirements. It was to be a perfect day of weather for cycling and considering it was late November, no gloves or gilets were required.
We headed West into the ‘Serra de Monchique’ mountain range towards the highest peak of ‘Foia’ which stands at 902 meters altitude. We stop in the cobblestoned town square of Monchique to fill our water bottles with some of that famous “9.5” water and comment on how young everyone in our riding group was looking today. Although, if the spring water makes you look younger, the local Brandy makes you feel older.
Areas of the forest had survived the bushfire and our ride today took us on quiet roads lined with eucalyptus and pine trees. We roll through a sleepy town of ‘Marmelete’ whose name loosely derives from ‘Sea & Milk’. The origins of the village and the name come from a great folklore story involving a capsized ship, a captain and his crew, some local girls with whom the crew married, fish and a few goats.
These days, the village and surrounding countryside are proud to be the main producer of cork. Portugal alone produces half the world’s commercial cork and they are proud to say that 7 out of 10 wine bottles in the world are topped with Portuguese cork.
From here we begin our descent towards the coast and into the town of Lagos for coffee and local pastries. I already knew I’d be heading straight for a Portuguese tart which consists of crispy pastry, vanilla custard with a blistered caramelized surface. Some welcome rest accompanied by more than one of the local speciality desserts was enough to set us up for the remainder of our ride. Weaving among the coastal towns between Lagos and Portimao brought about some different scenery. The usually busy resort towns had largely begun their off season which made for quieter roads to be enjoyed for this stretch of the ride. As we were taking in the panoramic views of the Algarve coast, our good luck with the weather seemed to be running out so we began the 10km ascent back into the hills, thankfully propelled by the arrival of some southerly winds.
A little worn out but thrilled with our day exploring the region, we headed for some lunch back at the hotel which included the delightful Portuguese combination of tomato soup with a poached egg within. Don’t knock it ‘til you try it.With the day’s cycling behind us, we all agreed that Portugal’s rising reputation in the cycling world is incredibly justified. This landscape, where coast meets mountains, sets the scene for a wonderful trip on the bike whether you are looking to get some early season training in or just meandering in the sunshine.
The emphasis on health and wellness you will find in Monchique creates a unique atmosphere that should be high on the list for all riders in 2019.