Described as Britain’s most beautiful shortcut, the Crinan Canal is one of those must do cycle routes. The route follows an iconic canal and as a cyclist, you will share it with walkers, canal boats, canoes, Kayaks and fishermen. All enjoying the beautiful scenery and historic surrounding.
We decided to drive to Ardrishaig and cycle along the canal to Crinan. This is a round trip but the canal is only 9 miles long, so 18 miles with a half way stop at Crinan, makes for a pleasant and relaxing journey.
One of the residents has an eye-catching abode and was more than happy to spend some of his time talking to us about his love of the Canal and why he has moved there from Canada to set up home.
The next day we awoke in our plush hotel, free from thinking about organising a day of cycling. Our bikes were safely stored and prepared for collection and our trusty rucksacks were once again full and on our backs. We found a cafe Refresh Snack Bar that would look after our rucksacks, for a small fee, allowing us to go for a wander around Lagos.
We now had to work out how to get back to Faro. Train or bus? We decided to take the train. This turned out to be an adventure in itself. The train was clearly passed its best. Covered in graffiti – although this seems to be accepted in Portugal. Luckily we were the first to board and it filled up quickly with all sorts of characters. There could be some good people watching here! Sure enough, it wasn’t long before we had something to hold our attention.
Just opposite us, there sat a lady who had a sweet old grandmother look about her. Quietly sitting reading her paper and enjoying her space but realistically knowing that the train was filling up fast. Who would sit beside this quiet unassuming old lady? We didn’t have to wait long. We heard him before we saw him. The sound was a sort of guttural groan mixed with laughter and gibberish. Yes, it was the obligatory drunk. Every railway carriage in the world has one and he was heading straight for our sweet old lady’s spare seat. Looking around we could see nearly everyone in the carriage wondering how this would play out.
The old lady did her best to maintain her straight-laced demeanor even as our drunk companion took on his role with great theatrics – swaying from side to side, laughing to himself, and leaning over to read her paper. She even struggled to stop a smile appearing as he took hold of his bottle of cider and caressed it fondly only to discover that it was nearly empty. Her face couldn’t hide it any longer and it just helped to add to this comic situation. Two people from completely different sides of the track sitting beside each other on a 2-hour journey but able to show respect for each other.
There was another character who I found more difficult when it came to people watching. This gentleman appeared to have some sort of nasal issue going on. Which was fine, we can all be afflicted by physical ailments that are out with our control but here’s my issue – He would remove a cotton handkerchief from his top pocket, blow his nose in a noisy extended trumpet kind of way then place the handkerchief on his lap, fold it neatly and place it back in his top pocket. 15 minutes later, same handkerchief, same nose, same sound, same folding and same pocket. On and on it went for the full journey! What kind of capacity for snot did this handkerchief hold! I’m sure that even our drunk friend was disgusted!
We finally reached Faro. Fast becoming a place that has a place in our hearts. We crossed over the railway line and walked to our next hotel – Hotel Monaco This would be our final stop before heading home to Scotland the next day.
We just had time for one final night in Faro. An evening meal in a restaurant we had eaten in one year earlier when we had sat and talked about coming back and doing a cycle trip. Then we headed to O Castelo for a drink with a perfect view.
Thank you Portugal for giving us happy memories and an amazing adventure. Until next time. x
Day 6 – Odeceixe to Sagres (60km) then a shuttle from Sagres to Lagos. Although this was the longest distance in one day, it was varied and had the carrot of the finish line and a beer waiting for us.
All of a sudden we were cycling in the Algarve. Cycling through vineyards, quaint little villages, taking in the beautiful scenery, cycling mostly off-road or on quiet roads. On this last day of our cycle, we were finally experiencing everything we had come to see and soon it would be over. With every pedal, we were nearing the finish and this created a mixture of sadness, pride and appreciation of our life. How we are fortunate enough to have our health and as a couple, have someone to share adventures with.
We had to be at Sagres Fortress for 4 pm to meet our shuttle, which would take us to Lagos. We cycled into Sagres in plenty of time and made our way to the Fort. This seemed to take forever as it has got to be one of the longest roads into a town centre but eventually, we arrived and savoured every second. That was it! Finished!
With time on our hands, we cycled to a local pub and bought a couple of bottles of Sagres beer, although it turns out that Sagres isn’t made in Sagres. The staff in our pub thought that there might be a loose connection from the past but we haven’t researched it. The main thing is that the beer was delicious and just helped to create a perfect finish to an amazing trip.
We returned to the Fort for 4 pm and our Shuttle was waiting for us and we now headed to Lagos for an overnight stay at hotel Tivoli Lagos before heading to Faro again. Once again our tour operator had booked us into good accommodation. This is a 4-star hotel with all the trappings, including offering guests champagne with their breakfast. As much as it was obviously very plush, it wasn’t for us. Give us a homely B & B any day. That said, we were well-rested and chilled.
We said our farewell to our trusty bikes, which involved taking off the pedals and bagging & tagging all the equipment and leaving them locked in a hotel storeroom for collection the next day.
Our attention now turned to try and find a restaurant that didn’t smell of fish and working out how to get to Faro in the morning!
Day 5 – Milfontes to Odeceixe 52km – Our rest day was now behind us and we were recharged for the day ahead. As it turned out it was just as well because this day felt like the most monotonous and never-ending of days. We were mostly on main roads with tight bends. I’m sure this isn’t an issue for battle-hardened road cyclists but spare some empathy for a couple of tourists laden down with our gear and regularly hearing speeding vehicles coming up behind us just as we’re reaching a tight bend. Without fail, these vehicles would overtake us and go into the oncoming lane to get passed. Luckily, most of the time, nothing was coming around the corner but every now and again there was! Resulting in a tooting of horns and brakes quickly getting applied. Surely it was only a matter of time before we would be witnessing a head-on crash!
During this section of the road, I decided to do the gentlemanly thing and cycle behind Aileen. My thinking was that if there was going to be a crash, I would be hit and Aileen would be protected from the impact of a lorry hitting me. Somehow I think that was a bit unrealistic but it seemed to calm Aileen down. Unfortunately, it calmed her down so much that she began to relax, take her eyes off the road and paying more attention to the map on the front of her bike. This resulted in her regularly straying out to the middle of the road and I found myself having to regularly shout ‘Aileen you’re in the middle of the road’. So there I am contemplating annihilation from a big lorry, constantly reminding Aileen where she should be on the road and feeling the compulsion to look behind me all the time. I gave up on the fruitless reminders to Aileen about her position on the road and decided to reroute my energy to keep us alive by looking behind me all the time and listening intently for any traffic coming. This immediately reduced any potential arguments between Aileen and me – ”Aileen your on the wrong side of the road’ – ”I KNOW!”
Then Aileen noticed a large hole in the road and decided to make an emergency stop just as I was looking behind me. Luckily I turned around in time to see me heading straight for the back wheel of Aileen’s bike and managed to avoid hitting her. This had involved heavy braking and a bit of zigzagging.
I decided to go back to reminding her about her position on the road and brace myself for the ‘I KNOW’. oh yeah and the hole was actually just a darker section of tarmac!
There was a random spell during our cycle along this stretch which reminded us of why we enjoy doing these types of adventures. I was now well-tuned into listening for traffic behind us but this noise was different. It sounded like the noise you hear from a distant racetrack. Engines revving up and lots of raised voices. We decided to stop at a lay-by, before the next tight bend and investigate further. It turned out to be a Sunday morning motorbike rally. We stood there with a smile on our faces as bike after bike passed us. They were a right motley crew and once they caught on that they had an audience, they began to show off with wheelies, standing up on their bikes and shouting out Olá. A great spectacle in an otherwise monotonous and never-ending day.
We finally reached Odeceixe. A quiet and pretty village built on a very steep hill and our hotel just happened to be nearly at the top of it. Casas do Moinho was an unusual hotel. Once we were checked in and our bikes secured within an allocated room, we grabbed all our bags and were ‘guided’ to our room. This involved a further hike up the remainder of the hill and after what felt like an eternity with our shoulders burning from the weight of our bags, we finally reached an apartment block with our room on the top floor!
We still had time for some sunbathing and our journey back down the hill to the hotel pool was made all the more enjoyable.
Day 3 of our cycle trip – Santiago to Milfontes 54km
Day 4 – rest day.
We said goodbye to our American friends and hit the road for Milfontes. As I said, I’m not going into all the details but what I will say is this. There was clearly a bit of ‘artistic license’ used when it came to the description of our trip. I would have to say that around 65% of it was on busy roads and the rest was a combination of dirt tracks, back roads and a tiny amount of cycle paths. That’s fine if that’s your thing but we had expected a different trip. Quiet roads, cycle paths, lots of quaint villages and plenty of opportunities to stop and take it all in. In truth, we spent long parts of the journey slogging out the Kilometres, getting lost due to some of the lefts and rights being around the wrong way in the directions we were given and becoming aware that by the time we had put in the distance to our next hotel, the day was nearly over. Each night we would spend walking around looking for a restaurant and each night we were overwhelmed by the smell of fish!
Our stay in Milfontes was special in many ways. We were staying here for 2 nights and we planned to have a rest from our bikes and spend a day at the beach, well we were on holiday after all. Our accommodation was also special. All our accommodation was perfect but in Milfontes we spent 2 days in the home of an elderly Portuguese couple who couldn’t have been more accommodating. Breakfast was a feast and work of art with plenty of leftover but not to worry as our host gave us tin foil and tubs to enable us to take the rest away for lunch. The sitting room had an array of spirits and wines and we were told to just help ourselves. There was a homemade cake waiting for us in our room. And all the friendly advice and directions we would need.
Later on that first night I started to fret about our last day as I couldn’t remember our rep at the start mentioning how we get to our hotel in Lagos. I knew that we finished in Sagres and would be couriered to Lagos but did this include the bikes? Was the courier taking our bikes away with him or just drop us and our bikes off in Lagos. The more I tried to remember, the more I fretted. So I decided to take out the mobile phone we had been given and simply call the office for a bit of clarity. It’s amazing how quickly you can forget how to use old-style phones with no touch screen but I eventually navigated to the phone book and scrolled through the numbers. Turns out there were a lot of numbers which included presets for our accommodation, just in case we needed to phone ahead, and a couple of ‘office’ numbers – that’ll do – hit dial! After a short ring, I was met with a pleasant female voice who was quite clearly struggling with my Scottish accent. ‘’I’m Tom Nicholson, I’m wondering if you can answer a question about our bikes’’ – Female voice ‘’Bikes?’’ – ‘’Yes bikes. – Female voice ‘’Do you want a bike?’’ – ‘’No I’m wondering if the bikes come to the hotel with us on our last day’’ – Female voice ‘’You want a room’’ –
Then through my exasperation and confusion. It suddenly dawned on me that I recognised this voice. It was our current host! I’d speed-dialed our hotel by mistake. I apologised and hung up. Breakfast the next morning was going to be embarrassing.
Day 4 – Our itinerary had included a circular cycle route, into the hills and back but we decided to treat day 4 as a rest day at the beach. So after another feast of a breakfast and a laugh about our host receiving a phone call from a crazy Scot asking odd questions about a bike, it was off to the beach for the day. Milfontes has a lovely sandy beach and we headed to a great spot with sunbeds and a nearby bar/restaurant. The contrast to our previous days cycling just helped to make our day at the beach even more relaxing and chilled.
The day passed quickly and soon it was time to find somewhere to eat. Our B & B host had recommended a nice restaurant at the end of the beach, on a hill, which gives a perfect view of the sunset. ‘Does it smell of fish?’ I asked. She gave me a puzzled look and laughed then walked off. We decided to risk it!
Restaurante A Choupana – was perfect. We were lucky to get a table at a perfect spot and as we eat, the sun began to set. It was magical. One of those moments we all look for in a trip. Bring on day 5!
Day 2 of our cycle trip – Setabul to (via Troia ferry) Santiago 63km
Although it was only day 2, we were getting slick at sorting out our gear, preparing the maps and planning our next day. So it came as a bit of a surprise that we had cycled to the wrong ferry! Not to worry, the ferry that took bikes wasn’t too far away. Phew! As we approached our ferry, we noticed a large group of cyclists already waiting. As it turned out, we would get to know them a bit better as the day progressed. We were all heading to the same hotel but they were part of a guided tour so we didn’t want to intrude too much but there were several stops along the way to chat. The group was from America. Friends and acquaintances who decided to get together and enjoy a cycle in Portugal. This day was going to be a long cycle and as it turned out, it was also mostly on busy roads. Long and monotonous with no interesting viewpoints or quaint villages. Except for a well-needed pit stop at Praia de Comporta a beautiful white sand beach.
We’re pretty sure that we must have taken the wrong route at some point as there was no sign of the Americans for the last 15 km’s yet we all arrived at our hotel, Dom Nuno, roughly about the same time. We were able to secure our bikes in the bowels of the hotel, next to the laundry and we headed to our room. We entered our room and our initial reaction was a concern. It was a small room with a couch. Was this our bed? We inspected it to see if it folded out but then we noticed a door to another room, which we had initially thought was a door to a cupboard. We opened the door to reveal a huge bedroom and a large bed. It turned out that we had been given a small apartment. We decided not to question it just in case they had got it wrong. We then headed to the pool as soon as we could and met up with our Americans friends, who invited us to ‘happy hour’. This turned out to be their regular drinking session after a hard day’s cycle and they were very generous with their wine. It was nice to sit around with fellow cyclists and have a friendly chat. Rightly or wrongly, we had assumed that this would be the norm during our trip but as it turned out, this was the only day that we had company.
Later that evening, Aileen and I went for a stroll around the town looking for a restaurant. Unfortunately, most were either full or specialised in fish (which became a common theme over the next few nights). Eventually, after getting lost and getting nowhere in our search for a restaurant, we ended up walking past our hotel towards some supermarkets.
The next morning, at breakfast, the Americans informed us that they had had a lovely meal in a nice restaurant nearby.
‘’Where did you two end up?’’ they asked.
‘’LIDL’s and back to our posh apartment with a salad and milkshake!’’ we replied rather sheepishly.
Our transport and bikes arrived at our hotel bang on time and we set off on the short journey to Azeitao, the start of our self-guided cycle tour. Azeitao was as we had hoped, a quiet village full of charm with a laid back feel to it. We sat outside a cafe opposite a wine distillery which, along with a tour of a tile factory, had been on our initial itinerary but we just wanted to get cycling so we skipped these tours and cut straight to the bike setup and instructions.
Our instructions were straight forward enough. Here’s your GPS, here’s your information pack containing daily printed maps and directions, here’s a mobile phone with credit included ‘just in case’ and here’s a list of useful words & expressions.
Next was the process of transferring our belongings from our 40L backpacks into the 20L X 2 panniers. Would this part go to plan? Well, we were more than impressed and we had room to spare!
A final check before setting off with the first section of our cycle on our GPS, current paper copy and directions in view, located inside a waterproof carrier on our handlebars and a full bottle of water. We said our goodbyes to our tour rep and we were off.
As much as we are fully functioning mature adults, we felt like big kids going on an adventure. Finally, after all the preparation, we were taking our first pedals on a journey along the Portuguese coast which is described as stunning, quiet and perfect for cycling.
Day 1 – Azeitao to Setabul 25km
After our initial excitement passed, we quickly got into cycling mode. It took some time to get used to the heavy panniers and cycling on the ‘wrong’ side of the road but we were off and moving at a good pace. Until we hit our first steep climb. Let’s just say that Aileen was still trying to come to terms with the weight of her bike and the Portuguese traffic (we were on a busy main road at this point) so when we hit our first hill – as us Scots say – the dummy was out the pram! Aileen was a tad pissed off but she 9soldiered on and as the kilometers passed, she found her second wind and began to enjoy it.
At around 12km, we had a choice. Either cycle straight on to Setabul or take a detour down a steep 2km hill to a beach that was described as stunning and that’s just what we did. We didn’t have to pedal for what seemed like forever and there was always that thought in the back of your head ‘I’m going to have to cycle back up this again!’ but when we finally reached the beach at Portinho, we didn’t care. Not only was it the first beach of our trip, but it was also stunning. This was one of those moments when you’re in the zone. Full of appreciation for life, it’s beauty and all it can offer if you take the chance. This was going to be a great spot for lunch. We found a nice laid back beach restaurant, sat down and chilled.
Then we had to cycle back up that bloody hill!!
The remainder of our day continued to be a pleasant mixture of big smiles, a lot of puffing and taking in the beautiful scenery. Although we were curious about a landmark we would be passing. Described as ‘’So-ugly-it’s-fascinating cement factory’’ sure enough, it lived up to its description. We were flanked on both sides as we cycled past huge concrete buildings. There was no style or finesse here, just enormous structures happy to show off their reason for existence. Created to perform an industrial job and proud of it!
We finally reached our hotel around 4 pm – Rio Art Hotel, Setubal. From the moment we stepped in through the door, we knew we were in a lovely hotel. The reception staff were very friendly and helped secure our bikes in a nearby room. The hotel had a fresh stylish feel to it and didn’t appear to fit the 3-star rating but we were informed that due to there being no lift access to a room, it was unable to achieve a 4-star rating.
No sooner had our Daughter returned safe and sound from Oz when we were off to Portugal on our cycling adventure.
We flew into Faro and walked to our hotel from the airport, trying out our foldaway backpacks for the first time. They were ok for the short 20 minutes walk but I can imagine that we would have struggled to cope with a longer distance as the general lack of robust support made for a slightly uncomfortable walk but I’m being picky as in general I was well chuffed with our choice.
This was the first time that we have gone back to the same hotel, Hotel Rialgarve and although it had only been one year earlier, for some reason we were excited about returning. Would that friendly, overly excitable and helpful receptionist still be there? Would he remember us? Would it still be the same boring breakfast? We arrived too early for check-in so headed to the pool for some late afternoon sun. Having just left Scotland, which was quickly heading towards winter, it was nice to feel the heat of the sun again. Unfortunately, the previous receptionist had moved on, nobody remembered us and the breakfast was as boring as ever – hey ho!
The next day we walked back to the airport to collect our car. The queue was short so we reckoned that it would be a quick process. Unfortunately, we were stuck behind an array of customers with various problems – ”The named driver is in hospital, can I drive instead” – ” I don’t speak English or Portuguese. I speak French?. Do you speak French?”. We stood there for the best part of an hour! Finally, we were next, we had booked using air miles – total con! By the time we paid for insurance etc, we worked it out that the air miles had contributed around £20 to the rental. We would have been better off shopping around instead of being limited to somewhere that accepted air miles, lesson learned. Anyway rant over, we then drove back to the hotel, collected our bags and checked out. When I say we drove back, I mean I, Tom, drove back. I have driven on the right-hand side of the road before, in America but that was with an automatic. A manual takes a bit of getting used to but unfortunately, I didn’t have time. Straight onto the roads with Aileen looking and sounding like she wasn’t enjoying my ”in at the deep end ” learning style. And relax!
The toll roads took a bit of getting used to, basically keep left at the choice of barriers if you have a tracking system in your car, which we did, as this will pick up your car details and it gets deducted from the vast amount of deposit money you leave with your rental company. It means you can just keep driving through the toll hassle-free. So why did I go right?? By the time I’d realised i.e. it sunk in what Aileen was shouting about, I had left it too late and was now beside a cash-only option. When I say beside I mean too far away to reach across and put in coins. So I had to jump out, work out the currency (which I dropped) and eventually pay enough for the barrier to open. In the middle of a busy road with impatient car drivers behind me. And relax!
We decided to drive to a village called Beja on route to Lisbon for some Portuguese culture and the route was also far enough away from our cycle route as we didn’t want to see any sights that we would be seeing when we were cycling back from Lisbon. Beja was further away than we expected and appeared to be in decline. It had some interesting architecture and, to my dismay, small narrow streets. I genuinely thought I was going to jam the car in one of them! In one particular street, there was an elderly man slowly walking ahead in the middle of the road. For some inexplicable reason, he was oblivious to me and I was making very slow progress. I gave my horn a ‘gentle’ tap and out came a very loud noise which gave the elderly gentleman a huge fright but it worked and he let us ‘speed’ past. Unfortunately, some 100 meters further on I had to maneuver the car around a very tight 90-degree angle, which required a bit of forward and reverse gears. I then looked in the rearview mirror and there was my elderly gentleman friend looking to get past me as I was slowing him up. And relax!
We drove onto Lisbon and navigated to our B&B, through crazy rush hour streets, dropped off our bags and then had to drive to the airport to return the car. This was reasonably straight forward and once the guy from the car hire company was satisfied that, against all odds, I hadn’t scratched or dented the car, he let us go on our way.
Lisbon airport is so busy but we had a cunning plan. We used our UBER app and managed to get a taxi booked virtually straight away. We stood there outside the airport feeling smug as we surveyed long queues for taxis and buses. Then we got a message from the UBER driver to say that he was waiting for us at the arrivals area. Did he thinks we had just flown in?? We quickly made our way to the area described – no sign of him as far as we could see and no taxi fitting the UBER description parked nearby. Aileen gave him a phone but he spoke little English and it became clear that we were going to miss our taxi!! All of a sudden we were back to square one and unsure how to get back to Lisbon city centre without having to join those even longer queues. We were also charged by UBER for not showing up!!
Then Aileen had a brainwave, let’s take the metro to Lisbon centre. This turned out to be a great decision and we would recommend this to any futures travelers. After some help from a member of staff, we had our tickets and headed down the escalators. We had to make one change of train but it wasn’t an issue and we finally got back to Lisbon city centre. The underground building is very impressive and is a great first impression of a lovely city. Lisbon centre was full of life with a buzz about it.
By the time we had eaten and wandered about, it was getting dark and we only had Google maps to direct us to our hotel. I’ll admit that we came across some dodgy-looking streets as we walked back to the hotel but it all added to a rich tapestry that is travel.
Our B&B was an odd setup. Entry to our room was via a door by the roadside leading to stairs. The reception was across the street in a shop front and breakfast was served in a basket hanging from a hook outside our room door. It felt safe and was comfortable so all was good. Time to get to sleep as our bikes were arriving in the morning.
September 2017 and our daughter is leaving for a year in Australia and we didn’t want to sit about straight after she left so booked a cheap flight to Faro – somewhere new for us and would help keep us occupied for a few days while we came to terms with the fact that our daughter was halfway around the world for at least a year.
We dropped her at the airport and then went straight to a different airport for our flight.
Whilst out exploring, we found a cycle path and discovered the Eco Via Litoral cycling route which planted the seed for a cycling holiday in Portugal.
After lots of research, which included the idea that we would arrange everything ourselves, we decided to go with a pre-arranged self-guided trip. This gave us the security of pre-booked accommodation, GPS, emergency support and rented bikes.
Once we had decided on this, we realized that we had another problem to overcome! How do we physically transport a weeks’ supply of clothing, toiletries, etc from our house to our panniers? The suitcase was no good so further research was required. In Tom’s world surely somebody has invented a foldaway rucksack and guess what we found one (There will be a regular future referral to Tom’s world which is different from Aileen’s world!)
Not only was it foldaway it ticked other boxes – It was a perfect size for cabin luggage. It was 40 litres which equaled the panniers capacity and it folded away into a hand size pouch – Result for Tom’s world!
You will also pick up from future blogs that we are almost anal about our preparation and research. We had researched the cycling company, our route, the bags and bought the flights. We were flying to Lisbon, staying overnight to start our cycle the next day. We were then cycling from Lisbon to Sagres (over 7 days), getting picked up by shuttle and transferred to Lagos to spend our last night and getting the train from Lagos to Faro to stay the night and then fly home. All sorted!!
Fast forward to June 2018 only a few months from our September trip (almost exactly a year since our first trip to Faro), during a camping holiday to North Devon we received an email from that lovely Irish airline telling us our flight to Lisbon was canceled but guess what they could offer us a flight two days later – what use was that when everything else was booked?!
Our initial reaction was I’m never using Ryanair again they are a bunch of unreliable so and so’s and we rolled up our sleeves and spent the next few hours trying to find a flight from Glasgow to Lisbon on the right dates but no avail.
Cap in hand back to Ryanair to take seats on a flight to Faro but now leaving a day earlier which had a knock-on effect of having to board the dog for an extra day, an extra night accommodation in Faro, a hired car to get from Faro to Lisbon and then the metro from Lisbon to accommodation.
In a strange example of coincidence – Almost a year to the day from dropping our daughter off at the airport, we were now picking her up again and heading to another airport for our cycling adventure.
Highlights to follow
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