Hike, Bike, and surf in Portugal
Until recently, I wasn’t especially interested in visited Portugal’s Algarve region because of the beach resort/mass tourism I associated with it. As Wikipedia says, “The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, is known for its Atlantic beaches and golf resorts. Whitewashed fishing villages on low cliffs overlooking sandy coves were transformed in the 1960s, and now its central coast between Lagos and Faro is lined with villas, hotels, bars and restaurants.” Reason enough to keep me away!
But when I started looking for a sunny location with opportunities to hike, bike, and surf, I came across Carrapateira on the Atlantic coast, a world away from the overdeveloped towns that define most of the region. To my delight, we found a quiet, pleasant town, long, uncrowded beaches, and miles of hike/bike trails to keep us busy for a lovely Easter vacation. If you’re interested in a varied, active vacation, I can highly recommend the area. The activities below also combine well with a few days in Lisbon, a three-hour drive north.
Carrapateira is a small town set back from the Atlantic coast by one kilometer, forming a triangle with two stunning beaches: 3km-long Bordeira beach and 1km-long Amado Beach, both surf/vanlife havens. It’s hardly undiscovered, but it retains a sleepy, quiet feel and makes a great base for local explorations on foot or by bike, all right from your doorstep. There are a handful of restaurants and a number of small rental units but no large hotels or overdevelopment. With all that coastline and interior green hills to explore, the visitors who do find their way here have plenty of space to spread out. We delighted in the clear, starry night skies and variety of coastal/inland scenery, not to mention sunrise/sunset walks along pristine beaches.
The best source of hiking information is The Rota Vicentina, an association that maintains a 400+ km network of trails in southwest Portugal with the goal of sustainable nature tourism. That network includes two long-distance, point-to-point routes (the Historic Trail and Fisherman’s Trail) and a number of circular day trails. We took our pick of these, taking advantage of excellent trail markings and detailed maps/itineraries on the Rota Vicentina website.
One of these was the 10km circular trail connecting Carrapateria to Bordeira Beach and Amado Beach, most of it along a stunning trail along the cliffy coastline. This took two hours with brief stops along the way at points of interest signposted along the way (such as the Pedra do Galé shipwreck site, ruins of a twelfth century Moorish fishing settlement, and traditional fishing shacks built into the cliffs).
That was just for starters, though. Having read that Carrapateira to Vila do Bispo is one of the most scenic sections of the entire Fisherman’s Trail, we set out to hike that route out-and-back, taking in the 6+km stretch that meanders along the coast. And, wow, was it stunning! Starting from Amado Beach, the trail climbs several headlands then dips down to visit pristine Murração and Manteiga beaches. With no road access to either beach, there’s not a soul in sight except a handful of fellow hikers. Being used to much longer Alpine climbs, we found the hike quite easy with a round-trip distance of 12.5km. (We turned back for our home base in Carrapateira once the trail plateaued and started heading inland. It continues another 6km to Bispo.) Similarly, you could head north along Bordeira Beach to hike the section of the Fisherman’s Trail that runs north from Carrapateira to Arrifana out-and-back.
In planning this trip, we’d considered hiking a multi-way section of the Rota Vicentina, but ultimately decided for a home base in Carrapateira and a greater variety of activities. Having seen how stunning the coast can be, however, we are interested in returning to hike at least the four-day, Aljezur to Cabo Sao Vicente portion (or more). Stay tuned to see if/when we get to that!
There are also several hikes leading to the leafy, green interior as well, such as the 13km Carrapateira Hills circular route and the 17km Endiabrada and Hidden Lakes route. Keep your eyes open for cork trees along the way! Of course, it’s amazing to simply walk barefoot along the pristine, three-kilometer length of Bordeira Beach, or to rent bikes and see some of the same areas from a different perspective.
For explorations on two wheels, we rented mountain bikes from Carrapateira Extreme and headed out on a stunning two-hour, 23km ride with an incredible variety of scenery. Starting in Carrapateria, we followed dirt roads inland that took us past cork trees, meandering rivers, pine forests, farmlands, and hamlets of pretty, white-washed houses to Vilarinha and on to Pedralva, following red-and-orange Rota Vicentina trail markers.
At Pedralva, you have several options: (1) extend the ride another 12km south to Vila do Bispo, (2) continue 4km out from Pedralva to a high point with views to the south coast, then return to Pedralva), or (3) looping back to Carrapateira for a shorter ride, but incredibly scenic ride. For the latter option, follow the asphalt road from Pedralva up to then along the main road. After a short distance on the main road, turn left at the blue “Atlantic Coast Trail” bike sign.
That will bring you to more dirt tracks and stunning coastal views for the second half of the ride, including a long, glorious downhill glide to Amado Beach. From there, pedal up to the clifftop trail described in the hikes section above and return to Carrapateira via Bordeira Beach. It’s amazing how many different landscapes this ride packs into a short distance. There are a couple of long uphills, but the scenery and moderate gradient never made us feel as if we were working hard.
Curious about the Atlantic Coast Trail mentioned above? It’s a 11,000km long bike route that starts in Norway! Find out more here.
We also devoted a few days to beginners’ surf lessons, again thanks to Carrapateira Extreme. When we visited over Easter, the surf season was just getting started, so the group lesson consisted of just 3 or 4 people (out of a possible group size of 8). The water was chilly, though we were fine with wetsuits for the 90 minute lesson. The waves weren’t anything like the easy, gentle rollers I once tried out on Maui, so it felt like hard work to catch a wave — though all the more rewarding when we did so! Our instructor was patient and encouraging, and by the end of two lessons, my 19-year-old was easily standing and learning to turn, while we 50+ year-old parents were happy just to get upright a few times. Either way, it was time well spent immersed in the grip of the elements — literally!
There are a number of other surf schools in the area operating on Bordeira and/or Amado Beach. Check out Amado Surf Camp for week-long surf/stay packages.
WHEN TO GO
We visited in Easter, when daytime temperatures were in the low 70s °F/low 20s °C. That was perfect for hiking or biking, though a little borderline for wearing shorts/T-shirts when you’re less active. Late April/early May is probably perfect, while summer must be unbearably hot.
I based my research into surf locations/schools on these two blog posts:
For more on hiking the Rota Vicentina check out these links…
I hope this has been helpful and interesting, either as a planning tool or armchair adventure. For other exciting trips and ideas, click on “HOME” at the top of the page. Thank you for visiting TheTravelBug.blog and happy travels!