Bicycle touring Beira: picturesque Portuguese villages

Our first two weeks in Portugal were spent in Algarve and Alentejo.  Returning to Portugal from our stint in Extremadura, we were in yet another of Portugal’s regions, Beira.  It felt very different.  Alentejo was fairly flat riding with few houses between the stunningly white, bright villages.  You really can’t say any of that about Beira.

As far as the riding goes, well, it’s hilly, even mountainous, sometimes steep, though the climbs aren’t super long.  Certainly the rain added to the challenge.  The reward is the villages, more than the scenery.  The Portuguese tourism folks put out information about 12 Aldeias Históricas (Historic Villages) in this region.  We visited three of these.  There’s also heaps of information on the internet about the Aldeias do Xisto (Schist Villages).  Some are incredibly picturesque.

One thing to keep in mind is that many villages do not even have a market, and some of the back roads are pretty slow going.

IMG_20190410_094350 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Una vuelta por bici en Extremadura

In the planning stages this bicycle tour went through a number of iterations.  At first we were starting in Agadir to meet Zane and Kurt for some riding in Morocco.  However, Zane flew to Guatemala instead.  Then we were starting in Málaga to see Andalucia before meeting my parents for an auto tour in Portugal.  However, my parents decided they didn’t have so much time to spend in Portugal.  Then Ferda and I decided to fly to Faro and just bicycle in Portugal.  However, once we started planning the route, we realized there was a stretch between Elvas and Monsanto without much of interest.  If we headed east a bit, we’d get to see Mérida, Cáceres, a corner of Extremadura.  So that’s how we ended up spending nine days in Spain on our tour of Portugal.

In Portugal we came to expect sunny, cool, dry weather.  It wasn’t till we were within spitting distance of the Spanish border that the rain started.  It didn’t rain every day in Spain, but almost.  However, as I’m writing this, it’s quite clear that it can rain in Portugal as well.  We’re holed up in Penacova for a few days waiting for the sun to come back, giving me some time to write.

We left Elvas, shortly crossed the border, and were in Badajoz not much later.  Badajoz, I think, will be the biggest city we visit on this tour until we end our riding in Lisbon.  However, it was very quiet when we rode into the city on a Sunday afternoon.  It was fun to be in Spain — Badajoz felt like a real, lived-in city, very different from the quiet villages we’d been riding through in Alentejo.  Also, communication is easy in Spain!  It’s fun to be able to talk with people in their own language.  🙂

IMG_20190401_121800_3 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Évora, Estremoz, Elvas: east to Extremadura (Espanha)

Évora was the first UNESCO-listed place that we visited in Portugal.  It’s a walled city known for its huge cathedral, the São Francisco church, a small Roman temple, and an impressively long Roman aqueduct that’s still used to bring water to the city.  We visited all those.  Évora’s probably known for other stuff as well, but we didn’t visit those.  Évora gets high praise from internet users.

Like many historic cities in Europe I expected Évora to be crawling with tourists.  It wasn’t.

IMG_20190326_124701 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Portugal: first impressions

My first unexpected impression of Portugal was before we even left Turkey.  We think of Europe as being just around the corner — many people fly from Germany to Antalya for a long weekend, for example.  I was surprised by how long and expensive the flights were from Antalya to Faro.  Then I started looking at distances: well, Antalya is closer to Dushanbe (Tajikistan) or Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) or even Bergen (Norway) than it is to Faro in southern Portugal!  It ended up taking 21 hours to get from our house in Antalya to a nice camping spot quite near the Faro airport.

IMG_20190319_120141 by bryandkeith on flickr
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Skiing the Kaçkar again

Even though Peter didn’t come on this trip, I have to thank him for making my ski trip happen this year.  Peter initiated an e-mail discussion about potentially skiing together, and that’s what got me thinking about skiing in the first place.  I also have to thank İsmet for actually coming on the trip.  She didn’t make it to Muş, but she did the planning for the Kaçkar portion of the trip.

İsmet arranged for us to stay at the Kaçkar Pansiyon in Olgunlar with İsmail Bayram (not to be confused with İsmail Altunay in Yaylalar) and his family.  I was sorry not to be staying with Osman and Fatma who I’ve stayed with on both my previous winter Kaçkar trips.  However, I called Osman later and learned they weren’t in Olgunlar this winter anyway.  I’ll have to go back in the summer to visit them.

Skiing with İsmet made this trip to the Kaçkar quite different from my others.  Previously our group goals had mostly been to find good snow and make nice turns.  İsmet, however, isn’t really a skier per se, although she can certainly ski better than I can.  She’s a ski mountaineer.  She’s also a professional mountain guide for tourists, and since this was her first ski trip to Olgunlar, she was interested in checking out routes for clients, especially routes that go the summit of something.

Another thing that made this trip different from the others was that the snow wasn’t as good — there was less of it, and the snow was very hard and wind-blown up high.  For example, Megan and I casually skied right up to the top of Kanucar (aka Hanucar?) Pass when we were there a few years ago.  This year, in an attempt to reach the pass, İsmet took off her skis and still couldn’t make it up the pass kicking steps into the steep hard snow.  We had at least three instances of this — getting right up to within a few meters of the ridge and not being able to actually reach the ridge because of a vertical wall of very hard snow.

Even with these poor Kaçkar conditions I managed to find stretches of pretty good snow for three of the five days we skied.  İsmet even described it as the best five days of snow she’s ever experienced.  Like I said, she’s not really a skier.  😉

On the first day we skied to Nastaf (aka Hastaf) Yaylası and headed up the big drainage from there, the third of the three big north-facing valleys from Olgunlar.

IMG_20190212_100201 by bryandkeith on flickr
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