Bicycle touring central Portugal: Alcobaça to Sintra

From Batalha it wasn’t far to Alcobaça, yet another monastery, yet another UNESCO World Heritage Site.  After so many monasteries, churches, cathedrals, cloisters, one might begin to wonder if it was really possible to see something new in Alcobaça, another building started hundreds of years ago and continued for hundreds of years with a mix of architectural styles that we’re getting used to seeing in Portugal — Gothic, Manueline, Romanesque, Renaissance, Baroque.

IMG_20190427_131120 by bryandkeith on flickr

Certainly from the outside Alcobaça isn’t as jaw-dropping as Batalha, and when you enter, well, it’s another high, narrow Gothic-arched nave — an amazing sense of space that’s becoming normal for us.
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Bicycle touring central Portugal, a pilgrimage of sorts

Beira felt very different from Algarve and Alentejo.  The rest of our bicycle tour, sort of paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Coimbra to Lisbon, was once again very different from anything we had already seen in Portugal.  Traffic was heavier, the hills were steeper, and the scenery wasn’t so beautiful as it’s generally a more built-up and populated part of the country.  The monuments, however, wow! — it’s one UNESCO World Heritage Site after another.

We arrived in Coimbra from Penacova via a short, easy, scenic ride along the Mondego River, blissfully not realizing what a challenge the riding would be the two weeks to follow.  It’s the historic University of Coimbra buildings that comprise the UNESCO site here.  We’ve now visited six World Heritage sites in Portugal (with more still planned…), and the University of Coimbra is the only one where I could say “disappointing”.  The star attraction is the Joanina Library, but it’s pretty small, and you only get 10 minutes.  I had high expectations remembering the phenomenal library at El Escorial.  The Coimbra University sites’ 12.50-Euro-entrance fee, more than double the entrance to most of the monuments, is steep.  The roads in Coimbra are steep too, and the university sits on top of a hill.

Here is the main square at the university, Patio das Escolas:

IMG_20190420_092615 by bryandkeith on flickr

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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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