Six reasons why the Algarve should be the destination for your next cycling holiday
The south of Portugal’s is one of Europe's undiscovered cycling hot spots - until now
Lanzarote. Tenerife. Majorca. As well as being fantastic year-round cycling destinations, these three little Spanish islands have another thing in common. Every cyclist and his dog knows about them.
Although their popularity has its perks – with the infrastructure there (hotels, guides, regular flights) to accommodate cyclists at all times – it can also have its downsides. Your pilgrimage on a cycling holiday or training camp soon loses its novelty if, when telling others on the club run where you’re off to, every Tom, Dick and Harry has flights booked to go there too. Fortunately, there are still some undiscovered gems out there that are just a couple of hours flight from the UK.
One such place is the Algarve. Although known for its golf resorts and miles of beaches, the quiet roads and challenging climbs of Portugal’s most southern region make it a prime spot for your next cycling holiday. And with cycling friendly hotels such as the Macdonald Monchique located in the heart of the region, you’ll be perfectly placed to explore all the Algarve has to offer:
1) Ideal training terrain
The Algarve is home to the Serra de Monchique mountains, and the 20-mile long range should prove the perfect base for training. The rolling terrain will test the legs, while still keeping the total amount of climbing manageable, and there is also the chance to test your form with a climb up to Foia – the highest point in the Algarve. Starting to the south of the town of Monchique (where the range gets its name), the 10.1 mile-long ascent rises 2,525ft to the summit, with an average gradient of 4.7 per cent and highs of 11.6 per cent. Although not too difficult, the drawn out nature of the climb should make it a good challenge for any rider.
2) Quiet roads (and beautiful views)
Peaceful, car-free lanes are easy enough to find in the UK if you head far enough into the countryside, but not many will come with a side of amazing views like the roads of the Algarve. One moment you’re in dense pine and eucalyptus forests, the next a stereotypical southern Europe scene of stone wall-lined fields with mountains for as far as the eye can see. Just remember that you're there for cycling and not sightseeing!
3) It’s got pro pedigree
Don’t just take our word for it – the Volta ao Algarve attracts WorldTour teams to the region every February. Initiated in 1960, the early season, five-day event has been a 2.1 stage race on the UCI Europe Tour since 2005 and is seen as good preparation for the Spring Classics and Grand Tours to come – past winners include Alberto Contador (2009, 2010), Tony Martin (2011, 2013) and Geraint Thomas (2015, 2016). Thomas and Team Sky were at the race again this year, with the Welshman finishing second behind team-mate Michał Kwiatkowski.
4) Year-round sunshine
Put down the mudguards and break out the summer jersey. The Algarve gets sun for 12 months of the year, and the temperature normally remains in double digits even on the coldest winter day. In the prime cycling holiday seasons of spring and autumn, highs hover between 15-20°C, while you’d be very unlucky to be caught in more than a quick shower – a far cry from Britain’s very changeable conditions.
5) Still close to the coast
Although the primary focus of any cycling holiday is getting in the miles on two wheels, it’s always good to have somewhere nice to relax and even out the tan lines after a long day on the bike. The southern coast of the Algarve region has beautiful, sandy coves by the bucket load, and even when in the mountains, you’re never more than 30 miles from the sea. If going away with a non-cycling significant other, this could just be the deal maker.
6) Certified bike hotels
Unlike some of Europe’s other hidden cycling gems, the great thing about the Algarve is that the infrastructure (regular flights, hotels, bike hire) is already there for those who want to go to the region for a cycling holiday. One of the best certified bike hotels in the area is the Macdonald Monchique Resort & Spa – in fact, it's so good that eight WorldTour teams stayed at the hotel during the 2017 Volta ao Algarve. It’s location in the mountains makes it a great base for exploring the Serre de Monchique, while its wellness centre is home to the best spa in the Algarve and makes a great place to unwind if you can’t make it to the beach. It also has features including closed and covered bike storage, a mini workshop with basic tools and tyre pumps, and a team on hand to provide information on routes, equipment rental and even the weather forecast!