On the 15th of October 2016, my cousin, Tiago Coimbra and myself, Daniel Coimbra, left Lisbon on our fully loaded bikes. We were headed for the southernmost tip of Portugal, Sagres.
Our path was the ‘Rota Vicentina’, a historical route that was used by pilgrims, travelers and inhabitants on their travels around the west coast of Portugal. The official route begins in Santiago do Cacém and ends in Sagres. But we began further north, in Troia, culminating in roughly 250 km of remote trails, singletracks, cobblestone paths, rocky hills and endless coastlines.
This trip had been on our minds for a long time and it was decided that October would be the best time to go for it. The unforgiving summer heat had eased and gave way to fresh air, perfect for a 5-day ride.
We started our journey with a short train ride from Lisbon to Setubal, followed by a ferry that took us to Troia, an amazing peninsula with miles of white sandy beaches. Thinking that it would be a short ride from Troia to Santiago do Cacém, we started confidently, only to find that we had to make an unexpected, yet very pleasant stop in Melides.
By noon on the second day we reached Santiago do Cacém, the official starting point of the historical route. Making our way uphill to the church gave us a great overview of the trails ahead. In the evening, a clearing in the forest just outside Cercal, turned out to be our shelter for the night. All night long we heard dogs barking. Sounds coming from the farms in the surrounding area.
The next day greeted us with a beautiful blue sky, wide open fields and we even saw a couple of backpackers hiking on the same trail. The path was smooth and mostly rolling, with a few steep treks.
Later, after refueling in a small and what seemed to be impoverished town of São Luís, we found a camping spot in a dense Eucalyptus field just outside of town. This was spider central, but we had little choice as the sun was setting very quickly.
While setting up camp we heard an animal stalking us. Initially, we thought it was a small wild boar or something similar, but it was probably just a field rat because it spent all night right beside us, occasionally making its presence known by rustling against some leaves.
Feeling pretty tired, we ended up eating too much and even drank two whole bottles of wine! This of course was a big mistake for which we paid for the next morning. Thankfully all the hard climbing had been done the previous day, so we started at dawn with a long descent down the mountain leading us into Odemira.
Here we treated ourselves to a real meal to fight the hangover. While everyone around us was still having breakfast at 11AM I ate a ‘Bitoque’, which is probably one of the most known traditional Portuguese dishes, consisting of a thinly cut steak accompanied by rice, fried potatoes, salad and an egg on top. Tiago had the grilled ‘Febras’. Thinly cut steak, grilled with potatoes and rice.
Two full espressos and we were off!
Energized, we made our way through São Teotónio. Later camping outside Odeceixe.
Day four started off well, pedaling from Odeceixe to Aljezur. From this point on I only remember a lot of hills, loose rocks, endless climbs and a lot of suffering. Physically we were still strong, but we had expected smooth rides and long descents, instead we got the opposite. But the amazing views all around were motivation enough to keep us on track.
Arriving at Canal Beach, it suddenly began getting very dark very quick. We realized that there was no chance of us making it out of these rocky hills before sunset. Still we pushed forward, only to find ourselves between two farms, surrounded by four angry German Shepherds and a massive herd of frightened cattle. We managed to survive that episode and decided to leave the dirt track and hit the asphalt for a while.
In my mind I was feeling uncomfortable about leaving the trail and rolling on asphalt. But after four days of rough track, the smooth paved surface felt like riding on fluffy clouds. Clearly, I wasn’t complaining!
At about 9PM we arrived in Carrapateira, a small coastal town very popular with surfers. Planning our next steps over dinner.
Although we started off tired and overfed in the morning, this was the day we progressed the most, riding from São Miguel, through Odeceixe, Rogil, Aljezur, all the way to Carrapateira. But, after a full meal we felt like riding some more! The prospect of cruising at night was also very alluring as the temperature had dropped. A decision was made, leading us to arrive in Sagres just before midnight.
On our last day we took the bikes to the southernmost tip of Portugal. Cape St. Vincent ( Cabo de São Vicente) our true final destination. The weather was amazing, blue skies, perfect temperature. We had made it to Sagres two days earlier than expected and had plenty of time to enjoy the last leg of our journey to Lagos, where we would take the train back to Lisbon.
During the train ride it started to rain. And I’m not talking about a light drizzle, it was pouring incessantly all the way to Lisbon. We definitely felt lucky sitting comfortably with our bikes stowed away beside us. We knew we had just completed an amazing journey, with minor mechanical failures, only one broken camera lens and over 250 km of trails behind us.
The ‘Rota Vicentina’ is truly a beautiful route. You will pedal through busy and occasionally completely abandoned historical villages, meet interesting people along the way and get chased by many, many dogs. Some small, others not so small.
BIKES AND GEAR
Tiago was riding on an On-One 27,5 with a Surly Troll Fork, 1×10 Shimano drive and sitting on a comfortable Brooks cambium. He used a Carradice Pendle with Bagman Support in which he carried his cooking ware, food, snacks and heavy tools. He had a yoga mat and my Manfrotto tripod tied to the support. In the front he carried a small one person Ferrino Lightent and a small camera bag for his Canon T2i.
I was riding my Specialized Enduro 2008 with a Fox Talas 32, which helped on the rocky terrain. My DIY “saddlebag” was a 5-liter dry bag strapped to my seat post using two straps, carrying my sleeping bag and dry clothes. Although the bag served it’s purpose for the trip, it did swing from left to right on technical terrain throwing me off balance. On the handlebar I carried a yoga mat and a Quick Hiker Ultralight 2-person tent, which, despite the extra weight, was totally worth it. I also had a Canon 60D with a Sigma 30mm prime lens and another Canon 50mm f1.8 lens.
Both Tiago and myself used Vaude backpacks, the Prokyon 32 and the Brenta 30 respectively. These backpacks are great as they have elastic pockets and also have a zip providing easy access to the bottom of the bag. The Brenta features a ventilated back support which I bragged about non-stop throughout our trip!
The backpacks carried our food, cooking ware, flashlights, 3-litre hydration packs, extra camera gear and bottles of wine that we would buy before reaching our camps.
Camera – Daniel Coimbra and Tiago Coimbra | facebook.com/truedynamicfilms
Editing – Daniel Coimbra | danielcoimbrafilm.com
Soundtrack – “Bees” by Caribou (The Milk of Human Kindness; 2005)
Truedynamicfilms on Vimeo.