Throughout Portugal you can find an increasing number of dedicated cycling facilities, often called Ecopistas. Recently I wrote about an Ecopista starting in Vizeu in Portugal. This week, we’ll take you on an interesting ride on the Ecopista de Évora in the Portugese province of Alentejo, known for its cork trees, white washed villages, wine and vistas.
Many years ago, I visited Évora (the emphasis is on the ‘E’, not on ‘VO‘), an old city in Portugal. It must have been around 1990-1991. I was there for an agricultural trade show and for a visit to a dealership of the products we sold. The trade show was in Lisbon, and the dealership just outside Évora, about 140 kilometers east of Lisbon. Oddly, I barely have any recollection of that trip, other than walking on a pedestrian street in Lisbon and a bus trip on a potholed road to Évora.
City of Évora
When studying the map of Portugal for places to visit this winter, we realised that we couldn’t possibly see it all, not even the highlights, but we really liked to see the walled city of Évora with its rich history going back to Roman times and earlier (Menhirs anyone?). In the end we spent 5 days there and really enjoyed the old town.
Ecopista de Évora
Upon closer inspection of the map of Évora, trying to understand the size of the city and understanding what is where within and outside the city walls, I noticed a smooth curved line leaving Évora northbound. Zooming in further I realised it is another Ecopista, a bicycle and walking track that runs on an abandoned railway track through the drier part of Portugal, in the Alentejo province. Of course, we needed to check that out.
Galacio Bike near Ecopista de Évora
Fortunately, there is a bike rental place at the edge of town, Galacio Bike, on walking distance from our downtown Évora accomodation inside the old walled city. Galacio is also just a few hundred meters from the start of the trail, so all fell into place.
A Hot Day
As it promises to be a very warm day with temperatures soaring to 32C to 34C, we make sure we are at the store when it opens at 9 am, carrying four bottles of water and lunch in our backpack.
Karen decides to rent an e-bike but I am going for the mountain bike type with thicker tires. We ask for panniers for our stuff. Between the staff’s English and Portugese and our English and limited Spanish and Italian we discuss the route and the weather. I had already noticed that the Ecopista runs right behind Pingo Doce, our favourite grocery store, so it was easy to find. Contrary to the previous ride we did from Vizeu, this time we cycled out and back from Évora.
Pingo Doce felt oddly familiar but I couldn’t really put my finger on it. When we were at the train station in Cascais, near Lisbon, I noticed there was a ‘Pingo Doce To Go‘ with lots of prepared foods, ready to take home. Then it dawned on me: “Might they have connections with Albert Heijn perhaps, the large Dutch grocery store with ready to go stores on several large Dutch train stations and even at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam?”, I wonder. I asked Google. Wouldn’t you know, Ahold Delhaize, the Albert Hein holding company has a 49% stake in Pingo Doce.
A Dry Day too
The Alentejo region is roughly south east from Lisbon and doesn’t have that lush green environment of the coastal and northern provinces. The area north of Évora is a rolling landscape with grasses, wheat, little surface water, quintas (farms), some cattle and cork trees. It can be really hot in the summer too. And also in early May we learned. The day we biked, the temperature hit 34C eventually, but the upside was that the humidity was only about 25%, so the heat didn’t really bother us too much.
Ecopista de Évora mostly unpaved
The route in Évora starts behind housing and crosses some roads, sometimes diagonally. There are no cross rides really, you simply use the crosswalk; there are no ‘walk your bike signs’ either at crosswalks. At some point, we cross a beautifully freshly paved red bidirectional bike path. Later, back home, I looked up where that path goes and it turns out to be an awesome brand new path between the old walled city and a school, passing through somewhat of a suburb. Exactly what we need in Ottawa.
While the first kilometers out of Évora are paved, it soon becomes a packed, sandy, gravelly pathway. After we leave Évora behind us, the environment changes into an arid, beige landscape with the odd fenced or walled-in quinta (farm).
No carpets for us
We now slowly disappear into the vastness of the Alentejo. The sun is already getting hotter, even though it’s barely half past ten in the morning. Our Ecopista turns into two sandy tracks with spots of loose sand, but it generally doesn’t take much effort to cycle. We pass more dry looking quintas and some cattle under a tree, a sharp contrast with our stay a few days ago in the lush mountain area near the Serra de Estrela.
Our aim was to stop for drinks and pastries at a small town called Arraiolos, 20 kilometers away, known for its carpet making cottage industry, going back to Moorish times and even Persia. We are not that interested in carpets, but it is a nice destination on a hilltop with great views over the countryside.
Cactus orchard along the Ecopista de Évora
In order to get to Arraiolos we have to leave the track and turn west towards the village at Cuinta Monte de Mesquita. The dirt road climbs all of a sudden steeper, passing more quintas. A goat is crossing our path, frantically shepherding its young away from us. We noticed someone is busy breathing new life into a cuinta with cabins that look like tourist accomodation: the cactus orchard might very well be another source of income soon. From what we learned later is that the sap (flowers?) is used for a dye in the carpet industry.
The route to the centre runs along a quiet road with houses on both sides, then turns right going up further towards the village. Very nicely, the shoulder of this busier road has been separated from car traffic with large concrete Jersey barriers to make it a lot safer to bike towards the village. We decide to stop at a small square for coffee and desserts. In front of us looms a castle with a church on the hilltop, but given the heat, we decide to leave that for another time. The local drug store weather station shows it is 32 degrees by now.
Three guys on bikes
We take it easy on the way back. Three guys om bikes are standing at an intersection on the Ecopista de Évora, one of them on an e-trike. They’re telling us the e-trike (two wheels at the back) is a test case for the gentleman who rides it. He has Parkinson’s but doesn’t want to give up cycling yet, but they found the centre of gravity is too high and are going to return the bike. All of them speak good English and they recommend we should also do another Ecopista eventually, further north, in the Amarante area, near Porto. Noted!
When we drop off our bikes at Galacio at the end of the day, the owner reacts surprised when he sees the battery of Karen’s bike is still nearly full. “Você não usou?”, he asks. Karen responds that she expected to have to work harder to cycle uphill, but it was not much to speak of. Therefore she didn’t have the motor on too much afterall, hence the full battery. Train tracks generally have a maximum incline and decline of about 1% so that is why those rail to trails can be really great for cycling.
Bring enough water
This was another cool Ecopista, far less ‘civilised’, if I can use that word, and very different from the Ecopista de Dão in Vizeu. It’s very doable too, with a bit of climb when leaving the trail for the route into the village: you will be rewarded with vistas and food and drinks. Bring plenty of water as there is no place to get water along the route.
More cycling in Portugal
Read my previous blog on another awesome rail to trail we cycled from Vizeu and make sure you read the four part series by Kathryn and Bill’s camino bike ride: a 709 km trip from Lisbon to Santiago in Spain.
More cycling to railways posts
- The Short Life of the Ottawa & New York RailwayReading Time: 12 minutes At some time in our history, Ottawa had a direct train connection to the Adirondecks and Tupper Lake in New York State via Cornwall. From there, you could travel further south to New York City. The original idea was to create a direct connection to NY, NY, but that didn’t materialise. (with video of the route)
- A 52 km loop along the Estriade and Yamaska National Park in QuebecReading Time: 7 minutes The Estriade is a 22 km bicycle route on a former railway bed. Combined with a route through a National Park, it makes for a lovely 52 km route, all on separate pathways.
- Retracing the First Train into Ottawa: the Bytown & Prescott RailwayReading Time: 10 minutes Mr. Walter Shanly (1817-1899), a civil engineer, touched the ground to inspect the land underneath his snow shoes. He was on a mission: recently he, and a group of investors, had agreed on building the first railway track into Bytown (now Ottawa), all the way from Prescott on the St. Lawrence river, to connect the lumbertown on the Ottawa River with the ports in Prescott. A distance of about 50 miles (80 km). Not everyone was excited about their plans though and it had taken time to get the funds together. Thomas McKay, who built Rideau Hall, put forward money [Read more…]
- Prince of Wales Bridge Reopens as Active Transportation Bridge with New NameReading Time: 8 minutes A large piece of new active transportation infrastructure finally opened yesterday. Here is all the background you want to read about the historic Prince of Wales bridge, now the Chief William Commanda bridge, connecting Ottawa with Gatineau and an easier gateway to Gatineau Park.
- Cycling the Ecopista de Évora in PortugalReading Time: 8 minutes Throughout Portugal you can find an increasing number of dedicated cycling facilities, often called Ecopistas. Recently I wrote about an Ecopista starting in Vizeu in Portugal. This week, we’ll take you on an interesting ride on the Ecopista de Évora in the Portugese province of Alentejo, known for its cork trees, white washed villages, wine and vistas. Many years ago, I visited Évora (the emphasis is on the ‘E’, not on ‘VO‘), an old city in Portugal. It must have been around 1990-1991. I was there for an agricultural trade show and for a visit to a dealership of the [Read more…]
- A bike ride on the Ecopista do Dão in PortugalReading Time: 7 minutes The Ecopista do Dão wasn’t on the agenda for our trip in Portugal, but we found this gem of a rail to trail in the hinterland of Portugal. Closed for trains in 1988, it is now a paved trail through a lovely, peaceful part of rural Portugal.