We never intended to be in Portugal this late in the season. Our original plan, back in February, was to enjoy Portugal in May and ride predominately off-road on the Portugal Adventure Country Track (ACT). The ACT is a series of published off-road trails designed for motorcycles and four-wheel drive vehicles. Portugal was the first one to be published and there are currently three others – Greece, Romania, and Italy.
The COVID pandemic changed a lot of things. In May we were still in lock-down in Cartagena, Spain. We would have to wait until the borders between Portugal and Spain, on July 1st, were opened before exploring Portugal.
So here we are in the heat of summer in southern Portugal. With inland temperatures being well into the 100°F (38°C) range we decided to cancel the ACT portion of our plans and stick to riding pavement along the coast where the ocean breeze kept the temperatures more reasonable.
Our trip around the coast of Portugal continues clockwise from Faro to the capital city of Lisbon. Distance 444 km (276 miles) covered over a two day period.
Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Piedade (Sanctuary the Sovereign Mother)
The humongous dome and modern lines of this church captures your imagination and begs you to take a closer look.
Although the main temple building was closed, we were able to walk around and take some pictures of this beautiful architectural structure.
The Sanctuary the Sovereign Mother hosts two annual celebrations that take place after Easter: The Small Feast on Eater Sunday and the Big Feast on the third Sunday in April. These festivities are a tradition that dates back to the 16th century.
A small chapel was open for visitors to pray, reflects, and to observe. This main altarpiece is removed, decorated with fresh flowers, and paraded around during the Sovereign Mother festivities.
Continuing West Along the N-125
Reminders of the COVID-19 pandemic are noticeable throughout Portugal by the empty parking lots and closed gates of amusement parks. I imagine many of these businesses can not afford to have an entire season closed and may never recover from the economic impacts of the 2020 season.
Algar de Benagil (Benagil Caves)
It isn’t hard to determine why this cave is such a popular tourist destination. Just look at this amazing picture from under the cave entrance of this small beach! Amazing, right?
Reaching the cave can only be accomplished by boat or by swimming the 200 meters to the entrance. Unfortunately for us, there was an offshore storm that was making the landing of boats on the beach extremely dangerous. Unfortunately the landing conditions were not expected to improve for the next 3-4 days.
Although we couldn’t get inside the cave, perhaps we could get above it.
Fortunately, there is some really nice hiking trails around the caves without the crowds – perfect for enjoying the views of the cliffs and the Atlantic Ocean.
The entrance to the cave area and the surf doesn’t look too bad. I think if we had access to some paddle boards, we would have tried paddling out there without a tour boat. Unfortunately the rental companies were not renting them, and our motorcycles don’t have the room to pack our own roll-up paddle boards.
The steep and dangerous cliffs prevent access to the beach areas below.
Riding the N-125 to the Southwestern Coast
A short ride brought us further west along the coast to the southern tip of the Sagres Peninsula.
This area is know for its rocky steep cliffs and incredible views for the Atlantic Ocean breaking against the rocky shores.
Fortaleza de Sagres (Sagres Fort)
On the southern tip of the peninsula sits the walled 15th century bulwark-like fortress.
The fortress was ordered to be built by Infante Henrique (known today as Henry the Navigator). He was one of the key figures in what became known as the Age of Discoveries, and helped fund expeditions to discover the Azores and large parts of the African coastline.
This fort was often the target of raids from the Barbary pirates who sailed from the nearby North African shores.
The prominent location high above the ocean makes a great spot for a lighthouse built in 1894.
The large open area south of the fort has a peculiar looking structure. What is this?
It tuned out to be a concrete maze of sorts but there are no dead ends. The center of the “maze” is painted red and has a bench for sitting and enjoying a snack.
Heading North via the N-120
We continued north until about an hour before sunset. We still had not found a place to sleep for the evening so we searched on my smartphone for a nearby campsite.
There was one about 45 minutes away to the north – great!
We continued along until about 20 minutes later where we found a quite and secluded dirt road that stretched into the forest – perfect!
Officially, the practice of pitching a tent or sleeping bag on any land not designated for camping or without the permission of the land owner is illegal in Portugal and much of western Europe.
However, we also feel that if we minimize our impact by setting up camp in the evening, leaving early, and packing out all our trash, then who are we harming?
We found a nice secluded spot in the woods surrounding by the cherping sounds of cicadas.
Sometimes the hardest thing to find is a flat spot for our rather large tent.
Unpacking the mules, setting up the tent, inflating the sleeping pads, and climbing into our sleeping bags for a relaxing night of sleep takes about 20-30 minutes. Boa noite (good night).
The next morning, we packed up camp and continued our ride north towards the coastal city of Sines.
Sines is well known for its large shipping port. The economy of this city relies on energy, oil refining, port activity, fishing, tourism and trade.
The port is a vital link between trade between China. Sines is considered a fundamental port in establishing the Maritime Silk Road.
Fishing is also big here. The marina has a large shipyard to maintain and repair the large fleet of corporate and private fishing boats.
An oil tanker sits offshore awaiting the offload into the two major refineries here: Petrogal Sines and Repsol.
Cork Tree Forests
While traveling along the N-261 we noticed these twisted, gnarly, red barked trees that seemed to have their bark stripped in sections.
After further inspection, we realized that these were cork oak trees. Yeah, cork. Like the cork found in wine stoppers, push-pin boards, flooring, and handles for fishing rods.
It turns out that Portugal produces nearly half of the worlds output of commercial cork and this region of Portugal accounts for 70 percent of the the world trade in cork.
Once trees reach 25 years old they are harvested for the first time. Every 9 years after that they can be harvested again. It takes 38 years before a tree produces high enough quality of cord to be made into wine stoppers. A cork oak will live for about 150-200 years.
Just a little further north, we merged onto the A-2 and immediately noticed the increase in traffic that accompanies large cities. Riding on congested freeways always makes us a little more tense especially on motorcycles.
Ponte 25 de Abril (April 25 Bridge)
Crossing into Lisbon via the April 25 Bridge requires a toll of 1.85 euros per motorcycle.
The bridge was built in 1966 and originally named Ponte Salazar (Salazar Bridge). In 1974, it was renamed after the Carnation Revolution which started on April 25, 1974. This revolution led to the fall of the authoritarian dictatorship and the start of a democratic Portugal.
The red color and twin towers of this suspension bridge are often compared to the San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Although there are some similarities, the April 25 Bridge actually is closer in design to the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge which was built by the same company; American Bridge Company.
Next Blog Post
Join us next blog post, as we walk among the colorful streets of Portugal’s capital city of Lisbon and experience the various styles of street art, some famous sites, and even a carnival-themed sardine shop!
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such an amazing coastline, cliff area – reminds me of the one from Narnia, in New Zealand 🙂 the shark boat – genius 🙂 love it such a nice area you are in, lovely
It sounds like we need to add a push-pin to visit Narnia, NZ.
Today I was the one who learned something from you. I had no idea that Repsol had a refinery in Portugal!! My father worked all his life at the Repsol refinery in Puertollano (Ciudad Real province), where I’ve been living until I was 18