Friday, 26 February 2010

carrasqueiro-monchique gr13, 104 km

GR13 Via Algarviana, Carrasqueiro - Monchique
It is our second day on the Via Algarviana. After a superb evening meal, warm bed and extensive breakfast at Quinta do Coração in Carrasqueiro we are facing the transition from the Serra do Caldeirão to the Serra the Monchique through Algarve's barrocal area. This stage represents the most variety on the whole Algarviana itinerary. After the vast landscapes of eastern Algarve yesterday, we find constant change in tracks and surface, vegetation and scenery today.
The wider tracks change into many single trails along the limestone walls in the surroundings of Salir and Santa Margarida. The red and rocky trails are dry and well rideable. On wet days you may have difficulties here keeping the bike going while ploughing through the sticky clay. This fertile barrocal area is full of fig, almond, carob and cork trees. There are many farms and small hamlets that further west all seem to be occupied by the citrus culture. We are riding more small tarmac roads through the orange grooves in between Alte and São Bartolomeu de Messines. It makes easy cruising until we climb up a cobled road and descend into a valley. The narrow path along the Meirinho river soon becomes unrideable and we have to do a fair bit of walking next to our bikes crossing the river twice and struggling up the steep path away from the river bed. After Messines we go back to the slate rock mountain tracks along the Funcho reservoir and in the eucalyptus forest of the Serra de Silves.
A difficult section of this stage are the short but steep forestry trails across the hill tops north of Silves. Speeding down from one takes you half way up the next, but full force and small gear is needed to make it all up. This is repeted several times and makes a serious warming up for the Picota climb that's waiting for us on the other side of the Odelouca river. This climb is totally different for being long and steady. It is the longest climb on the whole Via Algarviana and as we move higher up the slate rock changes into grey granite and the nice tracks into steeper tarmac forest roads. After finally but happily having dragged our bicycles on top of the big Picota granite stones unfortunately we are left with almost no view at all. The summit is a misty affair as usual and it is too dark by now to enjoy cruising down the wonderful Picota single tracks through the dense forest to the village of Monchique. Another great day of intense biking on the Via Algarviana comes to an end at Hospedaria Descansa Pernas...

Distance: 103,73 km.

Accumulated ascent: 2396 m.

Our rating:

  • Technical difficulty: 3/5
  • Physical difficulty: 4/5
  • Scenery: 4/5

Points of interest:

  • Caldeirão, Natura 2000 PTCON0059,
  • Old water mill in the Seco river before Salir
  • Salir's 16th century main church
  • Ruins of the 12th or 13th century Moorish castle and archaeological site in Salir
  • Classified site of Rocha da Pena
  • Barrocal, Natura 2000 PTCON0049,
  • Alte's 8th century main church and 15th century chapel
  • The springs of Fonte Pequena and Fonte Grande in Alte
  • Cascade of Vigário near Alte's cemetery
  • 13th century Abóboda water mill at the Alte river
  • Casa Memória d'Alte museum
  • 16th century main church of São Bartolomeu de Messines
  • House of poet João de Deus in Messines
  • Menhirs and tombs of megalithic times near Vale Fuzeiros
  • Reproduction centre for the endangered Iberian lynx in between Vale Fuzeiros and the Funcho dam,,,
  • Silves has an extremely rich historical, cultural, archaeological and natural heritage. The town itself is a little off the Via Algarviana track to include all of it here, but Silves makes an excellent Algarviana overnight location or is worth a separate visit
  • Monchique, Natura 2000 PTCON0037,
  • Syenite geology of volcanic origin at Picota
  • Monchique's diversity in vegetation include for example rhododendron, chestnut and the classified Araucaria heterophylla (2), Platanus hybrida (1), Quercus canariensis (1) and Magnólia grandiflora (1)
  • Monchique's 15th and 16th century main church

Food & drinks:

  • Passing through the towns of Salir, Benafim, Alte and São Bartolomeu de Messines trekkers will find several cafés, restaurants and small supermarkets. Should one go up to Monchique without visiting Silves, then make sure to get sufficient supplies in Messines.

Track author: Almargem,,

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Friday, 5 February 2010

alcoutim-cachopo gr13, 75km

GR13 Via Algarviana, Alcoutim-Cachopo
The second signposted long distance (foot)path for Algarve is better known as the Via Algarviana. 300 km of tracks through the Algarvian interior linking Cape St. Vincent to Alcoutim and the rest of GR13 and the European network of so called Grande Randonées, or GR routes.
This idea had been cooking for a long time and it is thanks to the efforts of the Almargem organisation that the project was finally realised in 2009 trying to please walkers, mountain bikers, horseback riders and lovers of Algarvian nature and culture in general.
More than curious to find out how bikeable this GR route actually is we impatiently wait to find a free weekend. Obviously there are various ways to tackle a 300 km off road challenge. In order to reduce logistics to a minimum we choose for a 3 day set up, with 2 overnight stays on the route carrying a small back pack with items we think we can not do without.
Plan for the first day is to bike from Alcoutim to Barranco do Velho, doing the Via Algarviana from east to west. For the 4 of us living in central and western Algarve, this is the part of the route we know least. However the Via Algarviana gives us a beautiful introduction to the rural scenery of the east. Hardly any tarmaced roads, well rideable tracks. Away from it all through vast hilly landscapes with olive, almond, cork, oak, reforested pine, rock rose, lavender and arbutus (medronheiro). The ride is highlighted by occasional passages through tiny villages with their communal wood ovens. Houses, haystacks, farm terraces and streets are often entirely made of local slate rock. This also reminds us to be extra careful while descending since these sharp stones can cut through bicycle tires far too easily.
To our relief we found the Via Algarviana fairly well signposted. Bikers have less time than walkers to notice the markings, especially when it's going down hill, but the characteristic red and white markings are there. Those regularly participating in mtb marathons or similar events know that you have to reserve some of your energy for navigation and looking for signs. It took us some searching leaving the village of Balurcos and after crossing the wide Foupana river. To a certain degree this makes a part of self guided biking, but a few improvements could be made. Hopefully the maintenance of the Via Algarviana will be continued and organised in communication and interaction with those who have been exploring it.
Scenerywise GR13 makes a very good mtb route. However it is not an easy trip. There's a few big hills to climb as can easily be seen in the altitude graphic. Future participants better make sure to be well prepared and fit otherwise there is just not enough fun and pleasure in riding it.
This can be illustrated by the fact that after a full day of riding, not that many breaks and no technical problems we find ourselves in the pretty town of Cachopo with 75 km covered. It is mid December and almost 16.00 hrs which tells us that we probably do not have enough time left to make the tough 29 km to Barranco do Velho by daylight. That's a bummer because the Odeleite valley ahead of us is a fantastic area for mountain biking. However the idea of trying to find our way in there in total darkness does not have a lot of support. We decide to make it to Barranco do Velho following main road 124 and all agree that it was a wonderful day of biking on the Via Algarviana.

Distance: 75,04 km.

Acumulated ascent: 1706 m.

Our rating:

  • Tecnical difficulty: 2/5
  • Physical difficulty: 3/5
  • Scenery: 4/5

Points of interest

  • Guadiana, Natura 2000 PTCON0036,
  • Alcoutim's 14th century castle, Castelo da Vila
  • 8th century Moorish fortress just outside Alcoutim, Castelo Velho
  • Alcoutim's archaeological museum
  • Alcoutim's 16th century main church
  • Museum of religious art/16th-18th century chapel in Alcoutim
  • St. António's Chapel, Alcoutim
  • Megalitic menhirs of Lavajo at Cortes Pereiras
  • Dolmen of Anta do Malhão at Afonso Vicente
  • Old copper mines at Furnazinhas
  • Wind mills at Furnazinhas, Azinhosa, Graínho, Alcarias de Baixo and Casas Baixas
  • Mining park Cova dos Mouros at Vaqueiros
  • Ethnographic and anthropological museum nucleus in Cachopo
  • Cachopo's 16th century church.

Food & drinks:

  • Several cafés and restaurants in Alcoutim
  • Snack bar Tempero, Cortes Pereiras
  • Café Nikko, Balurcos de Baixo
  • Snack bar Ti Emídio, Corte Velha
  • A few cafés in Furnazinhas
  • Casa de Pasto Teixeira, Vaqueiros
  • Several cafés and restaurants in Cachopo

Track author: Almargem,,

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