Last summer, Charity and her boyfriend Hugh were in the market for an intrepid Iberian trip.
A little bit of online research later and they had selected their route: they would start in Salamanca before heading into the Parque Natural de Arribes del Duero and then tracking the Douro river down (and up) into Peso da Regua.
After a glorious day-and-a-half of downhill out of the southern Spanish city across 'cowboy country' they were geared up for a few days of relaxed riding under the beautiful blue skies of August, blissfully unaware of the arduous ascents that they were rapidly approaching.
Riding down into Pinhão on the banks of the Douro river, a night in a tiny hamlet near Lumbrales
When to go
Late spring or early autumn
Why is it Europe's best?
|'The scenery is just ridiculous. It’s so dramatic. Stunning.'
With a rough route in mind and a few years of riding under their belts, Charity and Hugh booked flights ordered bikes from cycling-rentals.com for their adventure. The Portuguese company comes moderately recommended by them both - just select the bike you'd like (carbon, aluminum, road, touring, e-) and where you'd like to have them delivered to and they'll sort out the rest. Simples!
If you decide to rent from cycling-rentals.com, Charity would recommend re-confirming the order with them a few days in advance. She was delivered two extra panniers (she had taken her own) and had to carry the surplus bags for the whole trip. It's also worth giving the bike a quick check-over before setting off to avoid any mechanical issues down the road. Otherwise, the bikes did the job just great.
Setting off from Salamanca, Charity and Hugh enjoyed a first couple of days of very easy riding through rural southern Spain. After arriving one afternoon in Lumbrales they had a wander through the town before meandering down to a small nearby hamlet for their favourite night of the trip.
With the 'most delicious steak and red wine' and the gentle humdrum of cows trundling through the streets, their B & B was a perfect tonic to the furious pace of everyday life. Dogs dozed in doorways and locals sat on deserted streets soaking up the last of the summer's day with a drink. They could get used to this!
After another half day or so in the saddle, the terrain started to change and became undulating; forcing Charity and Hugh up seemingly never-ending hills. Many borders in Europe are mountainous - the steep terrain providing a natural buffer zone between two territories - and they soon learned that the Portuguese-Spanish line is no exception.
While the landscape was spectacular, the climbs were punishing in the mid-August heat and sometimes the only way to stick to tarmac roads was to continue uphill (past enticing but excessively sandy downhill tracks). So tough was their route that it was, in fact, part of 2017's Volta a Portugal, which Charity and Hugh happened to stumble upon a few days into their ride when they found themselves being absorbed into the peloton!
After a couple of days in the mountains, Charity and Hugh were relieved to join the Douro river and pedal down into the small towns of Pinhão and Peso da Régua. The area is full of beautiful port vineyards and estates and the pair went to stay at the house of a German count - a beautiful home with a conservatory overlooking the rolling terraced hills.
Their original aim had been to cycle all the way to Porto but after some very tough days in the saddle, and with nothing but hills between them and the coastal city they made the wise decision to hop onto a vehicle with a few more wheels and take in the breathtakingly beautiful landscape from the comfort of the train.