Ayamonte/Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Tavira by Back Roads

We bought a holiday apartment in Ayamonte about 3 years ago.

Ayamonte is a lovely town on the Atlantic on the Spanish side of the River Guadiana, the Portuguese town on the other side being Vila Real de Santo Antonio. The cycling on the Portuguese side is much better but Portugal has a major problem with maps and due to military restrictions maps with decent detail of minor roads are not available or they are (probably deliberately) very misleading. Google maps is similarly limited in this respect. Tavira is a lovely town about 15 miles on the main horribletocycle N125 road. I mean reallyreallyhorribletocycle. There is a motorway a bit inland.

Anyway it took me twelve efforts to work out a route on minor roads to Tavira, but it is wonderful and I'm documenting it here for benefit of someone who's looking for it online.


Apartments in Ayamonte

There is a river ferry to Portugal which leaves Spain on the half hour and Portugal on the hour, in winter and more frequently in summer. This is cheap, costing 2.50 for a cyclist and a bike, each way. You cannot get a return ticket due to fulminant unrepentant Iberobureaucracy.

The very pleasant transfluvial trip takes about 15 mins. You cycle onto the boneshattering cobblepocked quay in Portugal and tremble your way northward for about 400m when you encounter a Christian surface and turn west. This road parallels the railway track for about half a mile or so and then you head north for a bit with sea or marsh on both sides. You can see flamingoes here now and again. As you approach Castromarim you may see small houses on your right. These are for Mr. and Mrs.Pigeon rather than Senor El Portuguez. You can either cross the road to get to Castomarim or cycle the hilly flyover. If you take the flyover turn left and sweep around into the Main Street, passing the Moorish looking fort. The main street drops down onto the flat. As you cycle along you see cafes. Stop at one on the left called Encontro dos Amigos. This is run by two tiny sisters. Really tiny. I think they're pituitary dwarves (I used to be a doctor). Here you can get two large white coffees and two cakes for the extortionate price of 2.80 Euro. Two coffees in Portuguese is pronounced Doysh caffeysh. It sometimes appears that every word in this Russian-sounding language ends in sh.
Sit here looking at Portugal passing by and talking. The Portuguese are great talkers and very very sociable. They just WOULDN'T DO in the home counties!

Suitably refreshed, mount your trusty steed and head west. As you proceed into farmland you will no doubt see cattle and cattle egrets, and further on, storks.

You come to a roundabout but go straightabout. The main traffic goes left but you go straight. After a mile or so, you go over the motorway on a bridge. After this, at this time of year you will see Storks on concrete electricity poles with there large nests looking like Jamie Oliver's hair, but somewhat tidier. The countryside in the Algarve, for here we are, is lovely. White houses, lots of wild flowers at this time of year, hills, farms, old wells, little untidy villages, lush valleys, all kinds of plants, numerous kinds of trees, streams etc. You keep going straight, i.e. west. There are a few roundabouts and side-roads and Satan will tempt you to enter them, but heed not this tempter. You will pass through Pisa Barra de Baixo according to a sign. This must mean something like Pisa Barro with Nothing There, because it certainly is no village. Then you go through Pisa Barro de Cima, which is a little village. The main road veers left and so do you, rather than following the cloven-footed one uphill to the right. A short while after the main road veers to the left uphill, Satan's alternative being a small road uphill to the right.
You cross the bridge and there's a "fair pull" up this road, with the newly developed far-too-expensive Monte Re golf course on both sides of the road. This looks amazing but it's not doing well as it's too dear and Spain and Portugal, as well as most of Europe are in a financial dungheap at the moment.
Eventually you reach a T-Junction. You turn left and coast downhill for a mile or so. You reach a roundabout where on the left you will see the imperious entrance to Monte Re (or is it Monterey or Monte Rey?). Take the first exit, Santa Rita sign, and again at the adjacent roundabout. You continue to Santa Rita on a lovely high-perched road with colourful hilly Algarve scenery to the right.

Algarve is like all Spanish or Portuguese words beginning with "Al" (Arabic the) of Moorish Origin. It means "the West". The road then sweeps southward over a bridge across the hellroad N125. You enter Santa Rita, a typical untidy and charming rural Portuguese village with some cobbles and after a short while this surface yields to ordinary tarmac and you are exiting the village. Ahead, you see a sign for a road to the left, but that, for the moment is Satan's plan. Just after this road, you see a small house on the left with green paint and a kind of brown trimming. Just opposite this is a lurking lane to the right. This is the true and correct path. This is another lovely quiet country lane.

Your next landmark is Cumeada. Ignore other directions and keep straight or take signs for Cumeada. Now Cumeada is not a rival for Lisbon, or even Pisa Barro de Baixo, as there's nothing there at all except a bar, and not a great bar at that. As you approach the bar you could turn sharp left or go to the left or right of it. The right is the right way, so keep to its right and you now will gradually descend to the edge of the village of Almargem. Here you turn left along a country road with rushes, orange trees etc., and go over a charming cobbled white arched bridge,

and then left about half a mile to the N125. On the corner there is a big ceramics place which has a reasonable cafe if that's what you want. You could buy garden gnomes etc. here were that your heart's desire but somehow bicycles and garden gnomes don't seem to go together. Perhaps someday a Reynolds 531 Bicycle Gnome will be introduced, but as they'd say in Tipperary, there wouldn't be much "take" for it!

You are now about 2k or so from Tavira. You head west and take the second exit on the second roundabout, first on the next and then third exit and over a big humpbacked bridge. At its bottom veer right and you'll find your way into this nice town. There are lovely old Churches and so on.

When you leave Tavira you end up on the N125 a bit west of the roundabout on which you entered, so proceed east until you see the Ceramics place on the other side of the road. Retrace your steps as far as the green house in Santa Rita. You can return the way you came, but there is a different route to Castromarim which is also attractive so here goes.
At the green house turn left and then immediately right, and take the left fork which ensues almost immediately. Were you to take the right, that would bring you down towards the N125.
Keep going on this road until you come to a T junction. (At one point you will come to a river where there can be a bit of a stream across the road. Sometimes you may have to cycle through shallow water.) Anyway, at the T junction, go right. This takes you down onto a bigger road on which you turn left, and as you do you will see a left turn on a small road labelled Portela. This is what you want. Keep going on this until you come to another T. Here you climb a bit of a hill and at the top you veer left and then over a little bridge for Portela. This is only a few yards. Over the bridge turn IMMEDIATELY left (i.e., at the bridge). Keep going straight on this, including through a roundabout and eventually you will come down to Castromarim Station. This is not IN Castromarim, but about 2 miles from it. Turn left and cycle to Castromarim, going through the roundabout which you first traversed on your way from Castromarim. From Castromarim reverse your route to Vila Real.
The total route is something like 40 miles or so.

10 comments on “Ayamonte/Vila Real de Santo Antonio to Tavira by Back Roads”

  1. Patrick wrote:

    Garry wrote: The cycling on the Portuguese side is much better but Portugal has a major problem with maps and due to military restrictions maps with decent detail of minor roads are not available or they are (probably deliberately) very misleading. Google maps is similarly limited in this respect.

    It's all there on Google Earth, I think. Just to the west of Castro Marim there's a huge area of land laid out in 7 rectangles exactly North-South. What is that? Solar panels? If you search Google Earth for Ayamonte you can see it clearly.

  2. Garry Lee wrote:

    It is indeed! This detail was not there the last time I looked, and I've looked plenty of times. I think that these are salt pans. There's a lot of salt produced from drying sea-water in this area. The area south of Castromarim is a salt-water marsh.

  3. Kern wrote:

    This post brought to mind one of my personal favourite cycling trip reports by Michael Fiebach. Its current place of residence is http://cyclepass.com/t_03_Portugal.html. If you want to read his entire odyssey, the "home, James" link at the bottom is a dead-end; goto cyclepass.com > Mike's Bicycle Touring Stories.

  4. Garry wrote:

    I read the Portuguese bit. Good writer though he doesn't describe the cycling as such, as I would. The 1755 earthquake had an interesting impact on Co.Cork. There is a small town called Rosscarbery to the east of Skibbereen. It has a shallow and useless bay. This was silted up by the tidal wave caused by the said earthquake. Before that, Rosscarbery had a population of 10,000 and was a big busy port.
    His account of history is a bit biased to my mind. The Moors were invaders and though some historians describe them as being "benign", all populations would prefer a "benign invader" to stay at home! They did after all sack Santiago and so on. Interestingly their genetic imprint is really only seen in Andalucia, as the Anglo-Saxon imprint is strong only in the east of England and so on. The Moors had a huge impact on cookery, on farming and on mathematics, though it was the Indians who developed the concept of zero, as far as I know. OTOH, their contribution to womens' rights was a big zero, I imagine!!

  5. Kern wrote:

    Interesting about Rosscarbery. It looks like the narrow neck at the entrance would have trapped the water in the bay, allowing the sediment to settle before the backwash could suck it out. We may swing by there en route this spring.

    The history bit leads to a whole other philosophical discussion. To my mind there is no single version of historical truth, based on the "perception is reality" view of life, and everyone's perception of a set of facts differs. I heard an interesting comment last summer that oral histories are the most accurate, because orators were trained to repeat the original account without embellishment.

    None of which has anything to do with cycling per se, except that discovering the history of a land is one of the pleasures we get from touring. No matter how much we read about a country, there's nothing like pedaling through the artifacts of the past to alter our book-bound perceptions. Pure pleasure.

  6. Garry Lee wrote:

    While I can see that people perceive facts differently, there are nonetheless areas where people choose to ignore very serious facts in their interpretation of history. The British would have considered us Irish priest-ridden, which we undoubtedly were until about 25 years ago, at the same time ignoring the fact of the House of Lords where Bishops sit. President De Gaulle once announced at a big meeting in France, out of the blue, that he wanted "All American military personnel and equipment out of France in one month". Dean Rusk, the then American Foreign Secretary, who was present, quietly asked "Does that include all of those who are buried here, M.le Predident?"
    The British have a statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the house of Commons. He was a proto-ethnic cleanser and by the admission of every British historian behaved disgracefully in Ireland. During his four years here a quarter of the population died. As a measure of what an idiot Michael Foot was, he greatly admired him.
    The violent Republican movement in this country sanitises its history and the way things are going, Gerry Adams will soon be portrayed as an offshoot of the Dalai Lama. This is a man who says he was never a member of the IRA and yet was the leader of the IRA in Long Kesh.?
    There are people in history who are much admired for being "statesmen", "strong leaders" and such like. In many cases the hidden meaning is "psychopathic thug" 😉

  7. Bernard wrote:

    "Portugal has a major problem with maps and due to military restrictions maps with decent detail of minor roads are not available or they are (probably deliberately) very misleading"

    hmm, do you think they fear an invasion?

    Maybe if you researched a little you would be surprised as to how good Portuguese maps really are, and they're available online.
    For starters I suggest you check the Portuguese Army's Geographical Institute at http://www.igeoe.pt/ where all military maps available to the public at a detailed 1:25 000 scale (trails and paths included...) You can purchase these online and the site is available in 5 languages, including English.
    The Portuguese Bicycle Federation also has detailed cycling maps available for its 30 000 members; registration and annual fee includes insurance, newsletters, activities nationwide (lots in the Algarve also) and costs under 30€ per year. The site is quite comprehensive, basic knowledge of Portuguese is recommended: http://www.fpcub.pt.
    Good pedalling in Portugal

  8. Garry wrote:

    This is very interesting. I enquired extensively about 3 years ago, in bookshops, in Portuguese tourist offices and so on. I was told that there was a restricion. Whether there was or not I don't know, but I do know that the generally available maps are useless and have roads on them which don't exist and gross errors. I'll get the ones you've indicated when I next go there.
    Thanks!!

  9. Bernard wrote:

    The military maps have been available to all public since I can remember (my grandparents had them) and have been available for purchase online for quite a few years.
    The tourist office maps have the advantage of being free, but usually they're not detailed, worst of all are Michelin maps which are full of mistakes for the entire country, but seem more or less correct for neighbouring Spain.
    At any store you can find both Turinta and German Verlag maps for the Algarve with reasonable quality (maybe you've been looking in Spain or the UK).
    Cycle well and enjoy Portugal!

  10. Bernard wrote:

    Some more [PORTUGUESE] maps for cyclists interested in the Algarve:

    http://geo.algarvedigital.pt/index.aspx?poiID=101018&tema=ortofotos&scale=2500# available in English also

    http://www.ecoviasalgarve.org/mapa.php cycling program available for the Algarve "Ecovias", in Portuguese only

    As for those ghostly restrictions on maps, or drinking hours for that matter, I'm still looking for them but I don't think these ever existed in Portugal 8)

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