Last week I had to go to Lisbon for work, and luckily enough if I took a flight back in the evening, there was time to fit in a mountain bike ride before coming home. I searched on internet, first for the best places near to Lisbon (Sintra, 1/2 hour by train to the West came up) and then for bike hiring possibilities. I found portugalmountainbiking.com, but apparently their rented bikes always come with a guide, which wasn't really what I was looking for. On the other hand, they also advertised a shuttle service to the airport, which from the experiences I've had of that going wrong (or almost so) after trying to fit in as much cycling as possible before getting a train to the airport, sounded like a Good Idea.

Near Malveira da Serra
(c) Luis Lopes

If you have ever visited Lisbon, you will know that large parts of it are ridiculously steep, with roads that are hard work walking up, let alone for cycling, so I was a little nervous of just how bad it was going to be in the nearby hills of Sintra. That is of course the real benefit of going with a local guide, they know all the best trails and can adjust the route to the skills and fitness of the riders. That was indeed the case, my guide Luis found me the most brilliant trails to cycle along. That is not to say that they were easy, there are no trails there without steep bits. We had some serious inclines (18-20% maximum) and even steeper downhill bits. However, that was not the challenging aspect of the ride. Especially in the first half of the ride, the sand was quite slippery, and oddly enough in a quite different way from the sandy forest here. That meant that I was really struggling in some parts and annoyingly frequently had to get off and walk short technical stretches. That was quite frustrating as I had the idea that if only I could ride those trails a few times (and perhaps with different tyres) then it would have been ok. There were other technical patches which I didn't feel so bad about stopping for, especially the bridges made out of damp slippery logs at an angle and with scary drops next to them. Needless to say, my guide Luis not only sailed up the hills without even getting slightly out of breath but bounded over all the technical bits like he went that way on a frequent basis. Maybe there was a reason for that. More to the point, he did a super job of warning me about difficult bits coming up and showed great patience with my slow and cautious style.


Although I wished I had some more skills when it came to the technical sections, when it came to the landscape, it could not have been better. Beautiful forests bathed in glorious sunlight, completely stuning views from the top and stupendous waves crashing against the cliffs by the sea. Even the areas which had been damaged by the fires earlier this year were interesting to see with Colchicum flowers (C. lusitanum, I suppose) and fresh bright green shoots of bracken fern poking up through the ash. The top of the hill had old chapel buildings, some parts of which went back to the 12th century. Another advantage of a having a guide, who can tell you about those things.


I would love to learn how to ride that landscape a bit better. A few days practicing round there would be nice. But for now I'm just hoping that another meeting will come up in Lisbon someday so that I can repeat the expereince again. That would be great.

For a few more photos, see my flikr album.




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