I can’t think of a better way to get to know your surroundings, and find some real reflection time, than getting on a bicycle and hitting the open road. I spent an incredible week doing just that in the Alentejo, Portugal. What a beautiful part of the world it is. It is hilly, has an ancient feel and is full of cork and olive trees. While cycling through these parts, I got completely lost in another world.
The first thing I did was book into a hotel in Evora (the old roman town in the Alentejo). It was a 3-star, with breakie, for 27euros a night – quite a bargain, I thought. The idea was to base myself there and take day trips on the bike to all the places of interest. All I had to do was find a way to get my bike and I there from Lisbon. A ferry across the river to South Bank, a Setubal-bound train that got me to a station somewhere in the middle, then a 90km pedal to Evora, and I was there. It’s a lovely town, now a Unesca World Heritage Site, with its narrow cobbled streets, and old Roman facades and pillars still intact.
The best part about having a bike GPS was that my journey there took me on country lanes and off the beaten track a little. Somewhere in the middle, I cycled through beautiful olive groves and didn’t see one person – no cars, no traffic, no cell phone reception, just complete silence. A short 25 minute stop under an olive tree to find shelter from the rain couldn’t dampen my spirits. It added to the raw nature of it all. Before I knew it, the sun came out again and I was back on my bike heading towards Evora. I felt completely safe and without fear, just solitary and doing a lot of thinking.
When you look at a world map, Portugal is tiny, but just in the 30km of olive plantation I travelled through, I doubt the world will ever be short of olives or olive oil. Of course there’s the vineyards as well. The Alentejo is famous for its wines, and i just found out that Portugal is the 6th biggest producer of wine in the world. Interesting.
You feel like you are travelling through an ancient world out there. I came across a 16-century convent, old churches, old aqueducts and apparently, in some areas, the old store rooms for the wine are from Roman times.
My travels also took me to the old neolithic stone circles which are believed to be 7000 years old; absolutely incredible. They were only discovered in the 60’s and are believed to be the biggest stone circles in Iberic Western Europe. I cycled on farm roads to get there, and the only other people in sight were a French couple and an American – all archaeological enthusiasts. It was mind blowing! It is interesting because Portugal is not on the so-called hip travellers route, and I think people are missing out on something special. maybe better to keep it that way.
The stones I saw are called the menhirs (Cromlech of Almedres), over 95 stones in an sort of semicircle. It is a powerful place. The Almendres Cromlech rings are an arrangement of 95 granite menhir stones which form two rings – a circular ring to the east and a larger oval ring to the west. The smaller ring to the east contains the oldest stones and was constructed during the early Neolithic (6,000bc) era. The larger oval ring was built during the Almendres era of approximately 5,000bc.
Interesting and unique stones of the Almendres Cromlech include:
Stone 48: features a small figure holding a staff or crosier .
Stone 57: was purposely flattened on one-side and displays a series of thirteen images of objects of ancient social prestige.
Stone 56: has the representation of a human face and is considered as a menhir statue, possibly of a god or deity.
Stone 76: has an anthropomorphic figure with similarities to stone 56.
Stone 64: this stone is located near the centre of the main ring and displays heavy engraved patterns.
Stone 58: is the primary stone that indicates a connection with the stars as the representation includes three solar disc and lines indicating sunrays.
Every day I discovered something new, and a thought that did go through me, was how great it would be to buy a little farm house and do it up with solar pillars, and be self-sufficient as a complete getaway. I think what is appealing about this all, is the weather is so good (even in winter), you have room to move away from people, it is cheap to live, and you feel completely safe and quite care free. People laughed at me when I locked my bike up at restaurants and other places. It’s a soulful place. I found out that the whole of Portugal is only 10 million people, less than London and its surrounds.
What an adventure, I am hooked on this cycling thing. The best way to discover any place if you have a little bit of time. And you can truly smell the roses, well in this case, the olives.