Spectacular trails in Sintra National Park, Portugal and through the old town of Lisbon
Original review (german only) at RED BULL Austria here
From Maria Sendlhofer-Schag / bikefex.at on February 16, 2017
One of my - at least for myself - most unpleasant quirks is that overwhelming pleasant anticipation for a new adventure which leaves me sleepless the night before 'it' starts. But as soon as the taxi is waiting in front of my door at 4:00am in the morning and I get seated between bikes and bags, my own body wakes me up. It’s kicking in, better than three double Espressos. Holger and Rene are still sleeping with their eyes open.
A month ago I packed my skiing bag and walked through the airport; now I’m comfortably carrying my bike bag next to me: destination South! "Land of the "pastel de nata" and Porto wine: for the next week you are mine!"
In shorts and T-shirt
The welcoming sun in Lisbon feels like a warm hug. The short-short season has begun. I finally arrived to Surfcamp owned by Martin Roll and I’m immediately looking for my flip flops to put on. But before we even have a chance to build our bikes together, Holger puts us into a thick wetsuit and hands us a board. Swell, tide and a few other terms that I do not understand would be just great - we have to do that now.
Surfboard! = air mattress
Apart from the fact that such a neoprene suit is the most unpleasant pijama one can imagine - a surfboard is not an air mattress for chilling. And if the temperatures look like early summer, the Atlantic ocean is f****** cold in April. Cold as a mountain lake, definitely not a thermal pool. I've tried, honestly, but after one hundred nasal purges, I decide for myself - fair enough as an inhabitant of an interior land - it is totally ok to prefer to water in a different gaseous state. In addition to that, freeride jerseys conceal female problem areas much better than a whole-body suite. So much for that.
Yes, we can: WERIDE
I prefer to stay ashore and lead my beautiful bike to its destination. We are not only here for vacation, we want to scout the area to emerge a new bike program. And we meet with locals for biking. These locals call themselves WERIDE and are a sympathetic bunch of guides, with a lot of enthusiasm and joy in the matter - exactly our type. Under the blue WERIDE tricot, a story / an English teacher, an architect and an opera singer are joining us in Portugals trails. Interesting people who know many exciting things to tell. It is amazing to bike through the old town of Lisboa with a local architect! Lonely Planet, Baedeker and consorts can’t keep up with that.
We have our first Meet & Greet & Ride in Sintra. This region is situated west of Lisbon on the coast and marks the westernmost point of continental Europe. The cultural landscape of Sintra has been a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage since 1995.
"WE prefer to go uphill comfortably and rock downhill," we are briefly informed about the personal preferences of our guides. Hugos sparkling eyes and his 34 teeth chain ring make me smile too and also suspicious. His brand new carbon Enduro is shining in the sun and I am packing one more layer of suncream on my legs. Let’s hope for a magic effect during the next days. At least I smell good.
Shortly afterwards we are standing in a dense, damp forest, the trails are fast and also steep, partly with built jumps and berms, in between mossy stones and wet roots. Places for fiddling, tree slalom, small wooden bridges and fords. Strangely, it is foggy even though it is actually a wonderful sunny day.
Braking is a sign of fear
The guys give gas and let it crash. Holger and Rene just stick to Hugo's and Miguel's rear wheel. I lack this kind of primal trust, and I prefer to find my own line, but if I get too far away, I have a hard time to find the right path. It's the 34 teeth time now: as soon as it gets a little flatter, there is no relaxing cruising and looking into the area but stand-up pedalling to burn the thighs. Well ok, training mode ON. With my 30 teeth chain ring and the lack of resistance in the last gear, I feel like a mixer.
Time goes by and after seven hours and some epic descents we can totally feel our legs. But the best part of the day lies still in front of us and it is called 'Donkey Trail': a seemingly endless path in the coastal area that just ends at a secluded beach - just in time for sunset. We are overwhelmed. And we are as hungry as a bear. Fortunately, Hugo knows the right place to go and I can taste my first Bacalhau, it was great.
Lisbon and Monsanto
João takes over in Lisbon. We start in the Parque Florestal de Monsanto. No, this is not about pesticides. It is the 900 ha large recreational area of the "Lisboetas". A park planned and built around 1938 by the architect Francisco Keil do Amaral. A rather hilly area, which has been completely reforested and planted for the purpose of recreation. There are riding paths, climbing spots, sports facilities... And of course trails, trails, trails for bikers! Because of the diversity of the terrain I’m struggling not to loose the guys - and myself. But it happened and it increased my mobile phone roaming charges: "At the beehive left?" - "There was no turn at all and what beehive?" You cannot rely on tire tracks - they lead in all directions, Monsanto houses the hometrails of the Lisbon biker scene. Accordingly, they are also cherished and cared for and above all: they are used by many bikers.
We enjoy this huge playground all day long until João leads us into the city late in the afternoon. A city tour with a MTB flavour. It is great to see all of those old streets and buildings, but riding there with my own bike is marvellous. Memories of previous visits are popping up. But now I can cruise through the old town, relax on my bike and enjoy the beautiful scenery without having a look on a city map every five minutes.
Rapunzel listening to Fado
At 8:00pm we are invited to a small family restaurant in Bairro Alto. The bikes are just left outside of the bar and nearly block the whole alley. João knows the owners and they not only offer excellent traditional food but also great Fado music.
We learn quickly that once the show is started and musicians are playing and singing, we have to chew gently and be quiet - no gossip talk allowed here. Unfortunately, I do not understand a single word, but it is definitely very dramatic. Probably someone knows someone who knows someone who once won the lottery and the receipt has been burned down with the house? Or the good-looking boy must leave the country for political reasons, the fiancée promises to wait until she can finally forget him with progressive dementia, a gray streak flashes in the light of the sunset, fade out, aperture, change of scene. My imagination is going wild and I am very entertained.
Every small musical break, the waitress is running from table to table to fill up the glasses. The appearance may be deceptive, but our table is more often visited than others. And every time she moves closer to me, caressing my cheek, sometimes my hair. It’s no solution, not to drink and order. She keeps on coming to our table. Damn it, what’s going on here?
I could have guessed: the reason is my red hair. Shortly afterwards I’m officially called Rapunzel and we are asked to sign a thick guestbook. What's closer to cutting a single curl? A Leatherman has many features and can help in so many situations - it cuts hair quite well. Now they stick beside our names in the guestbook and I got a big kiss in addition to an even bigger hug.
Nightride and Soulmates
João warned us not to eat too much… didn’t help. The uphill to the castle with our full stomach was challenging and the muscles in our legs are complaining about the uneven blood distribution in our bodies. Those who don’t know the old town of Lisboa: the streets are partly very steep and the alleys are more like staircases and footpaths.
The castle has been locked just before we arrived, so we continue to the "miradouro" and enjoy a fantastic view over Bairro Alto and the lights of the city. The last downhill of the day starts here: over the many stairs and through narrow lanes, past strolling tourists with their cell phones. We also ride parts of the city downhill circuit. Sometimes I have fortune favours, that my unusually wide handlebars do not get stuck with a handrail or wall. At the bottom, in the middle of the city, endorphins rush in and we are totally awake again.
So what to do with the night? Correct. Biking from the Baixa Pombalina to Bairro Alto. The Bohemian corner and all the pubs of the city - João knows the best place for ice cream - Santini in Baixa Chiado. Afterwards, we walk through the crowd of party people and enjoy the nightlife. And somehow, we reached the subway station for the last train back to Monsanto and Martin's van. A fast ride to the ticket counter, but after the barrier we have to push the bikes. 12 hours of riding and intense life are over.
Ericeira and coastal flowers
The rest of the trip we are exploring the surrounding area of Martin's Surfcamp in Ericeira on our own. We also take a closer look at the coastal walk. At this time of the year the otherwise rather sparse vegetation shows a colourful flower dress. Climbs can quickly become hikes but the view to the sea is amazing. Holger is getting nervous when beautiful big waves are rolling in. I believe that those are the moments when his surfer heart is trying to fight the MTB heart. Landlubbers like me don’t have such problems - right?
Rene had a lesson to learn: it’s not a good idea to hand me his credit card to buy some stuff from the "pastelaria" without precise orders. Hungry and with his money, I probably exaggerated a little bit. I returned with the two tablets of Pastel de Nata in all different kinds. And from my point of view it was definitely worth it!
We enjoy our time and collect impressions, moments of happiness and sunny days. In the camp, where wetsuits and surfboards are normally put to be cleaned from salt water, we shower the dust from our bikes. At least the colours of our bikes fit to the rather colourful surfing equipment in the garage.
There is no trail on the surfboard
But towards the end of the week, Martin insists that we try surfing one more time. He asked Flávio, his main surf-trainer, to show us some basic skills. We have run up and down the beach in those wetsuits, dry paddling in the sand and jumping up to the board on command. Have I already mentioned that these neoprene suits are not quite breathable? In a short time, it gets very hot and I’m looking forward to the icy Atlantic.
The current is much stronger than at the beginning of the week. I have to fight my way through the white water to Flávio. The waves determine the rhythm. There’s no time for waiting and thinking. And they come in very short intervals. I cannot wait for the moment when I feel ready, I have to adjust myself and be ready when the moment comes. This is new to me and probably my biggest challenge.
And at some point, after the most frequent dive, I manage not to tip forward or tilt backwards or sideways, but just get up and stand still. And very briefly I have a slight idea of how it could feel. And soon the water is only mouse-knee deep and the fun is over.
Who knows, maybe I am not such a huge landlubber as I thought and there’s room for improvement. But there’s enough time to find out. And until then, my bike is my best friend - and "pastel de nata", and port wine, and Portugal…