Sardines and Singletrack Part 3: The Sintra Sessions

Originally posted on January 20, 2020 at 4:20 am by Leslie Kehmeier

With nearly 200 miles of pedaling in our legs, we were happy to start the second week in Portugal with a day of shuttling trails. With eucalyptus smells blasting our faces, we had traded frame bags for fanny packs, well on our way up to a fun week of trail riding.  

Based just north of Lisbon, in the historic city of Sintra, we were now immersed in one of the more popular tourist zones in Portugal. Our lodging, Casa Do Valle, was perched on the edge of a mountain of trails, an ideal spot for a smooth transition from the ultra rural setting of the previous week’s bikepacking adventure. It felt more like a mountain retreat than a bed and breakfast in a busy visitor area. Certainly, we intended to take advantage of the good eats and sights of Sintra, but our main priority was to soak up the mountain bike experience. 

Sintra, despite its compact size, has plenty of trails, no doubt enough for the two days that we planned to be in the area. In actuality, when all was said and done, we did not come close to seeing the majority of it. The first run, through a section of dense forest was short and sweet, a good way to experience the rawness of the place both in terms of landscape and trails. I was really stoked – I absolutely love natural singletrack, the kind that gets developed with minimalist building techniques and gives priority to texture and topography. I came to find out through our guides from WeRide, that it is the hallmark of the Sintra trails. Together with the local government, they work closely with volunteers to keep things as ‘organic’ as possible. 

If the first run got me excited, the second run had me over the moon. We dropped into a route called Pedra Branca, meaning white rock. It also meant giant granite boulders and slabs, something akin to riding in the Lake Tahoe area. Who could ask for a better situation – brown loam for traction and white decomposed granite for drifting. We were in heaven! The last run of the day was the icing on the cake, a quick section of trail in the forest, followed by a scenic descent through streets of a small village to a local pasteleria (pastry shop) where we washed the day’s dirt down with a cold cerveja and a pasties de nata. While the beer is universal, the pasteis de nata is Portugal’s famous custard tart. We came to found out it is not the country’s only dessert. In fact, one could actually try a new dessert every day for a month and not repeat…challenge accepted! 

“We’re half-way to the halfway point” teased our guide João, co-owner of WeRide. While grinding our way up a slow climb up after lunch on the second day, the batas fritas (fried potatoes), petrol (a mix seven-up and red wine) and eggs from the Refugio de Ciclista are sitting a little bit heavy. The day so far had been just as stellar as the previous and we had yet to experience the best part. At the top, we made our way over to the Enchanted Forest, a place that, as you would probably imagine, is dark and dense with mist and creaky trees. With time running short, we sampled a few quick “creepy cool” sections of before dropping into the queen stage of Sintra. 

It is not often that I have ridden from the top of a mountain downhill to the ocean, exactly what was before of us on the Donkey trail. I wish I could say the name comes from the experience (because it kicks a#$!), but rather it refers back to a time when ships used to bring goods to a port on the coast to be shuttled by burros to regal palaces on the top of the mountain. These days roads and cars shuttle supplies, leaving us with our bikes to rally down what humans and animals pounded in over 500 years ago.  

A loose doubletrack drop-in got the party started, taking us to a rocky meadow and through a towering mound of car-sized granite boulders. With the Atlantic Ocean in the background it was hard to navigate the slabs and drops without being distracted by the amazing views. Eventually, we find our way to the lower reaches of the route, cruising through a passageway to took us to another one of those wild and rugged beaches that make the Portuguese coastline so special.  

During aprés ride, we soak up the highlights of the Sintra sessions over coffee and yet another delicious Portuguese dessert, and joyfully ponder what the trails of the north will bring in the coming days. 


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