Sardines and Singletrack Part 4: Adventures in the North

Originally posted on January 27, 2020 at 9:08 am by Leslie Kehmeier

To get to the north we decided to go by train rather than automobile or plane, relying on our previous travel experience to “wing it.” How hard could it be anyway? Most of the time it can be as simple as getting on the train, buying a ticket and figuring the rest out as you go. Sometimes you get it wrong, and in the case of traveling from Sintra to the northern city of Braga, we got it really wrong. Like we got kicked off the train wrong. Thankfully we took it all in stride and arrived only 5 hours later than expected. The more I travel, the less I worry about these situations. My motto is, someone will tell you if you are doing it wrong, otherwise act like you have been there before. 

After the train debacle, we awoke the next morning to church bells and the sun filtering into our room. Gone were the sounds of Sintra’s busy streets, replaced by the quietness of rural north Portugal. We are staying in Quinta do Bárrio, a countryside villa on the upper end of Terras de Bouro, a small village that seemed to be blissfully frozen in time. After rebuilding our bikes, we find our guide Gomes on the street to commence our first day of riding. At the top of the shuttle wild horses are there to greet us, surrounded by a landscape that was quite unique. House-sized granite boulders littered the rugged landscape, drenched in sun and blue skies. It was a nice surprise, quite unexpected really, reminding me that I will never stop be amazed by the world, no matter how long I travel. 

Due to a late start, we only get one run in before hungry stomachs lead us toward lunch. Gomes points in the direction of a small village and we start pedaling toward red-tiled roofs and stone buildings. Ten minutes later we arrived in what looked like the yard of someone’s house, not obviously a typical small village restaurant. The excitement was building, as I love everything that comes with riding in new places – the food and the people. Jacinta, the restaurant owner and chef came out smiling to greet Gomes. They exchanged a few words in Portuguese and then a few minutes later Jacinta’s specialities started appearing. There were egg and codfish fritters, a robust tuna salad with onions and white beans, omelettes, and the best bread ever. It was not anything fancy, just simple and oh so satisfying.  

With full bellies, we slow pedal back towards the trails, passing a long-horned cow ambling down the road. Gomes turns to me and says “no one is really using these trails, it’s mostly the shepard with his cows.” I’m sure this has probably been the case for eons. The afternoon session begins on a very natural trail, overgrown and full of surprises. The old stone pathway below the folding grass was built during the time of the Romans, revealing a place that seems to have a kind of wild history that could not be created if you tried. 

That evening we had dinner in a very local restaurant, basically a family’s home with a few tables for guests. Yelp led us there, and to our surprise, not a place that tourists seek out. In fact, the mother and daughter looked at us like we were aliens when we walked in the door. Armed with smiles and Google Translate, we launched ourselves into what would be a fantastic evening – a full, multi-course home-cooked meal with lots of laughs. 

The next day, our final day of riding in Portugal, we focus on Gomes’s latest projects, the Syndicato trail, a long enduro-style route that he has been building for an upcoming local race. It’s pure fun – we hoot and holler down wild, unrefined and more unpredictable trails. There are steep roll-downs, blind drops and plenty of situations that require balancing delicate moves that require different speeds and a good dose of precision. With the landscape changing as we descend, we ride through open meadows and thorny shrubs, gigantic slabs across mountainsides, eventually dumping us into dense forests with hairy trees. By the time we hit the final descent, I’m giddy as the light is in the magic hour, transforming the landscape into something quite dreamy. It turns out to be the perfect end to a week of experiencing the impressive trails of Portugal and two weeks of traveling through a beautiful and historic country that is certain to charm the bike shorts off those who wander to this part of the world. 

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