Our trip begins in Lisbon, Portugal with a 9am group rendezvous in Lisbon. We'll board our private vehicle and transfer to Arraiolos, a traditional Alentejo village made up of white-washed cottages and renowned for its needlepoint carpets found in many palaces, convents and aristocratic homes. Following a bicycle fitting, we'll ride from the village's central plaza, making our way past olive orchards and along scenic back roads to the museum-city of Évora. Seemingly untouched by time, Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage city enclosed by medieval walls, filled with museums and monuments dating from the medieval to renaissance periods, and resplendent with whitewashed houses deocorated with azulejor tiling and wrought-iron balconies. Wander the streets after dark and you'll discover the 1st century Roman temple lit up for all to admire. Dinner included.
Driving: 1.5 hours; cycling: 14 miles; terrain: flat and gently rolling hills.
We transfer to Estremoz, a medieval town surrounded by vineyards and famous for its many white marble quarries that supplied the stone for Évora's Roman temple, as well as its 13th century Sé Cathedral and many of the region's cobblestone-patterned squares, sculptures, monuments and fountains. Marble is so abundant here that even modest cottages use it for their doorsteps and window frames. After a short visit to Estremoz, we begin cycling through the rolling, wide-open Alentejo landscape, making our way to the tiny village of Alter do Chão. The village is famous for the Coudelaria de Alter Real, a horse stud farm founded in 1748 by King João V. The farm still breeds the rare Sorraia, considered to be the first Iberian breed of horse. Tonight's accommodations are at a restored 16th century convent, now a charming hotel. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving: 45 minutes; cycling: 32 miles; terrain: flat and gently rolling hills.
We begin cycling from the door of our hotel to the Coudelaria de Alter do Chão, a magnificent stud farm founded in 1748 by King João V to breed the finest Lusitano horses. You will have the option of visiting the horse farm and its museum before we continue our ride to a prehistoric Celtic stone burial chamber which dates back over 5,000 years. As we cycle northeast towards the Spanish border, we begin a gentle climb past the Pousada de Crato where the Knights of the Order of Malta built their monastery, and the elegant spa town of Castelo de Vide with its 14th-century castle and medieval Jewish quarter. While most of our ride takes us through an undulating landscape, there in an option to add 9 miles with a challenging 1,000' climb over the last four miles to reach the medieval village of Marvão. Set on a 2,400' granite pedestal, the panoramic views from the village will be a reward for all! Tonight we dine on local specialties of the Alentejo region, which features olive oil, breads and acorn-fed black pork. Breakfast and dinner included.
Cycling: 34 miles; terrain: rolling and hilly; optional add 9 miles with climb of 1,000' in 4 miles (6% grade).
This morning we cross the border into Spain's tranquil and wildlife-rich Extremadura region and begin our ride to Mérida. Cycling part of the Via de la Plata, one of the many Camiño de Santiago routes that ultimately lead to Santiago de Compostela, we are on the lookout for the many species of birds that inhabit or migrate through this region, including eagles, vultures, owls, bustards, herons and storks. Mérida is recognized for having the finest collection of Roman ruins in Spain including an aqueduct, circus, bridge, amphitheater, temple and the longest Roman bridge still in existence. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving: 2 hours; cycling: 37 miles; terrain: rolling hills; steepest climb: ~200' in 1.5 miles.
We transfer to Guadalcanal, the starting point for our ride across the picturesque Sierra Morena mountains. The Sierra Morena range stretches in an east-west direction for nearly 240 miles across south-central Spain, creating a natural border between the country's central plateau and Andalusia to the south. En route to the small city of Constantina, we pause for a picnic lunch in the Parque Natural Sierra Norte. We'll drive the remainder of the way to Carmona, a town of orange trees and church spires, once inhabited by both the Romans and Moors due to its strategic position on a ridge overlooking the Andalusian plain. There are numerous architectural treasures to see, including the Baroque-style tower of San Pedro church, soaring above the surrounding rooftops. Encircled by a Roman wall and the Cordoba and Seville gates, the town's old quarter still retains a mysterious medina-like feeling inviting us to wander its labyrinthine streets or relax in the square over tapas and drinks. The evening if free to explore and choose from a variety of restaurants serving delicious local fare. Breakfast and lunch included.
Driving: 2.5 hours; cycling: 40 miles; terrain: rolling hills with some moderate climbs; steepest climb: 820' in 2.7 miles (5% grade).
Our ride begins near Lora del Rio (a 20 minute transfer from Carmona), or in Palma del Rio (a 40 minute transfer from Carmona). We cycle through a quintessential Andalusian landscape dotted with cotton fields, olive orchards and orange groves filled with wildflowers. The undulating route passes the village of Almódovar del Rio and its impressive castle overlooking the Guadalquivir River before reaching Córdoba, our destination for the next two nights. Córdoba is an ancient Moorish city famous for its 10th century Mezquita (Great Mosque), surrounding Jewish quarter and impressive Roman bridge. It is the former capital of Muslim Spain and is one of Andalusia's crown jewels. We spend about two hours exploring Córdoba on foot, soaking up the rich history and culture of this World Heritage Site; the tour helps us get oriented with the city's layout and make plans for tomorrow's free day in the city. Tonight's dinner is at an authentic local restaurant. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving: 20-40 minutes; cycling options: 41 or 54 miles; hours in the saddle: 4 to 5; terrain: rolling to hilly with some moderate climbs; steepest climb: ~160' in 1/3 mile (6.5% grade).
Options for exploring Córdoba include visiting the Great Mosque (also called La Mezquita), climbing to the top of the Tower of Calahorra for panoramic views of the city, taking in the history at one of the city's fine museums, or simply strolling through various neighborhoods and peeking into the numerous flower-filled courtyard patios (local residents have traditionally been very proud of their patios and welcome visitors' inquisitive gazes). The Romans originally founded Córdoba due to its strategic position at the highest navigable point on the Guadalquivir River, using the port to ship olive oil, wheat and wine to Ancient Rome. In addition to the famous mosque, the city contains many significant religious monuments from different eras including the 14th century Córdoba Synagogue Museum and innumerous 13th century Fernandine and Alphonsine-style churches. Dinner is on your own; choices include excellent tapas bars or restaurants serving Andalusian, Moorish or Mediterranean cuisine. There may be opportunities to watch Flamenco, a rhythmic and vigorous style of dancing with hand clapping and foot stomping that is characteristic of the Andalusian Gypsies. Breakfast included.
Departing Córdoba, we transfer to the village of Luque where we begin our ride among olive orchards and through a section of hillier terrain. We'll cycle to our hotel in Montefrio, a lovely, picturesque village built on a dramatic rocky outcropping. During the Moorish period, this area was frequently at war with the Christians who had settled Alcala la Real nearby. An impregnable fortress, Montefrio was valuable to the kingdom of Granada and relied on an extraordinary network of watchtowers to communicate with surrounding villages and control important transportation and trade routes on the Granada plain. We'll see many of these towers during today's ride. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving: 1 hour; cycling: 40 miles; terrain: rolling to hilly with some moderate climbs; steepest climb: ~800' in 3 miles (5% grade).
We cruise on our bicycles through the Andalusian countryside towards Granada. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Granada is a World Heritage city whose origins date back to 5th century BC. A short transfer from the Cubillas Reservoir brings us to the unique and elegant Hotel Alhambra Palace. We'll change out of our cycling clothes and set out on foot to see the Alhambra Palace and Gardens. A sublime example of Moorish architecture and landscaping, the Alhambra is an enormous palace/fortress complex constructed mainly during the 14th century by Spain's Muslim rulers. Considered by many to be one of the world's architectural wonders, we'll take time to appreciate the remarkable ingenuity and aesthetic of its builders. (Note: If entrance tickets to the Alhambra are not available today, we will tour the palace on the morning of Day 10). We complete our day with an excellent farewell dinner. Breakfast and dinner included.
Driving: 15 minutes; cycling: 32 miles; terrain: rolling to hilly with some moderate climbs; steepest climb: ~600' in 1.5 miles (7% grade).
The trip concludes following breakfast, unless the tour of the Alhambra is provided this morning (see note on Day 9).
We provide one group transfer to the Granada airport at 10am; we plan to arrive at the airport by 10:30am. International departures should be booked after 12:30pm. Any guests returning to Lisbon, Portugal are welcome to transfer with the guides; it is an 8-hour drive, with meals and hotels on your own. Breakfast included.