Top Travel Days of 2023, Biking Alentejo
Every day on DuVine’s 6-day biking trip into the heart of Portugal’s Alentejo region this past September was a daily dose of much-needed serenity. Biking with our good friends, Debbie and Michael, we zipped up and down the rolling hills past olives groves, vineyards, cattle, sheep, and forests of thick, gnarly looking cork trees. The days would become a blessed blur as we slowed down on the cobblestones to shout “Bon Dia” to the many women sweeping their front terraces and the men sipping espressos at the cafes. We would stop to let a shepherd and his flock stroll by, peer at the large slabs of marble being excavated in the small mines, watch a large wood stork fly from his oversized nest, and visit a cork factory to view the layers of bark being harvested. All the while, we’d be smelling the sweet eucalyptus, sour fermentation of grapes, and the pungent smell of manure.
Led by our wonderful leader, Joao, who had the good fortune to grow up and still live in Alentejo, and his sidekick, the gregarious Brazilian, Michele, we were treated to local treats like fresh figs straight from the tree or a creamy sublime local cheese that you needed a spoon to scoop out. Washed down, of course, with award-winning wines that never find their way to America due to their small number of bottles produced. After biking some 30 to 40 miles a day on the undulating roads, sometimes into a strong headwind, we were rewarded with gluttonous meals.
People ask how DuVine differs from other biking outfitters, and I usually note the smaller group size. Yet, where they really shine is at private meals of locals that I won’t soon forget. My favorite day on the trip ended with dinner at Dona Maria Vineyards, where we first stomped on grapes during the height of the harvest and then had a fantastic dinner in a home built in the mid-18th century by the King of Portugal for his mistress at the time, the namesake Dona Maria. We dined with the current owner, Isabel, and her two Jack Russell Terriers, Bowie and Ziggy, and drank copious amounts of her exceptional Grand Reserve. It was like walking into Cinderella’s ballroom before the clocks strikes twelve.