If you’re looking for inspiration for your next cycling holiday, then look no further than Serra da Estrela in Portugal.

It’s not often you travel somewhere and are totally blown away by the awesome beauty, peacefulness and uniqueness of a landscape that just begs you to go ride in it.

That’s what happened to me when I first arrived at Serra da Estrela in Portugal two years ago. The granite massif rises from the earth to it’s summit at 1,993 m (6,539 ft). It looms ominously over the surrounding landscape but, at the same time, it beckons you to discover it’s inner beauty.

As I took my bike out of the back of the car a sense of intepidation overcame me – I had listened to many stories of riders failing to succeed in their ascent but, unperturbed, I clipped in and focussed.

There is no easy way to start any of the ascents to the snow covered plateau at the top and, within minutes, I’m clicking down the gears……15%?…. Already? ……..Seriously? The first few kilometres contain some violent gradients and it’s only after 3 kms that the road settles into single digits – never thought I would consider 8% as an opportunity to spin the legs and recover!

At 10 kms the leg burning elevations desist as the road travels up onto a brief plateau. An opportunity to catch my breath, hydrate and ingest much needed energy. It’s the first opportunity I’ve really had to look up and breathe in my surroundings. The hustle and bustle of the town from whence I departed had been replaced with total tranquility. Other than the goats and wild birds, I had the entire mountain to myself. It was eerie, almost unsettling, not one car was on the road.

The respite was short and the road kicked like a mule to 12% as I began to climb again. In fact, this is a feature of Serra da Estrela – every plateau is followed by several kilometres of double figure gradients – the mountain wants you to fail – it’s inner secrets only available to those determined enough to persevere.

At 1200 meters the sun is dazzling in it’s brightness. My legs are hurting, my breathing deep, my pedalling rythmic. I pass a shepherd leaning on his staff and tending to his mountain goats. We exchange salutations and he wishes me ‘good luck’…….. Good luck? ……….Is there something I should know? I push on and the sound of the goats bells dissappear.

Silence descends. I round a bend carved from the cliff-face and the final climb comes into view. I understand now why many fail, I’m back into double figure gradients!! The final stage of the climb winds its way up the mountain at a punishing gradient through a series of switchbacks. The summit is elusive, the physical exertion relentless, the exhaustion is real. Every pedal stroke is strained as I gather every ounce of energy for the final push through what I hope is the last bend.

The road levels and the plateau at 1800 meters apears before me. The landscape is simply breathtaking. The views across Portugal and on to the Spanish mountains of Extremadura are worth every pedal stroke. The unique beauty of this place is something better appreciated by bike than any other way.

volta cyclist serra da estrellaThe road rolls over the plateau for a futher 7 kms before the final rise to the summit 1,993 meters. It’s an opportunity to savour the victory and bathe in the glory of success. It’s also an opportunity to compose yourself and not to look like an exhausted, dishevelled wreck on arrival at the ‘Tower’ !!

You can join Team Volta and pro rider James Lowsley-Williams on the 14th September and share 5 carefully planned stages in this amazing mountainous region of Portugal.