An old-fashioned road
In 2002, the then president of the Instituto das Estradas, António Lamas, launched the Heritage Roads project, designed to give new life to the routes which, having lost its role as major axis of connection, could, nevertheless, have a local and tourist interest. The only practical achievement was the stretch of 60 km from Sao Bras de Alportel to EN2, once one of the main accesses to the Algarve, known by the name of 'the 365 curves road'. This road is one of the most beautiful and least known of Portugal, making over 700 km along the backbone of the Portuguese mainland, linking Chaves to Vila Real, Régua, Viseu, Góis, Sertã, Abrantes, Ponte de Sôr, Montemor-o-Novo, Aljustrel, Almodôvar, São Brás e Faro. It crosses the Douro Wine Region, World Heritage, the valleys of the Vouga and Mondego, the Lousã mountain, the Middle Tagus and, finally, the Alentejo plain, before embarking on the final crossing of the Algarve mountains. This route between São Brás and Almodôvar, one of the access roads to the Algarve during medieval times, has been carefully restored so as to revive the environment, signaling, equipment and the characteristics of the time of its construction: the decade of 1930. Everything has been restored: the Masters Masons Houses (now with new functions), the panels with the mileage, the parks for picnics, the protections of the curves, with pillars of concrete and steel cables. The signaling follows exactly the original one, with viewpoints (exemplarily recovered) indicated by drawings of binoculars... Starting the trip in Sao Bras de Alportel, one soon realizes that despite the good asphalt mat, this section of the road was not made for speed. The downside is that you can quietly enjoy the scenery. Before Barranco do Velho, there is the viewpoint of Caldeirão mountain, as well as some outlets selling wines, cheeses and other local specialties. Here, we are at the heart of the "kingdom of cork", confirmed by the strong presence of cork oak trees in these mountains. Moreover, in the 1920s, much of the manufacturing of cork was not located in the north of Portugal, as now, but around São Brás.
From the Maria Dias Valley to the Valley da Rosa the way is always upwards, among gentle hills, where there are still many oak trees. This is the crossing of the Caldeirão mountain, amidst a sea of shale rounded hilltops. The village of Ameixial was much impacted by the construction of the road and at the same time, this has shaped the environment. One can even see old ads for soft drinks evoking an old-fashioned, charming Algarve. And the traveler is tempted to figure out from the landscape and the design of homes, where the transition from the Algarve to the Alentejo happens and, most likely, similarities will be more impressive than differences
The whole ride unfolds in a quiet pace, evoking those days when the car ride was an end in itself. Along the way there are many good excuses for a halt: to enjoy the traditional products, to contemplate the landscape, (most colorful in spring), and spend some time in the many successive typical, cozy and well preserved, villages, that you will find throughout these six dozen kilometers. This, apart from the taverns and small restaurants where you will certainly not regret having entered.
The passage of the bridge over the river Vascão marks the crossing of the line between the Algarve and the Alentejo. During most of the year, Vascão is a trickle without much expression. However, in spring or autumn, a thunderstorm may be sufficient to transform it in a stream strong enough to flood the banks and take everything ahead with it. From here northwards, the road will start to go down to Dogueno. Near this village, turning right, towards the graveyard, you can see the curious Church of Santa Cruz, isolated amidst a quiet field. Near Almodovar, if you turn left to Gomes Aires, you will see a chapel on a high point, and views extend from Alentejo to Algarve. Once in Almodovar, if you wish to have a swifter return to Algarve, take the access to A2, at a 10 km distance.
Access By Via do Infante till the junction Faro/São Brás de Alportel
To have into account The stretch beyond Vascão rivulet is already in Alentejo, but the extra kilometers to Almodovar will be justified to fully enjoy this itinerary
Length Some 170 km
Meals O Lagar (T. 289715437), in Pechão, and Café Restaurante Pereira (T. 286684231), in Senhor dos Padrões, Almodôvar
In the vicinity Estói Palace and Milreu Ruins (Estói)