Gravel. Road cycling. Adventure cycling. Just cycling: whenever, however. This circular route is not about speed, silky smooth tarmac, cutting corners and use that extra .00001 of efficiency. It is about low gears and cadence, pacing, knowing yourself, hydrating and eating. The first soft climb out of Vide(18km) is a warm up for the beast that will follow: 20 km of rough tarmac, seldom bellow 10% gradient, with a flat gravel section in the middle, just to make things more interesting. Fill your water bottles and don't forget your survival kit: bars, gels, bananas, salt tabs, pump and puncture kit. You are on your own. Once you leave Unhais da Serra, you will enter Estrela's intestines and come out flying.
When planning, one must often take into consideration the return. Vide as an ideal location, from a cycling point of view: if you are aiming for a circular route, it ensures a return either through a virtually flat road with very good tarmac, or coming down from somewhere. Besides, there are plenty of fountains with free-running fresh water, where you can fill up your bottle(s). Leave Vide towards Covilhã. The climb is soft (3-4%, most of the time), with a beautiful view.
18 Km | Altitude: 850m - Pedras Lavradas
You have reached the top of the first climb of the day. The warm up is done and you should feel good at this point. If you want to stop for a moment, there is an isolated, and cosy, cafe/restaurant/B&B with a great view. From here to Unhais da Serra it is a slight descent of roughly 20km.
38 Km | Altitude: 650m - Unhais da serra
The village of Unhais da Serra is nestled in a glaciar valley, and it is famous for its thermal mineral water. In recent years, a very good 4* hotel was built, with some pro cycling teams using it as training HQ. From here, it's uphill. Follow the gps track or ask someone how to go the H2otel. Just before reaching the hotel, turn right.
52 Km | Altitude: 1540m - Nave de Santo António
You have reach the intersection. To reach this point, you have passed through a gravel section that gives its name to this route. It is rideable (ass out of the saddle, sometimes, to avoid punctures!) and gives the ride a certain je-ne-sais-quoi of adventure. On the final km look back, and you will see the valley and the dam of Covão do Ferro. It is a sight to remember. Once on the intersection, turn left towards Torre. 6km more, sided by walls of granit, and you are at the top! If your liquid levels are low, about 1km further, on your left, there is a small fountain where you can fill up.
58 Km | Altitude: 1998m - Torre
Summit! You have reached the top. Take a photo, enjoy the view, eat a snack, do wathever you want: you deserve it. Life is beautiful. Unicorns are real. Yes - you - can.
It should be chilly, so put on your wind jacket because you are in for 28km of non-stop descent (1600D-) from Torre to Vide. Go easy on the brakes, you will need them.