[smugmug url=”http://enduro360.smugmug.com/hack/feed.mg?Type=gallery&Data=11389398_rFrXx&format=rss200″ title=”Smug%20Mug%20Photos” imagecount=”25″ start=”1″ num=”25″ thumbsize=”Ti” link=”lightbox” captions=”true” sort=”true” window=”false” smugmug=”true” size=”L”]2009 ISDE Home Page
This story was originally featured at MotorCycleUSA.com, you see the complete gallery here
For a number of years now I have been traveling to the International Six Days Enduro (ISDE), either as a rider or as a team sponsor. Each year the event is held in a different country, typically somewhere off the beaten path where there is plenty of space to stage one of the world’s most prestigious off road races. This year I had the fortune to compete in the event, held in Portugal at the central coastal town of Figueira Da Foz, or “Fig” as the locals call it.
The Portuguese are fascinated by motorsports. A few years ago they had to quit holding world rally events here because there was simply no way to keep the mass of spectators out of harm’s way. Just one week before the ISDE, the MotoGP boys were at Estoril and the World Supers hit the Portimao circuit, where Ben Spies wrapped his first World Championship, the week after we left. As I write this the Portoalegre 500 “Baja” rally-raid is underway. These people are serious in their love of turning fuel into noise.
The ISDE was a huge event for the local motorcyclists. I think every dirt bike in Portugal was wandering around somewhere on the course during the event. Representing the home country, Portuguese club rider Tiago Seara Cardoso of Porto talks a little about dirt biking. “Here in Portugal you can ride anywhere you want except in beach areas, it´s a great feeling to pick up your bike, enter some hill somewhere and drive where you want at any time. I would recommend having the bike plated and with insurance because of the driving on some public roads, but besides that it´s very rare that the local Police stop an enduro rider, they understand well the spirit of off road riding. The ISDE was great experience for me since I only started off road riding two years ago and to finish with a bronze medal was a victory for me”.
Our home base of Fig is a centuries old seaport and resort featuring miles of white sand beaches. During the summer months, particularly August, tourists from all over Europe flock here, but off season things are very quiet and we felt that we had the town to ourselves. The ISDE took over much of the town with motorcycle racers from all over the world flooding the beachfront cafes.
We had a fantastic time. The scenery was beautiful. The people were almost universally nice, even when language was a barrier. In fact, once outside the major cities, English is hard to come by. Often in ordering meals we would have to rely on descriptions as simple as “fish or pork”, but locals never seemed too annoyed with us bumbling foreigners. For someone with an understanding of Spanish, the language can be read with some effort, but pronunciation is totally different, so we found it most practical to stick to English and muddle through.
Portugal is a country of fascinating contrasts. It is hard to believe that with an area roughly the size of Indiana, it was at one time one of the greatest naval powers in the world. Sharing much of its social and political history with Spain, conquerors such as the Iberians, Romans and Moors have left a strong Mediterranean influence that is displayed in the culture, food and language of the region.
With one free day before the race, we set out to explore the country side. One of the difficulties was that with so much to see here, it is easy to get side tracked. For example we stumbled upon the incredibly picturesque Montemor-O-Velho. This strategically placed castle was once the frontier of the “Reconquista”, the southern advances of the Christian princes against the Moorish strongholds of Southern Spain and Portugal. Once inside, it was completely empty and we had the entire castle to ourselves.
Our original destination was Conimbriga. It is the largest and best preserved Roman city in Portugal. This amazing site features ruins of many buildings including homes, baths and a forum. There are still a number of fantastic tile mosaic floors, remnants of what were once grand mansions. After a morning of walking, we stopped for lunch in nearby Condeixa at a local’s type restaurant. As lunch is the main meal of the day, the food was plentiful and we found ourselves having to refuse desert and resist the urge to take a nap after such a large meal.
Continuing in a generally eastward direction we passed through Coimbra, proudly considered by locals as the intellectual center of Portugal. The University of Coimbra is Portugal’s oldest and most prestigious university. As with every major city in the region, it is best to explore on foot as driving and parking both begin to feel like futile efforts so hit the streets to really get the feel of the city.
Ready to leave the bustle of the urban areas we pointed due east and climbed mountains towards Serra Do Acor. What we found were a network of postcard quality villages dotting the mountain roads. To call them sleepy would be an understatement. For lack of employment and opportunity, these regions have been left entirely to the elderly and very young. Here we were treated with a little more curiosity among the villagers, as we were off the typical tourist routes. As always there were plenty of things to see and explore. Traveling this area left me wishing for an adventure bike, the winding and sometimes rough mountain roads become tedious in a car but beg to be exploited by motorcycle.
During the week of the ISDE competition our daily routine was pretty busy so we did not get out and about very much. Although the race course did lead us through all kinds of interesting places, like the special test that was run around a huge abandoned church complex. In the evenings we hung out at the internet hot spot next to the hotel, Café Kaulua, to catch up on the day’s news and scoring online.
We also spent some time searching out some of Figs’ local hot spots for food. The MareGrafo seafood house is one of those hip locals bars that serves Tapas style appetizers and a selection of regional shellfish. For anyone still feeling hungry after the meal, just step next door to the Gelataria Italiana and enjoy one of the rich frozen concoctions, some large enough to be a meal on their own.
After the ISDE we spent another day heading from Fig back south towards Lisbon taking in some of the sights. The Castles at Leiria and Porto de Mos are both worth a visit. The first has a great gothic feel and the second is straight out of a fairy tale, a genuine princess castle. The architectural highlight of the trip had to be the Dominican Monastery Santa Maria da Vitória in Batalha. It is Portugal’s greatest example of late Gothic architecture mixed with a distinct Manueline style. Ok, I am not exactly sure what that all means, but it sounds good in the guide book. Regardless it is an impressive sight.
Our last stop of the day was Nazare. This seaside village just has all kinds of cool things, all for the benefit of tourists, including; another great beach, fishermen’s widows in traditional all black dress, women with seven layers of petticoats, a hillside tram and all manner of tourist trinkets and junk. There is a story behind each facet of this village and it is certainly worth a visit.
After two weeks of travel and some pretty difficult racing I was glad to be back in Lisbon getting on an airplane and catching up on some sorely needed sleep. I am not sure if it is more correct to classify the Six Days as a great excuse for a vacation to an exotic destination, or as a vacation where I get to ride a motorcycle. Either way, Portugal was a blast. Next year’s ISDE will be in Morelia, Mexico. The AMA organizes a complete tour package for both riders and spectators, so maybe you can come and join us next year at another great destination and event.
Information: Figueira Da Foz, Central Portugal Information
Lisbon: 170km via toll way
Porto: 120km via toll way
All major car rentals available at each location
This area is a huge seasonal tourist beach destination. During our off season visit rooms were plentiful and cheap, averaging 50-60 euro for a modest room on the beach with spectacular views and continental breakfast included. There are a large number of apartments and vacation rentals in the area also and would make a good choice for an extended stay. (VBRO.com)
Outside of the traditional tourist and business areas hotels can be difficult to find. For overnight travel I would recommend doing some web research first to avoid being stuck without a room.
Hotel Tamarqueira & Café Kaulua, avenida D Juao II, Buarcos (Fig) 3080-299 (Hoteltamarqueira.com)
Holiday Inn Express, Rua De Guine, Lisbon Airport (ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/ex/1/en/hotel/lisap)
In the larger towns food is plentiful and reasonably priced. In the rural areas it sometimes takes a good nose to point the way. We found a fantastic workmen’s’ eatery behind what looked like a residential wall. Remember that a “Café” typically only serves coffee, pastries and alcohol, so for real food look for a restaurant sign. The local hangouts can be the most rewarding to get the true flavor of the area.
Cheap and plentiful, a good bottle of table wine can be found in local restaurants for as little as 3-5 Euros. The area that lies between Coimbra in the south and Aveiro to the north is famous wine making region of “Bairrada”. As one of Europe’s greatest traditional wine countries it is at the forefront of some of the most unique wine making today. Many meals, even in fast food type shops are priced to include wine or beer with the meal.
Pork and seafood are the national staples and both are served in ample portions and very well salted. Look for the plate of the day displayed on a board outside the door and be adventurous in ordering. Typical lunches range from 5-7 Euros and dinner for 7-10. We also found a pretty decent selection of inexpensive tasty meals at the local mall, not the greatest ambiance but surprisingly good food and packed with locals.
Many meals will include a selection of appetizer plates such as regional cheeses, olives and fresh baked bread. These will be added to the bill at about 1Euro per plate. Apparently it is ok to refuse this service, but we never did. Nearly every meal is served with fresh cut French fries.
Restaurant Mare Grafo and Gelataria Italiana, Largo Maria Jarra, Buarcos (Figueira da Foz)
Restaurant Leitao Do Prior, Rue De Guine Lisbon (near Holiday Inn Express)
O Churrasco- take away chicken, City center Batalha
Portugal went through a large highway renovation to bring everything up to EU standards. On all the major highways and most secondary roads things are very well marked and easy to follow once you understand the signs. Most directional signs are EU standard symbols.
Built to encourage Spanish tourism, the toll way system is a great way to get places in a hurry. The 120km speed limit appears to be merely a suggestion and our rental car could hardly keep pace with the flow. The tolls are spendy, about $17 dollars for the Lisbon to Fig. jaunt, but this keeps the traffic down to nearly nothing in the off season.
Museu do Vinho da Bairrada, Anadia (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Travel: American Motorcyclist Association ISDE info (amateamusa.com)