Robert’s journeys around Europe continue with a visit to Portugal’s capital:
It is easy to make a comparison between Lisbon and Christchurch right from the start. In 1755 an earthquake struck the Portuguese city, destroying much of it and killing several thousand people. The population of the city itself now stands at just over half a million people. It has reduced in the past four decades as suburban growth attracted residents away so the overall surrounding metropolitan area now hosts almost three million people.
During this time of sprawl, roading infrastructure and public transport needed huge expansion at a time when cycling was not considered a popular transport option.
The city, rebuilt after the earthquake, sits on the Tagus (Tejo) River as it flows westward into the Atlantic Ocean near the most western point of the European continent, on the Iberian Peninsula. It is built upwards from the river on quite steep terrain. It would need a mountain bike for comfortable cycling, not just for the gears, but wide tyres to run over the uneven cobblestone streets and to stay out of the tram tracks.
It would be easy to write Lisbon off as a place to feature everyday cycling but there is an absolute gem in its crown for the casual recreational cyclist who wishes to the experience the beauty of the city. What is known as the Poetry Bike Lane takes you along the river to Belem, an area with World Heritage status for a variety of historical and architectural treasures vitally important to the nation that is Portugal.
The path of around 8 km is a mix of shared pathways and zones travelling past the old river port areas of Lisbon in various stages of use, development, decay and urban renewal. Despite sharing with large numbers of other bikers and pedestrians, the width in most places makes it relaxed and easy. Whilst there is marking for cycles this is routinely ignored by everyone. The width is such that it is not an issue. Of note is a section passing between the indoor seating and outdoor areas of swanky restaurants so you get to share the path with smart waiters carrying trays of food and drinks.
Once at Belem it is short ferry trip across the river to Trafaria to start on a dedicated bike path to the wild and beautiful Atlantic beaches at Costa de Caparica. Built in 2010 and costing 1.8 million Euro, this path uses shared footpaths to begin with and graduates to a quality cycle-only coloured asphalt pathway complete with well-marked (priority) side road crossings and excellent signage.
Following alongside a four-lane road through an area of quality housing, this route makes the beaches an easy and enjoyable day trip from much of Lisbon and is perfect for tourists.
It would be hard to imagine Lisbon becoming the new Copenhagen for everyday cycling in the near future. One figure noticed in researching this article was that only 0.6% of the population used a cycle regularly. There are a variety of mountain bike routes around the city and many of the bikers noticed were indeed middle-aged, in lycra, and atop a quality mountain bike. But for the casual tourist who wishes to rest weary tourist feet, the route out to Caparica by bike for a lunch of grilled sardines is delightfully comparable to what the new Rapanui-Shag Rock Coastal Pathway to Sumner will no doubt eventually be. Do they catch sardines at Sumner?
How does Lisbon compare to biking in Christchurch?