Portugal is increasingly on the travel radar of surfers the world over, and with good reason; consistent swell and great setups in the water, relatively cheap living on land, fascinating history, and amazing people at every turn. That is just the start, but it was more than enough for me to spend 2016 living there, and during that time I feel deeper in love with the country almost every day. In this post, I will share a bit about the waves and food of Portugal - two of the best reasons I can think of to check it out.
Pretty much all of Portugal's coast coast has waves, but I have dedicated my time largely to the coast within an hour or so of the vibrant capital Lisbon, and to a lesser extent the Algarve. Be warned, even in the hot south Europe summer, the water is cold so you will need a wetsuit virtually all year round, but trust me it's a small price to pay.
First tip: You will almost certainly want a car for surfing in Portugal unless you're in a surf camp, but luckily rental cars are super cheap - check out www.rentalcars.com for some deals. Carcavelos is the only place you can get to via train from Lisbon.
Only 30mins drive from Lisbon airport is Europe’s first designated world surfing reserve, Ericeria. The main spots are signposted with surfboard shaped signage so you cant miss the world class breaks. From the super consistent and long right hand point break at Ribeira D'Ilhas, to open beach break at Sao Juliao and even the gnarly Coxos (considered by some to be Europe's best reef), world surf reserve status is definitely earned. With these line ups and many more catering for all levels, and plenty of swell you won't be disappointed. The only downside is that if a solid swell hits (like, nearby Nazare solid) there aren't many sheltered spots other than the inside of the harbour. If a strong sea breeze comes up, there aren't any nooks or crannies that will be sheltered either but generally calm winds in the morning and evening should serve you well.
Ericeria town has an infectious charm too, and a coffee & pastry in the town square, or at the super cool and trendy Magic Quiver surfshop is a must. Finish your day off with a relaxing drink whilst watching the sunset from the top of the harbour wall. Beautiful.
Just north of Ericeira is Peniche, home of World Tour stop at Supertubos. I am including the small island of Baleal in this discussion too. Supertubos really is the pick of the breaks here, and the ferocity with which waves unload on the sand bottom will have you questioning if there isn't a Padang Padang style reef under the surface. Undoubtedly the best thing about Peniche area though is the options you have if one spot is busy or if the wind is playing tricks...there is ALWAYS swell, and you name a wind direction, it will be offshore somewhere between Supertubos and the stretch of beaches north of Baleal. Seek and you shall find...
If you want surf schools and partying, stay in Baleal/Ferral, and the dudes at The Surf Castle will see you right. Or if you would rather the more authentic and traditional fishing village stay over on Peniche peninsular; just be mindful to hold your breath while passing the fish factory when the winds are from the south just before you enter the town walls...ew...
Lisbon's city beaches
If you're quickly popping into the city, there are two main options to consider:
- Don't mind crowds, just want quality waves close to town? Go to Carcavelos - this world class beachie 110% pumps on its day, but you will be sharing it with many of your nearest and dearest from Lisbon...You can catch a train there in about 20 minutes from Cais Do Sodre in downtown Lisbon.
- Willing to sacrifice a little wave quality for less people? Cross the big red bridge over the river Tejo and hit up Costa da Caparica. The piers at the northern end are closest, offer some shape to sandbars and will have a few people, but this is a long beach so head south and find your own peak. Make sure to bring a couple of Euros for the toll on the bridge back into Lisbon!
If you're in the south and just want guaranteed waves, Carrapateria needs to be your first stop. From Lagos, head out towards Sagres and take the turn off at Villa Do Bispo then follow the signs to the Praia (beach). A long stretch of beach frequented by tourists and surf schools in summer, if there is swell around you will find it here. A little susceptible to North tradewinds on warmer days though.
Luckily if that north wind is up, you can head to Arrifana where jaw-dropping cliffs protect much of the beach from north tradewinds. If it is over-head high, a reeling right hand point starts working off the rocks (see pic above), otherwise there is a long stretch of beachie, including a left hander off the rocks at the southern end.
Further south and closer to the party scene in Lagos, you will find a series of beaches around Sagres, and even on the sheltered south coast if the swell is large enough to sneak in there.
Surfed out and looking for Food
This certainly won't be the healthiest food guide you will read, but I sure as anything love it! Portugal's coffee, pastries and seafood are insane so make sure you get amongst it.
Start the day
Morning ritual should involve either an espresso coffee or a fresh orange juice...you will be hard pressed to find a flat white (although they are becoming more available) but for 60 cents a pop, espresso is everywhere and very good. To make sure you kick off the day on a proper sugar high, back it up with the life changing, and increasingly popular pastel de nata (Portuguese custard tart).
Refuel for the afternoon session
Post surf, your body will be after some carbohydrates, protein and just a little bit of fat, and the traditional Bifana will serve you well. Fresh bread, and pork steak cooked in a stroganoff style broth and topped off with some hot sauce. If you’re really keen, you can back it up with a bolos de berlim which is basically just the most amazing donut your tastebuds will ever experience. Double up on the espresso too, if you're so inclined.
Relax over some fine food in the evening
No Portuguese food list would be complete without Octopus salad...Ok, so hear me out at least! If you like seafood, this is a must; octopus, red onion, vinegar, and some other goodies mixed in just the right proportions with some bread and vino tinto (red wine) will set you in a good place relax and get ready to hit the waves all over again the next day.
No trip to Portugal is complete without some Port wine - Enjoy!
Cheers - talk soon,
James 'Mammoth' Marshall
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