Surf and Yoga in Portugal
A quick Google search will tell you that Portugal is one of the best places for surf in Europe, with the following areas topping the list as best surf spots in Portugal:
4. Cascais/ Lisbon area
There's beaches suitable for surfing all over the coast of Portugal, hence you can find options whether you choose to go down south to Sagres/ Costa Vicentina or north of Lisbon as we did this summer. But if you're looking for less tourists, cooler weather and a serious focus on surf and yoga, give Ericeira and Peniche a try.
We started our journey from Madrid, where we rented a car and drove five and a half hours to Cascais, spending our first night in luxury at The Oitavos hotel and the remaining two night in a cozy AirBnB in the centre of Cascais. Our aim in Cascais was to explore the area (Sintra, the beaches around, the cute town of Cascais) so I won't talk much about surf, however Praia do Guincho is known as one of the best spots for surf in Portugal and around Cascais. We went there for lunch at Bar do Guincho, which was lovely, located on the cliffs with view of the Atlantic and a wooden staircase that goes right down onto the sand. From lunch there on our first full day in Portugal, I realized I was going to be amazed by the quality of the views and the wildness of the beaches. The downside to these wild beaches, which are perfect for surfing, is that they can become pretty windy and the water is cold, hence they are not really suitable if your vision of going to the beach is chilling under the hot sun with a cocktail in one hand and Vogue in the other. But if you're up for a picturesque walk in the sand and a chilling dip in the ocean, you're in for a treat in Praia do Guincho, especially after you're warmed yourself up with a delicious meal and Sagres beer in Bar do Guincho.
From Cascais we made our way up to Ericeira, about one hour drive along the coast road or slightly less on the highway. We were in no rush, so we took the coast road and arrived in Ericeira just in time for sunset. We checked into Sandhi House, our home for the next three days, and rushed for our first walk among the blue and white streets of this former fishermen town turned surf and yoga Mecca. At first glance, on that chilly summer evening as the sun was setting into the Atlantic Ocean, I found Ericeira cold and forgotten. As we stepped into a crowded bar filled with young trendy figures and followed with a next-door fancy dinner, for which I was highly underdressed wearing my Billabong hoodie, I sensed there's more to Ericeira that I'm allowed to see just yet.
Our first morning started with a yoga class in the main living area of Sandhi House, overlooking the sea, and followed by a breakfast made of chia pudding and home-made granola, with scents of fresh ginger tea. Sandhi House was one of my favorite experiences during our trip, as I must admit already early into this article, that I am much more into yoga than surf. Sandhi House is a project created by yogis for yogis, organizing several retreats throughout the year and otherwise opening their doors to travelers looking for a peaceful stay in the heart of Ericeira. With clean and modern rooms, free yoga classes every day, inspiring common spaces and other services such as massages and healings, I found I could have easily spent a week in this place. And not only because of Sandhi House, but because my second day visit through the city and its surroundings revealed what I had sensed the night before - Ericeira is happening.
I love good coffee, and it is very hard to find a picturesque coastal town with a truly great coffee place, but Ericeira could compete with some hipster neighborhoods in cosmopolite cities around the world for its flat whites and acai berry bowls. Our favorite was The Mill, and I can't get over their white chocolate raspberry muffin. I really loved this mix of old fishermen town with its traditional architecture and the contrast of the hip young crowd carrying their surf boards and yoga mats while grabbing lunch at spots such as Green is Good, which serves sweet potato avocado bruschetta and the best corn puree I've ever tasted.
In terms of surf, there are several spots around Ericeira and if you enter any of the many surf shops around town, the staff will be happy to provide you with a surf map, show you the best places around and lecture you on the daily conditions. We went to Ribeira d'Ilhas beach which is suitable both for beginners and advanced, or whether you just want to chill on the beach and have an ice cream at the Ribera d'Ilhas restaurant terrace. Another great option is Foz do Lizandro, a long stretch of beach between two imposant cliffs, or if you're a pro, Coxos - a famous reef break.
As a contrast to the trendy international restaurants of Ericeira, we went to a very typical Portuguese restaurant located on a cliff ten kilometers from the city, where the only other neighbors were some fishermen and their temporary homes. From outside (and inside, for that matter) it looks like a place you should maybe not eat at, but the food is totally worth it. The fish could not be fresher, as it is taken directly from the neighboring fishermen and the staff is as friendly as a pure-hearted villager can be. You can only book Clube Naval Praia Da Assenta if you call them.
If Ericeira was more about yoga, massages and flat whites, Peniche was all about surf. I owed this to my boyfriend, who patiently went through the daily 9 am yoga classes at Sandhi House with me, to spend the next four days at Surfcastle, located on a cliff overlooking the beach of Baleal. It was my first surf experience, so I was a bit nervous and out of my comfort zone. Surfcastle was a change from Sandhi House, one that needed about one hour and two glasses of wine to process, but turned out to be a great experience. We arrived right when the owner, a very special Portuguese in his 40s who has spent his life surfing and managing the Surfcastle, was hosting a barbecue for all his guests on the terrace overlooking the ocean. From the sanctuary of Sandhi House, I had landed in the middle of a big happy family who was toasting glasses and talking about "the swell".
Surfcastle enjoys one of the best locations in Peniche/ Baleal, with views to die for and a 2 minute walk down to the beach. The interiors display 100-year old wooden stairs and squeaky doors and beds (unless you book one of their upper, renovated suites). The old barns in the garden are now used as own surf rental shop, with another barn serving as an outdoor shower and changing room. Full of surprises, this part of Portugal's coast showed me that it is possible to stay in an an old castle, learn how to surf and make friends from all corners of the world and all walks of life.
One can attend surf classes, either with teachers from the Surfcastle or schools all around Baleal, but I chose the more fun option of "hiring" the boyfriend as my private teacher. The first day, I hated it. I had no idea what I was doing, the surfboard would have been lost had it not been tied to my ankle (and mostly kept by my teacher), I was more under than over water and I wanted to give up after 10 minutes. A perfect representation of life, when you are starting something new and risky.
The second day, pushed by my teacher back into the water, my spirits were up and I managed to fight the waves all by myself. The third day, getting on top of my board, reading the sea and paddling to take waves almost became second nature (well, kind of) and I even managed to lift on the board (also, kind of). Now I am excited about our next, longer surf experience, where I can practice the hard-learned surf skills.
There's really no better place to go to if you want a surf holiday. The beach right in front of Surfcastle or the one on the other side of Baleal always offer a doorstep option for surfing and there are plenty things to do around the area (although you need a car for most) if you want to entertain yourself before or after surfing. The Surfcastle is spacious and quiet if you want to cuddle up on the living room sofa or in the garden with a book, or take a nap in the afternoon sun.
As for things to do and see around Surfcastle, Baleal is a very small town, fully walkable (cliff formation and everything) in less than 30 minutes. Taberna do Ganao is the best restaurant in Baleal, a tasty but busy option for lunch and dinner. The Surfer's Lodge is a modern hotel with a rooftop, that organizes sunset drinks on techno beats every Saturday. Peniche is 15 minutes drive away and not really that interesting, except for the lighthouse from where you can watch a beautiful sunset or a really delicious restaurant worthy more of the city centre of Lisbon than of Peniche, called Tasca de Joel. The restaurant doesn't take bookings so be sure to arrive early. The fairytale medieval town of Obidos is 30 minutes drive and Foz do Arelho, a huge beach where we spent one evening looking for the sunset while singing along to the guitar play of our friends from the Surfcastle, is close to Obidos. Other restaurant recommendations around Baleal in case you've had enough of the "catch of the day" are Funky Donkey (pizza, book in advance as this seems to be the hotspot of the long-haired surfers) and Cantina de Ferrel (pizza, pasta & more).
Portugal is raw and beautiful. The authenticity of its people, food and nature inspires you and makes you feel at home. I could not have asked for a better holiday, discovering this little but diverse coast of the Atlantic that sits between Cascais and Peniche. And with it, discovering a little part of myself, eager and afraid, hopeful and nostalgic.