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ERICEIRA, Portugal Aug 22, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Summer in the Mediterranean is equal parts charismatic and cramped.
Most cities and beaches become so jammed that Canadians can’t help but long for a wide-open prairie. Yet France, Spain and Italy have so much else going for them that it seems we just can’t restrain ourselves from visiting during the peak summer months.
But one Mediterranean country that’s delightfully un-cramped is Portugal, especially if you take a slight step off the tourist track, such as to the Portuguese fishing village of Ericeira.
I visited Ericeira for a week in June with my friend Ashley from Calgary. Even though we started from opposite sides of the globe, we both managed to arrive at Lisbon airport within five minutes of each other – a good travel omen if ever there was one.
Ericeira is home to Europe’s first World Surf Reserve, about eight kilometres of coastline with a variety of waves suitable for all levels of surfers – and that’s why Ashley booked us an apartment by the ocean for a week via Airbnb.
Ericeira is just a 45-minute drive from Lisbon airport. We made our way north in our rented car in the dark, sans GPS, but still managed to find our flat with no problem (another good omen). After Elio, our host, showed us around our place, we headed into town to grab dinner.
It’s midnight by the time we’re eating pizza and pasta on a busy patio, but this being Portugal things are just getting going: we’re treated to a parade, marching band and all, marking one of many June festivals.
The next morning, we strolled the cobbled streets admiring white-washed buildings covered in Portugal’s quintessential blue-and-white azulejo tiles. We’re pleasantly surprised by the variety of stores (think: lots of surf shops, cute Portuguese shoes and locally made jewelry) and the local food market, teeming with old Portuguese women.
To add to its charm, Ericeira, population 7,000, lies atop dramatic cliffs with the Atlantic crashing below. Fishermen cast lines right off the edge in the middle of town.
By coming here early in the season, we appeared to have missed the crowds. We heard mostly Portuguese on the streets and watched old men bantering and sipping coffee in front of cafes.
We headed down to Foz do Lizandro to surf, renting a board and some wetsuits from NaOnda Surf School on the boardwalk and took turns between catching some waves and lying on the beach eating fresh fruit. Lizandro’s boardwalk is also home to several bars and restaurants, making it easy to enjoy an entire day on the beach.
After a couple of days on the sand, we decide to switch it up and drove 30 minutes south to Sintra, a haven of 19th century Romantic architecture and a World Heritage Site. It’s also home to the Pena National Palace, the former summer residence of the Portuguese royal family, as well as a Moorish Castle built in the 8th or 9th century.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a more picturesque day trip, but all of the jostling with tourists made us all the more happy to get back to our own peaceful paradise in Ericeira.
On our third night, we headed to one of the town’s best restaurants, Tasca de Boa Viagem (which translates roughly as Tavern of Good Journeys). The charming tavern has a great ocean mural running the length of the room and specializes in Portuguese meat and fish – oh, and the best chocolate cake we’ve ever eaten.
Not only is the food delicious but the locals are friendly and offer up free advice on the local surf breaks. Our waiter turned out to be a surf instructor for the Ericeira Surf School, housed in the same building as the restaurant and Ericeira Hostel. He tells us that if we had arrived a few weeks later we’d be lining up to get in the restaurant.
A couple days later we headed out to Ribeira d’Ilhas for a lesson to up our game. The rocky point break hosts the Quiksilver Pro Portugal each year and I, for one, am very glad we had a guide. Because we’ve missed the high season, there were just three other surfers in our group.
We while away the rest of the week checking out different beaches, drinking wine and eating great food. By the end of the week, the trials and tribulations of day-to-day life feel a world away. Indeed, it’s hard to think of a better place to vacation in Europe for a mix of culture, adventure and pure relaxation.
At the end of the week, we visited Tasca Da Boa Viagem again and our waiter served us up a bonus piece of chocolate cake as the staff sat down for their own dinner. Worried about overstaying our welcome, I told him to feel free to kick us out.
“No, don’t worry. This your home now.”
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