Portugal is more than good wine and lovely villages. The country also has some of the best surfing beaches in the world. If you’re looking for good food, white sands and some wonderful boutique hotels, Portugal is your country.
Most people head to Lisbon or Porto, or perhaps the Algarve Coast. Between these tourist destinations are some truly special spots. I’ve just spent a few days exploring the coast between Porto and Lisbon, and I thought you might enjoy seeing where I’ve been.
First, there is Nazaré. The town goes back nearly seventeen-hundred years, and it’s oldest church (a small chapel in the center of town, was built in 1182. Half the town is built on a cliff, overlooking the other half of the town. A funicular is available to get up the cliff, if you don’t have a car or a tour. The southern beach is full of tourists and beach umbrellas, and you can enjoy swimming and jet skiing out in the water.
Atop the cliff is a charming little restaurant with barely more than a dozen seats. Sitiado serves some truly delicious food and Portuguese tapas, perfect for lunch time.
At dinner, I ate at Taberna D’ Adélia. What an experience! After another huge round of appetizers including sardines, olives, cheeses and octopus, we were served an amazing fish soup with rice, prawns and huge chunks of anglerfish. The experience was slightly spoiled when I swallowed a fish bone, but I was still able to enjoy sampling the 9 different puddings they served.
That night, I stayed at Hotel Maré, located in the heart of the town just a stone’s throw from the beach, and with a great view of the cliff and lighthouse.
Speaking of the lighthouse, that’s where Garrett McNamara surfed the world-record wave back in 2011, and again in 2013! The first one was recorded at 78 feet, and the second was unofficially recorded at 100 feet!
Peniche was the second city I visited. This is the hub of surfing schools in central Portugal, and one of the best places to surf in Europe. There are three beaches, all facing different directions. With changing wind and currents, there’s hardly a day when at least one of the beach doesn’t have great waves to surf at. The surfing schools offer great rates for an hour or the whole day. I had Joao of Naturexperience as my teacher, and learned more in an hour under his tutelage than I did in a year teaching myself when I was a kid.
Hidden behind a couple sand dunes is the Xakra Beach Restaurant. I’d never have found it if my tour guide hadn’t brought me. Their prawn plate was just as good as the last two places, and their fish soup was delicious (a lot more creamy than Taberna D’ Adélia). I’ll admit I had a hamburger, since I was still recovering from the lodged fish bone and wasn’t ready for another.
Finally, we made our way down to Santa Cruz. Here’s where it really started getting good. We had more Portuguese food, but the quality was amazing! O Navio was our spot for lunch, where they served an epic octopus dish, among many other things.
Dinner stood out as simply the best. Noah Restaurant & Beach House is actually part of a whole chain of businesses, which include the eco-boutique hotel and spa Areias do Seixo, and the under-construction Noah Surf House. The manager takes the quality and design to incredible levels. The food set a whole new standard of seafood for me. I’ve actually never been a big fan of fish, but their tuna steak was absolutely heavenly. I can’t wait to go back for more, and perhaps even get a chance to stay at the Areias do Seixo.
Instead, I stayed at the Well Hotel and Spa, which I can hardly complain about. As far as a boutique hotel goes, it was simply perfect. The staff were so genuinely friendly. The bedroom had all the needed amenities, plus a stunning view of the ocean. And then there was the breakfast. I’ve never seen that much fruit on display outside of a market, and the fruit was just a small portion of the spread. Cereals, eggs, bacon, sausages, pancakes, pastries, and much, much more. Even wine!! There were also natas, Portugal’s signature pastries, made with egg and custard (rich, sweet and oh so delicious).
As the hotel had a spa, I couldn’t resist trying their services. The massage therapist, Tania, is a trained physical therapist and dermatologist, and her repertoire for massage is long. I had the Bali massage, my first ever, and my body still feels wonderful a week later as I write this.
While I haven’t been to all the hotels and restaurants in the center of Portugal, the ones I did visit were amazing, and I can’t recommend them enough. And don’t forget to sign up for your surfing lessons with Naturexperience.
Cover photo credit: Surf Lobography
Disclaimer: I’d like to thank Visit Portugal, Madomis Tours and Naturexperience, as well as all the hotels and restaurants mentioned. As always, my opinions are my own, and I’ve done nothing to give a false picture of their standards. They were just as good as I’ve said.