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This feature comes courtesy of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Until this point, I hadn’t thought deeply about how waves are formed, about the climatic and gravitational influences that move salty ocean water over submerged landscapes, causing it to swell, rise, curve, and then burst into a furious lather of foam. I feel that ignoring this before now has been a mistake, as I stand on one of Europe’s most renowned surfing shores, awkwardly holding a beginners’ softboard, wetsuit clinging to me.
Francisco Romeiras of Ericeira Surf Clube guides me to the waves crashing into Ribeira d’Ilhas, a breathtaking beach amphitheater hugged by tall, golden cliffs facing the Atlantic. He speaks a surfer’s lingo, describing the long point break and explaining how its reliability has attracted surfers to Ericeira since the early ’70s. Ready to try it out?
I’m glad that I’ll be practicing near the shore instead of with distant, skilled surfers. I spend an hour under Francisco’s instruction, learning not to overthink and how to ride a wave. He coaches me through the process, and I eventually manage to stand up on the board, though I quickly fall into the shallow waters.
After exiting the surf, Francisco shows me ‘The Guardian’, a silvery statue representing Ericeira’s commitment to the environment. As a World Surfing Reserve, the town celebrates its surfing culture, history, and economy. It’s a status that was earned in 2011, with Ericeira being the second place to achieve this after Malibu. The British were thrilled when North Devon became the 12th location to gain this status in May 2023.
As we pack up, I meet Ulisses Reis, a long-time local, who reminisces about the early days of the beach and expresses some concern about the rapid commercialization of surfing. Though he appreciates the present, he prefers the past simplicity.
The best surfing in Ericeira occurs during the ‘Shoulder Seasons,’ between spring and summer, and autumn and winter.
Despite the influx of tourists, the local vibe remains peaceful. Surf shops and modern eateries exist alongside traditional places. The history of the town, founded in 1229, now incorporates a strong surfing culture that drives the local economy.
Ana Vaz from the tourism bureau explains the difficulties of traditional fishing and how surf tourism offers a viable alternative. We explore Ericeira’s coastline and its unique wave patterns, understanding the geographical aspects and the local dedication to preserving the culture and marine ecosystem.
The town’s history as a travelers’ destination and its recent popularity with digital nomads underscore the challenges of balancing the needs of newcomers with those of long-time residents. But there’s much more to explore inland.
Beyond beautiful beaches, Ericeira’s historic town center offers more to see. Nearby is Mafra with its vineyards, ceramic art, and the magnificent Palace of Mafra.
In the hilly town of Sintra, I switch to rock climbing. This picturesque place, described by Lord Byron as a ‘glorious Eden’, has granite mountain faces offering some of Portugal’s best climbing experiences.
Luis Batista, my climbing instructor from Desnivel, guides me up the 150ft-high Penedo da Amizade. Trust and persistence get me to the top on my third try, where I enjoy a breathtaking view of the western coast of Portugal.
This past week has been a journey of discovery and learning, experiencing both the sea and the heights under the guidance of experts. A moment of reflection at the top is interrupted by Luis’ call, and I realize it’s time to return to solid ground.
Sintra’s bouldering options are great for those looking for land-based challenges.
TAP offers year-round flights to Lisbon from various cities. Sea view rooms at Vila Galé Ericeira hotel start at €120 (£103), including breakfast.
This article appears in the September 2023 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK).
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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Adventures
When is the best time for surfing in Ericeira?
The best time for surfing in Ericeira is during the “Shoulder Seasons,” which fall between spring and summer, and autumn and winter.
What is the significance of Ericeira being a World Surfing Reserve?
Ericeira’s designation as a World Surfing Reserve, awarded by Save the Waves Coalition in 2011, celebrates its exceptional surfing culture, economy, and environment. It’s the second place in the world, after Malibu, to receive this recognition.
How has tourism affected Ericeira’s traditional fishing community?
Tourism, particularly surf tourism, has become a viable alternative for the younger generation, providing economic opportunities beyond traditional fishing. However, there’s a delicate balance between the needs of new visitors and preserving the local way of life.
What are the attractions in Sintra, apart from its historical sites?
Sintra offers more than historical attractions, with its granite mountains providing excellent opportunities for rock climbing, adding an adventurous dimension to the picturesque town.
What challenges does Ericeira face with the rising tide of travelers?
Ericeira faces the challenge of maintaining a balance between catering to the needs of new tourists and ensuring the well-being of the local residents. Efforts are being made to encourage travelers to explore beyond the World Surfing Reserve.
How has Ericeira’s surfing scene evolved over the years?
Ericeira has transformed from a simple surf camp on the beach into a hub for surfing, with numerous surf schools, shops, and modern amenities. This growth has brought both positive changes and concerns about commercialization.