Central Portugal - Beaches, lagoons and real-life fairy tales

Part 2 of Portugal in 10 days: A "Tour de Portugal" from Lisbon to Porto!

Many tourists who’ve visited Portugal in the past - and continue to visit - head to Algarve and the beaches in the south of the country. Nowadays, more and more people are drawn away from the glitz & glamour and in stead look for rugged nature & rural charm. I like both glamorous beaches and places "off the beaten path" - somehow Central & Northern Portugal seemed to fit that bill better, combining the two.

In this second part of the Portugal in 10 days series we'll look at what you can find between the two hot spots of Portugal, Lisbon and Porto!


Click here to read the first part:
Lisbon and Sintra - Walking to the beat of Kizomba


Ericeira

One of my favourite places - if not the favorite place - in Central & Northern Portugal was Ericeira. Located conveniently close to Lisbon is a small town with charming narrow cobblestone streets and many inviting beaches.

The heart of Ericeira

The heart of Ericeira

Ericeira's small city centre is cute as a button. There are plenty of interesting small alleys with shops, restaurants and bars. Reservations are a must during the high season! We ate at the highly popular Pedra Dura (recommend it!) and had drinks and dessert on one of the small town squares, watching some local performers singing on a stage.

There are many options if you're looking to spend a day on the beach in Ericeira. We found ourselves on the Praia Baleia, "whale beach", south of the centre of Ericeira. It was a stunning cove with soft sand and high cliffs all around. It looked like a good place to surf as well, like most places on the coast for that matter. What I liked was the small secluded areas on the south end of the beach between. On Praia Baleal you'll also find a lovely seaside restaurant where we had a delicious lunch.

The coast around Ericeira is spectacular and worth the drive, so in case you find yourself in the area with your own wheels then venture out of the city!

The atmosphere in Ericeira is very relaxed and thought it is a bit touristy (as you can imagine in the middle of the holiday season) it's not at all "in your face". Sadly we had only one day there - would have been lovely to stay just a bit longer!

 

Óbidos 

Only a short drive north from Lisbon there some fantastic beach towns, such as Ericeira and Cascais. But that's not the only water & beach related fun in the area. Continuing up the coast you'll soon come to Lagoa de Óbidos, a lagoon about 100 km north of the capital. More than just the lagoon, a sight on its own is the stunning hilltop town of Óbidos. I read my guidebooks first two lines about Óbidos (Eyewitness Travel’s Portugal, 2014):

Óbidos

Óbidos

“This enchanting hilltown with whitewashed houses is enclosed within 14th-century walls. When King Dinis married Isabel of Aragon in 1282, Óbidos was one of his wedding presents to her.” If that’s not like something out of a fairy tale then I don’t know what is.

Óbidos seen from the road leading to the city

Óbidos seen from the road leading to the city

P7302337.JPG

While small, Óbidos makes a big impression. Walking up and down the alleys at sunset time was probably the most dreamy, romantic thing on the whole trip!

 

How close to the edge do you dare to go?

How close to the edge do you dare to go?

PENICHE

The next morning we woke to a cloudy day, so instead of going to the Lagoa de Óbidos for some outdoor sports we headed to Peniche for sightseeing.

Well, the cloudy Peniche wasn’t perhaps the most impressive town in the Portuguese coast. It has it's typical small city centre with lots of shops and restaurants. Close to the shore there was a fair, which I can image is busy during the summer evenings. But what I really liked was the cliffs outside the city.

For lunch we drove to the small peninsula of Baleal. The beach was quite tempting and the sun started to come out again. There were loads of people in the shallow water with surfboards, learning to catch the waves. The waves are quite pleasant and the beach is big - you can see why Peniche is a popular "learn-to-surf" destination.

 

A tempting quiet spot at the beach in Baleal - the water was full of surfers

A tempting quiet spot at the beach in Baleal - the water was full of surfers


Lagoa de Óbidos

While most of the people were surfing in Peniche, we were anxious to get on water with another device. We drove back to the Lagoa de Óbidos, to the south side of lagoon and looked for a spot where they were renting kayaks. We made a nice loop in the bay and saw some fun flying fishes. The Lagoa is quite big so you can make a rather good trip out of it. The kayak rental goes for about 10€ for one hour.

There’s a lot to see around the Lagoa, a car will come in hand. On the south and north sides there are big beaches, close to the of mouth of the lagoon. At one point you can almost walk to the other side when the water is at its lowest. The current is quite strong even in the shallow water and the water can rise fast so I wouldn’t say it’s advisable! On both the north and south sides of the Lagoa there are some nice restaurants. One day we stopped for a couple hours on the southern beach - another day on the northern side, and had lunch there in the village of Foz do Arelho.

Foz do Arelho, THE northern shore of the lagoon, the POINT WHERE THE LAGOON MEETS THE ATLANTIC

Foz do Arelho, THE northern shore of the lagoon, the POINT WHERE THE LAGOON MEETS THE ATLANTIC

For the second night we thought we’d try something new around that area and drove to the closeby town (and not a small one!) Caldas da Rainha for dinner. In the area of Imaginario we had looked up a traditional restaurant Adega do Albertino - it’s a bit out of the city but a very quaint place and they served up a fantastic dinner! 

To get the best out of this area definitely get your own set of wheels!

Sunset in Óbidos

Sunset in Óbidos


Figueira da Foz - Praia de Mira

North from Peniche and Óbidos comes Nazaré, popular among the beach-goers. We had planned to make a stop in Nazaré but once we arrived there we saw that the whole beach and town was covered in a thick mist. We were excited to see the sun so this didn't look like the best place to stay. Luckily we had no hotels booked so we jumped back in the car.

Continuing up the coast a bit after Nazaré comes Figueira da Foz.  If you're looking for a beach with a private patch of sand this is your destination; Figueira da Foz claims to have the widest beach in Europe! You have to walk literally 1 km over the sand from the road to reach the water.

The endless beach at Figueira da Foz

The endless beach at Figueira da Foz

Aside for the massive beach Figueira da Foz has some things to offer for the travelers. Once you're out of the beach, in the city there are some public pools if you don’t feel like making the trek (literally!) to the sea. There's also a casino if you're looking to get rid of - I'm sorry, win - some extra travel cash! Our favorite place for dinner was a superb seafood restaurant Caçarola.

Figueira da Foz is also good place to get some shopping done! One a cloudy morning we found ourselves in the fairly big shopping center outside the city and I emptied a few of the shops there. For the ladies looking for colorful, floaty, ethnic, dance gear, go check out Natura!

 

Praia de Mira

Once back on the road, we continued on the small roads along the coast towards Aveiro and we stumbled upon Praia de Mira. The “beach” signs and the sunshine looked tempting so we turned our wheels towards the shore. And it wasn’t a disappointment - there were miles of beaches and very very inviting dunes.

The town itself was small, more of a 1970's holiday village really. It does lack the charm of e.g. Ericeira but makes for a nice lunch stop if you're passing it on the coast. We enjoyed the afternoon on beach and continued onwards, north to Porto.

In the next and final part of the "Tour de Portugal" we'll visit Porto and the Douro valley. More travel & dance tips to come!