Known for its world-class waves and beautiful beaches, Peniche was the perfect patch of Lisbon coastline for a group of 20-something year old dudes and dudettes frothing for a bit of pre-exam season sun and surf. Although the sun (and the surf) did disappoint at times, two Nissan Micras and endless dirt tracks leading to local breaks did not leave Exeter University Surf Club short of adventures during our week surfing with Maximum Surf Camp in Baleal.
Located about 2 hours north of Lisbon, Baleal is a small fishing village with an island connected to mainland Peniche at low tide by a bar of sand. The long peninsula protruding into the Atlantic Ocean means it has swell coming in from all directions, making Peniche a surfing mecca with waves suited to all levels, from the gentle waves at Lagide all the way to the board-snapping breaks at Supertubos.
It’s not just the perfect waves that attract surfers from all over the world. The friendly locals and the deliciously traditional (and cheap!) food lure travellers to stay for weeks, even months at a time. However long you decide to stay and whatever you’ve come for, you must not – I repeat MUST NOT – leave without trying the famous pastel de nata of Portugal. A pastry parcel of creamy, custardy cinnamon goodness. Another culinary favourite of the surf club, though less traditional and not so local, were the sacred Filipino biscuits… I’m pretty sure we cleared out the local shop’s supply of these white chocolate rings of heaven.
When you’re not surfing (which won’t be very often), hire a bike and explore the craggy coastline of Baleal Island, or jump in a rental car and visit Peniche to marvel at the 16th century seaside fort and historic walled port. One evening before dinner, a group of us set off in one of the rental cars in search of a spot to watch the sunset. A twisting potholed dirt track lead us to Praia da Almagreira, a long stretch of beach with blissfully empty waves beneath rugged red clay cliffs. We clambered up as high as we could and gazed out to the west back towards Baleal, where the sun slipped below the horizon, casting a golden glow over this wild landscape.