Day two of my tour through central Portugal brought me to Peniche. If you’re a surfer or enjoy other water sports, this small town is your best choice in Europe.
The city of Peniche is built on a small peninsula about an hour and a half north of Lisbon. With barely 15,000 people, it doesn’t even make the top 50 cities in Portugal. While the city itself has its own attractions, it’s Baleal Beach just to the north which is the main event.
Surfing Lessons with Naturexperience
Peniche is already considered the best surfing location in location, due to the design of the beaches, and as far as I can tell, Baleal Beach is the best location in the world to have surfing lessons. There are actually three beaches all next to each other (Baleal North, Baleal South and Dunas Beach), but facing different directions so that you can get lessons almost regardless of the direction of the wind and surf. An artificial spit was built out to an island with several rental homes on it, and with beaches on either side of the spit. Then there is a third beach a mile or so further south, closer to the city itself.
It had been many years since I was last on a surfboard – not since the days I lived in Oxnard on the Californian coast and my dad had passed on his longboard to me. At the time I was a regular Boogie boarder and body surfer. I tried out the longboard, but without organized surfing lessons, I didn’t advance too far.
Joao of Naturexperience was not only my tour guide, but the co-founder of his surf school, and the top instructor as well. While the two pro surfers of my tour went off to catch some waves on their own, Jose and I received surfing lessons. We were given boards made of a buoyant foam, which are the easiest to start off with. Donning wetsuits the school provided, we first drilled the motions on the sand, and then went out into the water for an hour to catch our first waves. I can’t say I actually landed any waves correctly (I used the knee for two), and my arms were killing me by the end of the hour. I had no idea those would be the muscles hurting the most.
High Performance Surfing Center of Peniche
(Centro de Alto Rendimento de Surf de Peniche)
On our way to lunch, we stopped at the Surfing Center. This really interesting building essentially accommodates the technicians and athletes who participate and manage the organized surfing in Peniche. Whether hosting the surfing championships or organizing surfing schools, this place is the hub. The structure contains berthing facilities, a common area, a kitchen, a sauna, a massage room and a conference room. There is also a display for the WaveRoller, an eco-friendly alternative energy machine harnessing the kinetic energy from the waves along the ocean floor.
Lunch at Xakra Beach Bar
Finally we were headed for lunch. We drove to a parking lot with a couple other cars, a deserted building and a rather unpleasant odor of old fish. It seemed we were in the wrong place entirely, until we walked across the dunes out to the beach and there found the actual restaurant. It’s a good thing we had reservations, since the place was absolutely packed! I wasn’t ready for more sardines with the fish bone still in my throat from Nazaré, but I helped myself to plenty of shrimp, bread and fish soup before devouring a hamburger.
Net Repairs at the Peniche Fishing Port
Our next stop was a rare treat, and not usually available for tourists. Our tour guide got us in to see the retired fisherman repairing old fishing nets at the port. As it was the summer, most of the nets were out on the ships. In winter, I was told that the warehouses are full to the brim with nets waiting to be repaired. Off-duty and retired fisherman work in the sun or the shade of the warehouse to fix the nets by hand, stitch after stitch. They didn’t speak any English, but they were certainly fascinating to watch.
Surfing Lessons, Round Two
Hardly waiting for the food to settle, Jose and I hit the waves again with Joao continuing our lessons. We did much better this time, and both of us caught several waves, working on our form each time. I was pleased to have made one great ride in good form before our hour was up. We were offered an extended lesson, but our muscles were screaming and we opted to call it a day.
One Night at Hotel Soleil
Our accommodations that night were at Hotel Soleil, halfway between Peniche and Baleal Beach. There wasn’t really anything special about the hotel, other than providing a good location to stay. The buffet dinner was good, but unfortunately a couple members of my tour took umbrage to the signing of the large Polish tour in the dining hall and the mood of the evening soured considerably. The pools at the hotel closed at 9:30, long before we finished dinner, so it was an early night to bed, and an early morning up for another buffet breakfast and jumping on the van. Next stop: Santa Cruz! Stay tuned.
Additional articles for central Portugal:
- Follow in my Footsteps: Spending a Week in Central Portugal
- Travel Advice: Finding the Best Accommodations in Santa Cruz, Portugal
- Follow in my Footsteps: Fish, Funiculars and 100-Foot Waves in Nazaré
- Follow in My Footsteps: The Santa Cruz That Isn’t on Google Maps
Planning to visit Portugal?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.