The Portuguese fishing village of Ericeira harbours a secret, or, depending on how fussy you are, about 11 world-class secrets.

Thirty miles northwest of Lisbon on Portugal’s Atlantic coast, Ericeira’s perfect set-up means that you can surf sublime reefs, points, and beach-breaks all within about four miles of coastline.

Ranging from the fin/head-gouging White Rock, to the mellow beach-break of Sao Lorenzo, you could film a well-rounded surf documentary here in one single afternoon.

Waves include:

  • 5-star World Qualification Series venue Ribeira D’Ihas, which appears at first sight to be a fairly mellow reef breaking over a sand/rock bottom, but gets a lot more interesting once overhead.
  • Coxos: an Anka-style grinding right-hander up there with the best. This is one of those breaks that any serious European surfer needs to tick off their list.

Aside from these big guns of the European surf scene, there are plenty of other spots within the town limits:

  • Reef is popular with those staying at the campsite.
  • Backdoor is a slab-reef that has fun, slappable sections.
  • Sao Lorenzo has classic French-style beachy peaks sandwiched between a sucky left and a mellow slab-reef right on either side of the bay.

All spots have their day, and it’s not uncommon to be driving through town and spot a couple of guys out on a random reef that just happens to be working.

Although the reefs and points are generally the domain of experienced surfers, there are mellower breaks and the beaches, especially Sao Lorenzo, suit all levels. There are a couple of surf-schools based in town.

What turns it on?

As with the rest of the Portuguese coast, Ericeira picks up any swell going in the Atlantic and, because those North Atlantic swells have put in a few miles, expect well lined up, setty sessions when it’s on.

When to go?

Well, it’s Europe, so autumn, spring, and winter. Summer can get good, but is less consistent and the Nortada (a strong northerly wind caused by the Azores High) tends to kick in early in the day and will wreck the surf.

I want more than world-class surf!

Ericeira is about as Portuguese as you can get and, although it’s a popular holiday destination, it’s popular with the Portuguese, so no Algarve-style tourism and no golf courses. It’s more about wandering around the streets and grabbing a coffee and a pastry after a morning session.

In the evening, there are some bars where things kick off after midnight, and plenty of restaurants. Wander down some of the gloomier side streets to find the best food.

If you want culture, the Sintra National Palace is pretty cool and it’s only 45 minutes from Lisbon.

If you think you’re done with the surf in Ericeira (or the Nortarda’s too much for you!) then heading up to the more sheltered Peniche, or down to the south facing breaks of Lisbon, is always an option.

Getting there and staying there

Lisbon is only 30 miles from the town, so flying into the capital city makes sense.

If you’ve booked a flight to the Algarve (Faro) and the surf’s looking flat down south, but is going off up north (It happens…!), then it’s a 3½-hour drive up to Ericeira. Driving down from Porto is also feasible.

When it comes to putting your head down after another epic day, there are many pensions in the town and, especially out of summer, prices are negotiable, so you should find something for 20 or 30 Euros for two people. Just take a walk around the town and look out for the pension and room signs.

The municipal campsite is also a good option and rents chalets and surf shacks. It’s nicely done out, clean… and there are five breaks within strolling distance: a good option if you’re not renting a car, and catching the bus to town from the airport.

Will I score perfect surf? Is it too crowded?

When it’s on, the sheer number of waves means that you should be able to find yourself a decent peak that’s not too busy, but be prepared to search a bit if you don’t want to be hustling for your cover-ups.

All breaks are significantly busier at weekends as the Lisbon surfing contingent moves into the town, and if you’re surfing in Coxos or Ribeira D’Ihas when it’s on, you’ll need to be assertive.

Will you score world class waves? If there’s swell in Ericeira and you know which way to point a surfboard: no doubt.

This article was originally published on March 17th, 2009.

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