Arrábida National Park
As one of our side trip tracks, we had the opportunity to take a day trip to see a bit more of the natural beauty of Portugal. Just about an hour south of Lisbon is a beautiful place called Arrábida National Park. This region hosts a micro-climate a bit different than that of the city. The protected area of lush south-facing hills, roll across the coastline and into the Atlantic Ocean. The winding cliffside road reminded me a bit of Big Sur as it tightly hugged teach turn. We stopped at a viewpoint and our guide, Nuno, pointed out an old Monastery, which they called a “Convento”, tucked into the hillside below. Much to our surprise, we were actually able to head down and visit the grounds of this 16th-century Monastery. We were given a guided tour by the sweetest old man that was the groundskeeper. He didn’t speak any English, but Nuno was able to translate for us as he walked us around the property. The little jokes the old man told may have been lost in translation, but his laugh and smile were understood by us all.
After a few weeks in the city, my partner, Ryan, was eager to hit the road and start exploring a bit more of the coast. We reserved a basic little rental car at a local Hertz, but when we arrived, we found out they had upgraded us to a brand new BMW hatchback. This was a nice surprise yet a little nerve-wracking knowing we would also be navigating narrow one-way streets in our brand new whip. Our first stop about an hour outside of Lisbon at the little seaside town of Ericeira.
Magic Quiver Surf Lodge
Located along the Atlantic coast this windy little fishing town was also home to a ton of surfers from across Europe. Ryan was pumped to get to surf in a new country and I surprised him with the boutique surf hotel I had booked in town. The place was called Magic Quiver Surf Lodge. The few nights I had reserved also included a credit towards a board and wetsuit rental. Did I mention breakfast was included too? This wasn’t your typical bread and jam spread. It was a multi-course breakfast with espresso drink included. Definitely, something to set an alarm and hop out of bed for. All the ingredients were local as well including the insanely tasty goat butter. I had never tried it before and being dairy-free, it was the BEST thing since sliced bread.
As we walked around the chilly, rainy streets of this little town we wondered why it felt so empty. We soon came to the realization that March was definitely offseason, not only for tourists but most surfers as well. One of the first nights in town we followed our ears to a tiny little bar playing music. The place was packed and we were squished in by the door warmed up by our second round of Caipirinha drinks, made with fermented sugar cane juice. It was there I found the confidence to start a conversation and introduce ourselves to a couple local guys at the table. We got to talking and found out they were born and raised in the area and he and his brother ran a surf school nearby. He told us we had lucked out finding this bar as it was a hot spot for local surfers in the offseason and on lay days when they knew they weren’t getting up early to surf. We spent a couple hours there chatting and I practiced the few Portuguese words I had learned. My accent for the few words I did know was enough to throw him off a bit. He said, “You look like you could be Portuguese so at first, I assumed you spoke it as well”. We chatted about life in California and Ry and the boys bonded over their love of the ocean. We told the guys they would be welcome to crash with us if they ever made their way out to California. And if they are reading this I hope they do!
“Adjusting to working from a new country this past month has come with the constant anxious feeling that I needed to see and do everything to make the most of my time here. But as the weeks passed, I came to realize that this chapter is more about slowing things down. Being here is enough.” @carlyclem
Over the next few days, we learned how windy this stretch of the Atlantic coast can be and how the local surfers base their day around the wind. At home, we use an app called Surfline to check the buoys and swell, but here, since they are so exposed to the Atlantic they abide by the wind and check the app WindGuru. We also confirmed that we had chosen to visit at one of the worst times of the year for surf conditions and that it was best to visit at the bookends of summer in June or September. Duly noted for next trip!
Just north of Ericeira is a beach called Ribeira d’Ilhas. Determined to get in the water despite the cold temps, Ryan eagerly suited up paddled out while I bundled up and shot some photos.
The next day, with the weather still not the greatest we decided to do a day trip a couple hours further north to the well-known town of Nazaré. Home to one of the largest waves in the world reaching up to 100 feet and the home of one of the XXL wave contests. We, of course, weren’t going there to surf but to set foot near the famous lighthouse viewing spot. Unfortunately for us, there was no spectacle to view as the ocean that day was dead flat. A bummer after making the drive, but as they say, you can’t predict the weather.
While Portugal is quite a small country it takes quite a while to get from town to town. Outside of the few major cities, the majority of the country is small-town vibes. You have slow two-lane roads that wind through the hills or you have the main highway that is a more direct route but has tolls all along the way. I think we ended up spending nearly $75USD on toll roads. So while the coastal route is definitely not the most direct, if you have the time it can save you a bit of money.
Sintra and Cascais
On our way back to Lisbon we decided to take an alternate route along back roads to the town of Sintra to visit the famous Pena Palace. The vivid colored palace is located high up on the hill with a massive garden on the grounds leading up to it. I was mesmerized by this castle and property that seemed to have come out of a fairy tale making my childhood dreams come to reality. Later that afternoon we happened upon a bit of sunshine in-between the spouts of rain and were able to make a pit stop for dinner in the little beach town of Cascais. Having the rental car and not waiting on the train or bus time table was a key and allowed us to be on our own time schedule.
Our next stop was to head south to the southernmost part of Portugal, the Algarve. Located about 3 hours south of Lisbon this region is most famous for its beaches and is a hot spot for Europeans during their summer holidays. But once again we were riding the offseason train, which turned out to be the only way we were able to snag a last-minute hotel for the night for only $30USD. Our week on the road was quickly coming to an end, yet Ryan’s quest for more surf spots wasn’t over. We drove around the coast from Armação de Pêra to the tiny town of Lagos. Where the weather was a lot warmer, and the sea was calmer, but alas still no waves. Instead, we took the scenic route to check out the other small beaches in the area and even got a little turned around by some four-legged local traffic.
Last Days in the City
Our last days back in the city were bittersweet. But one of our city team members said something during our last week that would stick with me forever. A few of us were talking about how much we loved this city and that we were sad to be leaving. He so casually told us that it was better this way and said:
“Before you have seen everything and while it is all still good, go out on a high note. So it is always a sweet memory.”
And for now, that’s what Lisboa remains to me.
**For anyone interested in joining Remote Year please feel free to reach out and send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org or a DM on Instagram @carlyclem so that I can refer you and you can get a $200 discount on your first month.