In October we spent a week on the road with Indiecampers making our way around Portugal. We drove 3000kms visiting Peniche, Ericeira, Lagos, Sagres and many places in between.
It was pretty sick to have a home on wheels with everything we could possibly need. There was no need to worry about transport or where we would sleep for the night, it was relatively chill to freedom camp around Portugal.
I don’t tend to plan a lot in advance I prefer to see where the road takes me. Having the freedom to go anywhere was perfect and usually it’s the best way to discover unknown places. With a couple of spots in Portugal in mind we started our journey from Bilbao, Spain. Naturally, we skipped the tourist route and ended up in some interesting little towns.
We took inland roads through Spain where we spent our first night in Cáceres, a city founded by Romans in 25 BC. This old town was beautiful in the sunshine, with original stone buildings and ancient medieval walls. We decided to camp here for the night in a random carpark. The camper was set up to sleep 4 people so it was pretty comfy with just the two of us.
Driving through Portugal I noticed an abundance of white and yellow houses in almost every town we passed. One of my favourite things about Portugal are these pastel coloured houses and the ancient brick and cobblestone roads that are only just big enough to drive a van through. One road we took led us through ‘Castelo de Vide’ which had an incredible fortress ruin almost 1000 years old at the top of a hill. I was stoked with the decision to take roads a little bit off the beaten track because of the places we stumbled upon around every corner.
Peniche is known for fishing and world class surf. We arrived here midday on the 22nd of October and parked up at Supertubos to catch some of the Ripcurl pro. It was funny to see a crowd out in the water and then a massive gap of no people where the comp was being held. Tiago paddled out to watch from the water and got a few waves for himself.
There was a long stretch of white sand to my left, and lots of little peaks turning over in the distance. To my right I could see the peninsula and a few old fishing boats going out to sea as the sky turned orange. I watched Tiago surf as the sun set over the ocean. A pretty breathtaking sight that I’ve only witnessed since spending time on the coast of Europe.
We discovered Europe’s cheapest campground ‘Parque de Campismo Municipal de Peniche’ which was perfect because we were stung by a bunch of expensive tolls on the drive over. Nobody on the gate spoke English or Spanish so I was pretty thankful Tiago spoke some Portuguese. We spent a good hour driving around in circles looking for a camping spot as the place was packed and our electricity cable wasn’t long enough to reach any of the electrical boxes. Tiago managed to communicate this to a chubby local man with a sense of humour, who we followed through the campground to a different area (in his red mini). That night we cooked veggie rice risotto and had hot showers in our home on wheels.
Peniche has heaps of beaches and surf spots facing multiple directions as it sticks out into the Atlantic Ocean. This means there’s always variety. We made friends with a guy from Italy who Tiago spent the afternoon surfing with. I took out a 7 ft soft top from Indiecampers but Tiago stole it and I ended up swimming next to him. Hungry and exhausted, we scoured the coast for a pizzeria and found exactly what we were after from a place near ‘Praia de Areia Branca’. The biggest pizza I have ever seen that could feed a family of 6. The most simple but delicious veggie pizza with spinach and olives.
The sunsets in Europe are absolutely incredible.
This particular evening I walked to the beach with a belly full of pizza and sat in silence on the esplanade wall with Tiago. I watched the different colours come and go across the sky. I noticed how people seemed to be happier and way more relaxed here. Everyone that passed was smiling. Vapour trails in the sky reminded me of how blessed I am to be able to travel and make it to Portugal in the first place. I was so incredibly grateful to be there and to have someone so likeminded by my side. A feeling I will never forget.
We later ventured to Algarve, the southern most region of Portugal (around 370kms away). By mid morning the wind was to hectic to enjoy the beach and we had to give the Benagil caves a miss. The Benagil sea cave is a picturesque place I’ve desired to visit for a long time. I remember a photo of a giant circular hole in an orange roofed cave on Pinterest when I was a teenager. I dreamed of one day seeing it with my own eyes. I knew I would return one day so I wasn’t upset with our decision to head west. We explored the red caves at ‘Praia do Camilo’. The waves were anything but calm so we didn’t get to see the beach in its prime with clear blue waters but the view was stunning regardless. We celebrated making it south with a beer and some freshly caught fish looking over Lagos in the hot sun.
We ventured along the coast to ‘Praia da Luz’. The name of the place was appropriate (luz meaning ‘light’) as the light from the late sun was incredible, creating long shadows and reminding me of cold, beach afternoons enjoying the sun at home in Dunedin. We found a spot on some rocks and watched the waves crash over the cliffs in the golden haze. It was an afternoon full of beach hopping and we were so stoked to be there. I don’t think we would have discovered this place if we had gone to the Benagil Caves so we were happy with how things turned out.
We parked up in Sagres for the night at Campsite Orbitur. The campground was well kept and apparently quite popular in warmer months. We were visiting in the off season so there were only a handful of people around but it seemed as though the place would go off in summer time with a bar and restaurant on site and heaps of camping spots (and mean showers). One thing I remember clearly was the earthy smell of the area and sounds of waves crashing in the distance. That night we recharged our camera batteries, cooked an extravagant ravioli and played music in the van.
We visited The Lighthouse of Cabo de São Vicente, a beacon located along the coastal peninsula of Sagres. This place was apparently the end of the known inhabited world for a few hundred years. It certainly feels like you’re standing on the edge of the earth set amongst a crazy rugged coastline with a big drop off. The lighthouse is also one of the most powerful in the world with a beacon that can be seen by ships hundreds of kilometres away. Some stalls by the lighthouse sold fossils of all sorts and delicate handmade bracelets and rings. I was in my element and fossicked through baskets of trinkets for souvenirs.
There is so much coastline in the area you could probably spend half a lifetime down there and not see it all. With roads going in all directions it’s the perfect place for a road trip and also the perfect, most picturesque place to get lost. Google maps rerouted a few times and sent us in some pretty random directions so we were constantly pulling over looking for landmarks. Siri absolutely cannot pronounce any Spanish or Portuguese place names and we came to the conclusion that the app was designed to test relationships.
Ericeira was the last stop on the tour and both mine and Tiago’s favourite place we visited for a number of reasons. The town had a really chill vibe, everyone seemed to be stress free and content with what they had. There was an old neighbourhood with littered with the classic white stone houses along cobblestone roads, and a more modern area of the town too. We arrived at night and slept in a carpark by the beach. I didn’t realise exactly where I was until morning when I was greeted with an amazing view of Praia do Sul. I immediately felt a connection with this place, like I had found my home away from home.
“I woke to the warmth of the sun rays filtering through the window and the smell of the ocean. Our front yard was looking like a postcard. An immense blue sea filled with swell lines. Got up and went outside to stretch a bit. It was a beautiful day and pretty hot for 8am. There were some people checking the surf even though the tide was pretty high and the waves kinda fat, but there was definitely some swell. I went inside and Ellen was making coffee so I set up our table and chairs outside to have a quite scenic breakfast. Oats with honey banana and cinnamon was in the menu as usual, accompanied by a hot beverage. I loved how every day we had breakfast in a different location; from little picnic stops on the side of the road to petrol stations to beautiful cliffs overlooking the ocean, which was the case this particular morning.
The van felt like a home for us, it had everything we needed and it was really comfortable and cosy. After having breaky we went and picked up my friend Dom (who’s been living in Ericeira for a while) and checked a few spots to go out for a surf. I was so in love with the place, beaches facing every direction, nice summery vibes (although almost winter season), and cool colourful architecture, (not to mention that Portuguese is my favourite language and I love how it sounds. I was happy I could practice my rusted Portuguese but was surprised by how much I remembered.) We decided to go out at Foz do Lizandro which was absolutely pumping. A left hand point break with barreling waves going all the way to the shore, and not many people out! We suited up and went down a little hill to get to the beach. The session was one to remember, definitely best one in Europe so far. Got a lot of waves until the tide got too low and the inside section was a bit too hectic so we decided to go in. We had left the van’s fridge on so we had some chilled drinks and snacks in the car park and headed to explore the town and get lunch. After walking a few blocks on cobblestone narrow streets filled with white old buildings, we got to the little town centre.” – Tiago
“During this trip I noticed how Portuguese architecture differs a lot from the rest of Europe. Houses are usually painted in white, yellow or blue, and they use heaps of “azulejos” which are tiny glazed ceramic tiles, as well as roof tiles; there´s almost no building without them. We had lunch in this place called “Sunset Bamboo”, a bar with tropical vibes and an interesting menu. We had quesadillas, sandwiches, and acai bowls. I missed this last one so much! Hadn´t had acai since my last visit to Brazil and I love it. The food was really yum, “delicioso”, how they say in Portugal.
Dom’s house was really cool. It was a tyical Portuguese building, with some tiles of course, really fresh inside, and flatmates from different countries. It reminded me a bit of flatting in Dunedin over summer; surfy vibes, shared meals, and happy atmosphere. I really enjoy living that way, and after travelling to different places it’s easy to realise how the ocean plays an important role in how people feel and the vibes of the place; even more if you’re a surfer. I noticed how most of the times people who live in places next to the coast tend to be “happier” or with better vibes than people that live far inland. After relaxing for an hour at Dom’s we went and drove around looking for a beach where Ellen could surf. We went out at Praia do Matadouro. There was a point break and a beachie, the point looked pretty fun with some nice rights, but I went out with Ellen in the beach break.
The session ended up being pretty short as it was quite shallow and there were some rocks in the bottom. We had a quick shower at the carpark and headed to Ribeira d´Ilhas beach to watch the sunset before getting back on the road to Spain. When we got there I couldn´t believe how good the waves were, kinda like snapper rocks but way less people out. It got dark really fast so I didn’t go out, but we had a beer watching the sunset behind the waves. Sunsets in Portugal are such a spectacle, so beautiful to see the sun setting in the ocean, it reminded me of home.” – Tiago
This experience was pretty crazy, and left me feeling overwhelmed. We drove almost 3000kms in 7 days and saw a lot of the coastline. Portugal has an abundance of beautiful places which we explored. I’d love to come back to these spots someday and have more time to immerse in the culture. Our favourite city was Ericeira, the chill vibe of the place just can’t be beaten.
Cheers to Indie Campers for making this experience possible. Our wonderful little home on wheels was the best way to explore this beautiful country.