As a Flight Attendant, I always visit vibrant cities with at least 1 million people around me. Although I do like to be surrounded by tourists and locals with each their own story to live, I also like to take time off now and then. Checking out of people, traffic, noise.. A few weeks ago I had a few days annual leave, and as always I wanted to go somewhere. But where do you go this time of the year when you want peace and quit but you don’t want to isolate yourself in a wooden chad and go all the way back to basics? Well, you go surfing in Costa Da Caparica! I totally fell in love with the sport about 2 years ago in Australia, and now I want to fall off a board every occasion I get. What’s the expression again? Where there is a will, there’s a way? Right, as I quote my surf teachers (and who am I to disagree?):
A few more lessons and you're a pro!
Unfortunately we are October, which means it starts to get quite chilly in Europe. To enjoy that last bit of sunshine and warmth, I decided to head as south as possible but still easily accessible by plane. After some research I ended up loving everything I read about Costa Da Caparica, Portugal.
Salty air and beach hair at Costa Da Caparica
Caparica is a little town about 30 minutes from Lisbon City. In summer it’s a popular holiday destination among the Portuguese but the region is almost unknown to foreign tourists. The coastline has some of the best beaches for either sunbathing, relaxing strolls or catching some waves. The small streets are covered in cobblestones and every little white house has some surfboards on the terrace, waiting to be taken out for a late night swim. The more south you go, the less people you will encounter. The town is ideal if you seek some nature and culture close by.
As I went to improve my surfing skills, I stayed over in a hostel only a few blocks away from the sea. ‘Lost Caparica’ is a nice hostel that provides a holiday atmosphere with all necessities you need to make your stay comfortable. They have a lovely breakfast with lots to choose from and most importantly, they provide their own surf lessons multiple times a day at walking distance from the hostel. Filipa and Luis are really nice people and we totally fell in love with their dog, Serra. Honestly, dogs make me feel at home, so whenever there’s a dog in the game, I only have nice things to say.
At arrival we rented a Fiat 500 to do some sightseeing during our stay. The inside is indeed as tiny as it looks on the outside, but it’s a compact and really easy car to drive with in unfamiliar areas. I was a bit concerned about the traffic in Portugal. If it was anything like the traffic in Spain or Italy, I would definitely have caused accidents. But I have to admit, traffic in Portugal is well organized and we managed to arrive on every destination, even with a navigator that hasn’t been updated for 48 months! I have to say, special thanks to my co-pilot because we were a great team.
Besides enjoying the waves with some handsome teachers who definitely knew how to keep our focus, we also visited some highlights in the region of Lisbon. If you are not into city tripping but you do want to spend some time in and around Lisbon, these options are definitely worth a visit!
5 alternative places worth a visit in Lisbon:
EstorilOnly a short drive from Caparica, you can find the exclusive town of Estoril. This town is a beautiful mix of stylish beach lifestyle and the simplicity of a stunning coastline. Besides great restaurants and exclusive shops, you can enjoy some delightful wine in one of the many beach bars, or you can seek some perfect waves more North from town. Estoril obtained it's glamorous reputation due to the famous Casino where Europe's elite and famous were to be found. The Casino is also used as centre piece of James Bond's 1970's movie, On Her Majesty's Secret Service.
Parque Natural Da Arrabida
is situated in the most southern point of the peninsula between Setùbal and the little fishing town Sesimbra. The park consists of several mountain ranges like the ‘Serra Da Arrabida’ and the ‘Serra Do Risco’, which has the highest mountain top of the Portuguese mainland. It’s unique diversity of clear blue water, lime formation and green vegetation makes you feel like you’re one with nature. The incredible views are breath-taking and with some help from the sun, you get perfect Instagram pictures! You can access the park freely, although some parts of the park are only accessible with a professional guide to protect the fauna and flora. For the extreme adventurers, there are some sports organized in the park like speleology, diving or mountain climbing. We, less extreme adventurers, drove around and stopped from time to time for some highly professional photo-shoots and pick nick with baguette and cheese. Yes, that’s French, but also really handy ‘on the go’ food. If you like to know more about this national park, you can visit the oceanographic museum in Forte De Nossa Senhora Da Arrabida. Opposite of this museum you will find a little island ‘Pedra Da Anixa’ which is a zoological sanctuary.
Sintra, on the other hand, is all about history and tourist clichés. The historic centre is ideal to start your visit, if you find a parking lot to dump your car for the day without paying a fortune. We drove around town for half an hour before we found a tiny little spot which was all we needed for our compact city-sized car. When in Lisbon, there are 2 clichés you need to eat and drink. Especially in Sintra, there is no way around Ginjinha and Pasteis De Belém.
Ginjinha is liqueur made with Ginja berries and served in a cup of chocolate. They taste the best in small old bars where there is usually not even room to sit or stand with more than 4 people. The interior design of these bars are rather simple; a wooden plank with some chocolate cups and a few bottles of Ginjinha, which makes it very cheap. One drink will cost you about 1 euro. I would highly recommend you to try it out. Even if your not a big fan of alcohol you're going to like it anyways! The chocolate tastes even better after the liqueur, and don't we all love chocolate?
The other cliché is Pasteis De Belém. This sweet round pastry is filled with vanilla custard and surprisingly delicious. Only 3 people know the recipe and they are not allowed to travel together only to make sure the pastry will live happily ever after.
Besides the clichés, there is more history to discover in Sintra. Palacio Da Pena and Castelo Dos Mouros, both on the Unesco World Heritage list, are definitely worth a visit. They do require a long steep walk up the hill, but it will be more than worth it. Obviously, we were barely alive after a successful surf lesson, so we took the sightseeing bus to the top, which leaves every few minutes from the Palacio Nacional in the centre of Sintra. You can also use more fun ways to visit the palace, like the motorcycles with
Castelo Dos Mouros
This castle was build in the 9th century by the Moors to defend their areas around Sintra. Trough the years several renovations were made mainly reconstructing the walls around the area. There is still a church inside the walls but it collapsed due to the decay of the Castelo in the 16th century.
Palacio Da Pena
A few kilometers higher you fill find the Palacio Da Pena. This is by far the most romantic Castle I have ever seen. It reminds me of the Disney classics with it’s charming castles and princesses. The location, on top of the hill, gives you a phenomenal view over Sintra. Originally it was build as a monastery where not more than 18 monks lived. By the 19th century, the ruins where bought by Ferdinand II and he build a castle influenced by different styles such as neo-Gothic and neo-Islamic. The colours, round shapes and towering gives the total image a romantic feeling. Definitely worth a Rapunzel-moment from the upper tower. There might even be a Portuguese prince waiting for you at the bottom of the tower to sweep you of your feet. Yes, this castle sets high and unrealistic expectations, but we all do like to dream, don't we?
Although I like some culture and architecture, I was happy to drive back to the relaxing sound of the waves rolling down the beach. I haven’t visited Lisbon yet and I definitely will in the future, but I am happy I discovered a different side of the popular city trip destination.