Making waves in beach paradise

THERE is nothing quite like the feeling of boarding a Friday morning flight from Ireland: nothing like relaxing back into your seat as you gaze out of the window, feeling the engines surge as the plane rises out of the grey, cold mist on a journey bound for a weekend of golden beaches and blue skies.

That dreamy feeling, however, is seriously souped up, is multiplied by gazillions, when you’re two knackered working parents hightailing it on a much needed kid-free weekend away. And on a weekend where you’re about to try out something you’ve always wanted to — surfing.

Our destination for the weekend was Portugal’s Atlantic coast and the cliff top village of Ericeira on a Surfholidays.com package. Just 30 minute’s drive from Lisbon Airport, the Lisbon Coast is everything the Algarve used to be. Ericeira is home to far more homes than shops, having the ‘what’s the hurry’ feel of the Med but without the swarming tourism.

There are also nine surf beaches within a four kilometre stretch of the town and two years ago Ericeira was named Europe’s first World Surfing Reserve (the three others being at Santa Cruz and Malibu in California and Manly in Oz).

Walking into the Eco-lodges resort for the first time, we just looked at each other and burst out laughing. Hidden behind high walls just five minutes walk from Ericeira’s centre, it is like opening a door into a secret movie set, like walking into a little Californian enclave in the middle of a town of white washed walls, azulejo tiling and bourgainvilla. It is simply mental.

Built as an eco settlement, it reminded me of one of those West Coast surfing resorts that US college students converge on for spring break. We have a son who was once obsessed with Scooby Doo and, in particular, the Scooby movie, Aloha Scooby Doo. This was a re-incarnation of the set of Aloha Scooby Doo, but complete with a chlorine-free eco swimming pool on whose fringes, frogs hop from lily pad to lily pad. There’s also a full-on vegetable garden where guests can pick garlic, onions, strawberries or whatever produce is in season, a heating system powered by biomass burners and photovoltaic panels on the roofs.

Each of the six wooden lodges has a two-storey veranda complete with hammocks, there’s also a communal BBQ and luxurious sun loungers galore. Eco-lodges is basically made for evenings chillaxing after a long day’s surfing. But the intimacy and zaniness of the setting also means that it is ripe for high octane partying by night.

In keeping with the eco, laidback vibe, the lodges are basic. With a small galley kitchen, you’re best off cooking on the BBQ by night or eating out and just using the internal facilities for brekkie in the morning. There are LCD televisions in the chalets and two twin bedrooms, with the possibility of making one into a double bed if required. There’s also a power shower with notes from the owners beseeching users to go gentle on over-indulgent showering due to water wastage.

In the architecturally-gorgeous communal room, there’s wi-fi, an honesty bar, a large plasma screen, shelves of books, a ping pong table and a snooker table. With funky orange and lime foam sofas for lounging and a foosball table, it again lends itself to the chilled out party feel of the place.

A litte warning note: ever since I was a child before I try out a new activity, I inevitably find myself playing out the same imaginary scenario. Maybe it’s something common to all people who spend their lives trying to stymie their enthusiasm, but I always see myself excelling at the task ahead. In my head as I headed down to Praia do Sul for our first lesson, I was secretly imagining the afternoon’s zenith as the teachers threw each knowing nods as I sprung effortlessly up onto the board.

The thing is, never yet has this imagined scenario played out in real life. Instead I tend to be the girl in the circuit training class that after eight weeks still can’t remember what has to be done at each circuit, still can’t hold a barbell properly and generally has as much natural athletic talent as a baby elephant.

My first surfing lesson wasn’t to be much different. But for once, my husband was worse than me.

Try as I did, I found it so difficult to ‘find my back foot’ so that I could ‘pop’ and land in aproper crouched position on the nine foot board.

So pathetic were we that we ended up rolling around on the boards laughing, much to the chagrin of the teacher who was adamant that we could catch a wave on day one. We did make it out into the water at Praia do Sul but with six foot waves that day, my early enthusiasm quickly gave way to self loathing as I got bashed in the nose by the board for the fifth time in half an hour.

Day two, Tobi and Joao drove us to Peniche a few miles away. With waves not more than waist high, it was perfect beginners surf. I left the beach exhilarated.

Yes, it would take me endless lessons to really get anywhere with this, but mucking around in the water with the sun beaming down on you as you somewhat whizzed to shore was heaven.

Whether you’re a crap surfer or not, doing battle with Atlantic waves is hunger-inducing stuff and there’s nothing like getting back to the Eco-Lodges, grabbing a shower and heading out for the night. Our favourite was the great value Tik Tapas where the shrimp (area speciality) and calamares were so fresh it felt like they were caught after you ordered.

Tik Tapas is owned by Francisco. His brother Pedro owns another worthy stopover, Tic Tac. I’ve also got to say that the goats cheese and walnut salad that we ate for about €4 at Na Onda restaurant on Foz do Lizandro beach was something I will never forget. Again, from the leaves to the cheese, there was a level of taste that only comes from truly fresh food.

The roads around Lisbon make Ireland look like sub-Saharan Africa. When there’s no surf, or even too much surf in the case of beginners, there is plenty to see on the Lisbon coast: check out the gorgeous hillside town of Sintra, the oldworld beauty of Cascais and Estoril. We had rented a fantastically efficient one series BMW which despite hundreds of kilometres of driving barely registered a bump on the fuel dial.

Flights

Aer Lingus flies five times weekly from Dublin to Lisbon. In the summer they operate daily flights from Dublin to Lisbon and twice weekly from Cork.

Accommodation

The Ecolodges are open year round & prices start from €85 per night low season, €130 mid-season and €145 in high season. Any day arrival is possible.

Surfing

Surf lessons are €25 per person per day — book online at www.surfholidays.com or over the phone on 01-4822828 or email info@surfholidays.com for more information

Drive

Our car was booked with Hertz through surfholidays.com


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