Ah, Ericeira. Cobbled streets winding through blue and white houses, where surfers rub shoulders with fishermen and the atmosphere is generally mellow.
I arrived in Ericeira at the beginning of November when the town is particularly sleepy and easy going. As with Biarritz, the town had been picked because of its surfing potential; Ericeira is the only World Surfing Reserve in Europe so it seemed like a solid bet. It is also only 30 minutes drive from Lisbon airport, and 45 minutes from downtown Lisbon, so when the sleepiness is too soporific you can head into the bustle for some big city life (not that anyone I know actually does, but the option is there). In the event that anyone is going to Ericeira, I feel it is exceptionally important to know that the toll you need to pay getting off the motorway (A21) in Ericeira does not take foreign credit cards. Bring cash if you take this road. Seriously.
It is no secret that we are in Ericeira ‘out of season’. For most of January and February all the cafés, shops and bars that cater to an international crowd (read, more expensive and more hipster) were closed. As a result, the town is almost entirely ‘cash only’; savvy Portuguese business people refuse to front the foreign card charge in low season. This means that you may be paying for everything from your coffee to your surf lessons in cash. On this point, I will add that the cash points (ATMs) do not let you withdraw more than 200 euro at a time. You can however, insert the card twice if you need more.
The initial plan was to stay in Ericeira for one month. Very quickly into that first month however, I was contacting the landlord to ask about extending. Originally, it was an extra weekend. Then it turned into two more weeks. Finally I was committing to a couple of extra months as I allowed myself to accept I did not want to leave.
There are a few factors that featured in the decision making. I will develop them all in later blog posts, as they all featured massively.
This probably was the biggest game changer on the whole trip so far. I made friends. It was nice. Really nice. I could meet them for coffee, for a beer, for dinner or even in the sea for a surf.
2. The Surfing
The other huge game changer. Suddenly my surfing was improving exponentially. I had been stagnating on the white water for months, not equipped with the skills to take my surfing further. Now I was being shown how to do it, and the guidance was life changing. No exaggeration.
3. The Weather
Sure, everyone in Portugal is rushing off to buy firewood for the chilly evenings, and showing up at the beach in their Ugg boots and double layered hoodies, but lets be honest. Where else is going to have better weather in Europe?
4. The Lifestyle
It does not take a genius to realise that living by the sea, under an almost perpetual sun, surfing empty waves and finding a sleepy rhythm is a good hook. People are not rushing around, people stroll. They smile and laugh and if you walk around the town in the morning you are accosted with strangers greeting you in Portuguese. The locals are genuinely happy you are here during their low season. They love that you love Portugal. The more they love that you love it, the more you love it. You can see how it goes.
As with Biarritz, I found that the answer to settling in Ericeira was to create a routine. I signed up to yoga at the Ericeira Yoga Studio, and attended surf classes, sometimes as much as five times a week. I planned my meals and did my shopping accordingly, I explored the coastline and enjoyed winter’s sunshine.
If you are not into surf, or yoga, or wandering around gaping at the ever changing sea or the endlessly breathtaking sunsets, you may find that Ericeira does not have a lot to offer. Ericeira is not a place you come on a day trip, you will never understand the vibe if you do that. It is a place that uses a slow pace to balance the power and force of the sea. The remarkable sunsets don’t happen quietly here; the entire sky lights up bright and loud as the fiery sun dips behind the horizon. You cannot not look at the sunset. They arrest your attention, demanding that you watch. Ericeira is a place for nature, for letting yourself be awestruck by it, a place to slow down and watch the world for a bit.
It is not asking very much of you. Simply that you enjoy being there.