I am not a fan of this notion of ‘secret spots’. To me, all a secret spot means is that it is harder for a casual visitor to find. If you tell a local that you went to a ‘secret spot’, they are likely to laugh at the concept (and probably, in your face). There are nonetheless places in and around Ericeira that require a little more investigative digging to find – but when you do, they are completely worth it! Here are a few of my favourites.
The most obvious thing you should do if you are in the area and fancy exploring is lace up your trainers and walk the coast.
The tracks that run along the coastline are not marked on Google maps; they are essentially trails that many feet have carved over and around the cliffs and hills delimiting the land. Depending on your choice of direction (north or south) you will see completely different terrains and the views of the sea are completely breathtaking. These are not however established trails, which means you should be extra careful while walking them. There are no barriers between you and the cliffs and the winds can be gusty and strong. When dry the trails turn to dusty dirt that makes these trails slippy and loosens underfoot rocks.
Ribeira d’Ilhas – Coxos/São Lourenço : +/- 5km
Probably the most common walk option is to head north from Praia Ribeira d’Ilhas towards Coxos beach. This is definitely one of my favourite walks. If you are starting out from Ericeira, you walk towards Ribeira; the road is noisy and fast however so this first part of the stroll is not particularly enjoyable. More often than not I drive to Ribeira and leave the car at the beach parking.
The trail starts on the right hand side of the beach, heading up the side of the cliff. The views on this walk are spectacular, with waves crashing into the cliffs below and truly fantastic sunset views if you go later in the day. This stretch of the walk takes you above the World Surfing Reserve waves, so you can find your attention torn between watching the surfers down below and the immensely captivating waves. The trail winds its way along cliff tops and through bamboo plants. It is by no means a secret path, and you will meet people on the walk, especially if you head out on a Sunday afternoon. That being said, you would be hard pressed to call it ‘busy’.
Depending on your start point, the length of the trail will vary by roughly 3 or 4 km (the rough distance from Ericeira to Ribeira d’Ilhas and back). From Ribeira to Coxos, the trail there and back will be just under 5km.
If you cannot get enough of the magic of this walk, you can continue to São Lourenço beach from Coxos, the next beach along. From Ribeira to São Lourenço, is roughly 7km although due to terrain conditions and gawping at the view, it really should take you the best part of a whole afternoon to do the walk.
Foz de Lizandro – São Julião : 3km
This is the walk you will take if you decide to go south instead of north. Again, the walk from Ericeira centre to Foz do Lizandro can add 3km in each direction to this trail, and the walk is along a busy enough road. You can just as easily park at the beach and start the trail there.
To start this trail, you need to cross the river on the left of Foz beach. Depending on rainfall and tide, this can be as easy as walking across sand (sometimes the river barely makes it into the ocean) or an actual crossing where you need to take your shoes off and roll up your trousers (rather high if there has been a lot of rain).
On the other side of the river there is a quick climb to get you onto the little hill that is peppered with trails. The walk to São Julião is actually very short, over rocky hills, again along cliffs that line the coast. Once at São Julião you can either have a drink at the small bar and watch the waves, or continue onto further beaches along the coast, something that has been recommended to me by a local but I have not yet managed to do. As you follow these beaches south they apparently become more remote still and you can get a good days hiking in should you wish to.
Praia da Calada
Again, this is not a secret spot to anyone who lives in or knows the area. However, as the beach requires a car to get to it, it is more secluded and remote than some of the larger more famous ones around. Perhaps a 5 minute drive outside of São Lourenço, heading north, you will find the the turn off to this beach marked by an official signpost (see, seriously not secret!). You then follow the extremely steep road down to the beach.
This beach is sheltered on both sides by high bronzed cliffs, providing considerable wow factor to the whole place. I visited the beach at sunset and found myself virtually alone, as the dipping sun made everything golden. The beach is not actually big, so it is possible that on a busy summer’s day it could feel quite crowded (hard to imagine when I saw it completely empty!) but it will definitely not be as busy as some of the ones in the centre of Ericeira and has its own unique beauty that it is at least worth the visit.
Praia da Ursa
This beach is a bit further away, just under an hour’s drive, but is really something else and completely worth it. It is toted in lots of places as being a secret beach, and perhaps once upon a time it was, but based on the relatively heavy traffic of people I saw when I went, I’d say the secret is well and truly out.
This does not mean it is not worth it however. The beach is magnificent, with turquoise water, vertiginous rocks and a sand that would leave tropical islands feeling envious. The beach is also extremely hard to get to, so even if I say there was heavy traffic, I am speaking in extremely relative terms – considering how supposedly secret it is, and how hard it is to get to, there were surprising numbers of people. Compared to a beach anywhere else in Southern Europe, it was pretty much empty.
The climb down to Praia da Ursa takes roughly 20-30 minutes, and can be a little hairy at times. There is even a rope attached into the rock at one point to help people scale up or down on the treacherous ground. The track is dirt, which can get quite slippy, and winds down the cliff face at some points alarmingly steeply and alarmingly close to the edge.
The reward factor for this climb however is extremely high. The beach is worth it. It is the sort of place you want to set up camp for a day (and night), watching the comings and goings of ocean and people while the soul soars high in the peaks of the fractured spear-like rock formations.
For those who may be worried, the climb back up was steep but shorter and less nerve wracking than going down. It only took 15 minutes to climb up, but I was sufficiently sweaty at the end.
Sobreiro is a tiny village about 10 minutes drive from Ericeira. In itself, it is not terribly interesting, but it does have a model village from Portuguese days gone by sitting quietly off the main road on the left (driving from Ericeira). If you are looking for something a bit different to do, this is an interesting place to wander around and learn about life in the region before. It is free and made up of a collection of old buildings that have been staged too look like different olden day features of a village; the chapel, the bakery, the school etc…
On a weekend the place can get quite busy with locals bringing their children, having a drink and eating Pão com Chouriço which they actually bake in the on site bakery. The place is not huge, but interesting enough, especially for children.
Azenhas do Mar
This is one of my favourite little villages around Ericeira. It is roughly a 30 minute drive south, through rather rugged land that reminds me of Ireland. But once you get to the village, all similarities stop. The village is very small, with white houses built up the side of a cliff in a style reminiscent of Greek Islands or the Cinque Terre in Italy (neither of which I have been to, so perhaps I am way off…).
If you are coming from Ericeira, I suggest you drive through the village and up the cliff on the other side, to a viewpoint/parking that sits on top of the far side of the village. This will give you a first view of the teeny tiny beach lying between two cliffs, one of which has small white houses perched along it.
There is a seawater swimming pool in Azenhas do Mar, and a restaurant that has fantastic views and serves apparently delicious fish. In summer a bar is built around the swimming pool playing the kind of chilled music you would hope for. I am not even sure why I love this place so much, but something about the colour of the water and the stacked white houses has completely captured my heart. Unless you are lunching, you will probably not spend more than 30 minutes here, and it would be a good idea to make it a place to visit on your way somewhere else (Praia da Ursa, perhaps?). But if you are going anywhere near this village, it is well worth a few minutes stop to take in the magic of this little place.
And that’s that
These are some of my favourite spots in and around Ericeira that took me a little bit of exploring to discover. Like I said at the beginning, they are not secret. Instead they are places holding a certain mysticism about them, places where taking the time to enjoy them will be infinitely rewarded. This coastline is remarkably beautiful and remarkably varied considering what a small stretch of land it really is. Returning to the same place does not guarantee that you will find it the same. The sea moulds this land. Sometimes it renders the places serene and peaceful, other times it stirs and froths angrily, punishing the coast. But no matter the ocean’s mood, it is always captivating and endless.
If you are looking for secrets, it is the sea that is keeping them. And, as I whisper my own private thoughts out to sea, I am glad it does not want to share.