Destination of the day: Lisbon Coast

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For those who want to discover what makes Portugal tick, or for those who are simply Algarved out, the area around Estoril has a lot going for it.

A few miles drive inland gets you away from the panopaly of mass tourism to see virtually deserted gothic palaces and taste the food, to stroll the villages are great to stroll, have a beer and a coffee and marvel everything costs about half of what it does at home and one third less than the Algarve.

The towns and hotels and restaurants here are not owned and run by big corporations, coming in and building places to barbecue a tourist. They care about their visitors.

Ask the golfers who have been coming here for years. Some of the courses get crowded but only occasionally. Is there a better course anywhere than the Canpo Real?

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portugal obidos 002Ask the surfers, too. Or better, still try to surf yourself in the beautiful beaches around Ericeira where the washing-machine churn of Portugal’s Atlantic coast makes the sea a little frightening before you approach it.

Processions of vast rollers compete for attention. In between, the backswill will sweep sand over your toes, or worse.

If the waves don’t knock you, the backwash will at Foz do Lizandro, an epic churning beach two kilometres from Ericeira.

It is like visiting a beautiful resort with a savage looking dog in the way. You know that when you get there it will like your hand, and you will experience the joy of standing on a surfboard.

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One thing surfing teaches you is the patience,” Tobi Ebner, who used to be a ski instructor, runs the surf school. “Visitors don’t understand that surf is not like ski, the conditions have to be right.”

Portugal ericeira_beach_surf_portugal“The waves are terrific. We are on the Atlantic coast, so you have to be careful. Sometimes you have to wait. The countryside is beautiful too. It is not like the Algarve, with one beer pub after another. When you go to order your meal, you don’t point at a photograph on a menu. You even have to speak Portuguese sometimes.”

Half the customers here each year are Irish sent out by Nick Kelly of surfholidays.com, one of the niche travel success stories of this island.

When the last ball has been sunk and the last wave has crashed humiliatingly around your ears, there is even more to see.

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Afterwards you stroll through little Ericeira until your legs hurt, church to church (there are four) or restaurant to restaurant (there are 39).

Portugal Ericeira_area7This is one of those towns that needs an easel – it has an exotic romantic landscape painter’s finish, derived no doubt from its narrow streets of sheen-white houses with exquisite blue finish and exquisite azulejo tilework, the crossroad wells adorned by early 20th century birthdates.

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The whole shiny huddled lot is plonked on a cliff top overlooking three horseshoe beaches, with precipitate steps descending to each in turn and to the rose-coloured rocks that divide them, the waves splashing you as you hop along the half-fashioned climber’s paths.

Ignore the noughties developments on either flank and you can imagine the old fishing village is still here, shaking its scaley tail in resistance.

One restaurant, Reina, looks down on the small pier from where the Portuguese Royal family fled in October 1910 during a republican revolution.

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On a Saturday in Eatser I wss there with my teenage daughter. it rained and it rained. And it rained some more. What to do?

There was an escape, thanks to Hertz who had given me the use of a beautiful Mini Cooper Clubman D 1600 hatchback, small and zippy and stylish and new. Obidos was an hour’s drive away. It is an unmissable UNESCO world heritage site, a white town crowning a hill with encircling, machicolated medieval walls. The old house in the castle is one of the state-run historic hotels of Portugal, a Pousada, beautifully furnished and well kept.

Portugal Ericeira marketThe walls offer amazing views across the hillside, and the thrill of balancing on a narrow path with a sheer drop on the inside.

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Even the drive along the coastal road past the round mole-like hills and windmills, the little towns with age-old estalagems serving welcoming looking beer, past the large houses with the steep falling gardens that are still maintained by the Portuguese bourgeoisie who spill out from Lisbon to these villages in the summer months, through the romantic beauty of the region, great trees growing from the endless chaos of rocks, our GPS diverting us down small tracks and tiny roads, across level crossings and through labyrinths of unfenced vineyards.

Watched by the Atlantic all the time, as if the tourist is the attraction here.

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