In Portugal, the Portuguese Silver Coast is, quite possibly, the most beautiful hidden gem.
This inspirational travel route takes you from one of last towns of Costa Lisboa (Lisbon), Ericeira, through a selection of delightful, relatively undiscovered places along Portugal's Silver Coast.
This article has been written by my partner, who is Portuguese, so he has spent lots of holidays in the area, and he knows the region extremely well. I have purely polished his English off a little!
Silver Coast Portugal Travel Inspirations Route
Photo Francisco Antunes
1. Ericeira – a beautiful fishing village with fantastic food
30 miles (49 km) north A8 and A21
Located on the Costa Lisboa, Ericeira is famous for its excellent seafood and spectacular ocean views. Sandstone cliffs embrace the sandy coastline, where the blue, white-crested Atlantic waves make the town a mecca for surfers.
Unique and relaxing, there's one very special reason why Ericeira has such amazing seafood; this is because some restaurants have their own seafood farms in the rock holes on the shore. It's pretty amazing to go and see this, I have to say.
Photo Paulo Juntas (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5]
In Ericeira, the ideal way to start the day, which is etched in my memory, is the morning walk to the market to buy the local Bread of Mafra (Pao de Mafra). The bread is always recently made, and warm enough to melt butter. A simple, but very delicious breakfast.
The old town is very pretty, and it would be a sin to go there without tasting the ice cream on a sunny, summer's day. Go to the main square, where you'll find delicious homemade ice creams - the type that you won't ever forget.
2. Vimeiro Thermal Baths – feel years younger in a few days
28 miles (46 km) north on the A8
Photo O Hotels & Resorts
After a couple of relaxing days and nights in Ericeira, head north to visit the small but beautiful Vimeiro Thermal Spa. Located in the town of Maceira, Torres Vedras, the Vimeiro Thermal Spa, is where you can feel brand new after a few days there, relaxing and having healing treatments from the Fonte dos Frades spring; famous for its therapeutic properties.
Go to the local swimming pool that is filled with mineral water, which is so luxurious. No need to buy a bottle of water, just go swimming and have a sip. The beach close by is fantastic and you will leave feeling a good few years younger after your stay there!
Photo O Hotels & Resorts
3. Peniche – an amazing peninsula, pretty pastel colours and superb, reasonably priced food
33 miles (54 km) north on the IP6 & A8
Perched on a headland, surrounded by sea, Peniche is an amazing peninsula with gorgeous beaches on either side. On the north beach of Peniche, I saw the most amazing thing in my life: water which was so transparent that it was impossible to see the waves. Its an experience that I've never forgotten, so beautiful!
Photo Homeaway listing below
Spectacular, yet super authentic, Peniche is well known for its freshly caught seafood. As Peniche is a working fishing town, it has a charming, gritty feeling about it. Head to the port and eat a reasonably priced, delicious seafood meal. During Salazar’s regime, political prisoners were detained at the seaside fort, so this is a must-see for those of you with an interest in history.
Photo Homeaway listing
For lovers of watersports, the beach at the east of the town, is where you can find all sorts of rentals and lessons. Lying 5.7 miles away from the port of Peniche, are the beautiful Ilhas Berlengas (Berlengas Islands), which were declared a UNESCO Biosphere Resevere in 2011. Consolaçao, south of Peniche also deserves a visit, a stunning situation where you can enjoy miles of magnificent golden sand beaches.
Photo Hugo Cadavez
I love the light in Peniche, it's definitely a draw for keen photographers and anyone who wishes to be inspired creatively. Be sure not to miss out on the local artisan craft, which is handmade lace. Check out the nimble fingers of the Peniche ladies, as they create works of lovely handmade lace.
Peniche has special geology and in 2006, it was confirmed that the bone of a dinosaur found there was that of a Duriatitan humerocristatus.
Download the colouring page below for fun and to learn more
4. Sao Martinho do Porto – picturesque shell-shaped bay, paradise for families, with giant sand dunes
30 miles (49 km) north on the IP6 & A8
Another one of my favourite places is Sao Martinho do Porto, with its perfectly formed, picturesque shell-shaped bay, which guarantees calm waters, making it paradise for young children and of course, their families!
Photo Paulo Juntas - Own work
The gorgeous white-sandy beach is close to a number of good seafood restaurants, and more can be found in the village itself. It's a joy to saunter along the lovely promenade, taking in the views and the fresh, sea air. Head to the giant dunes; it's just out of this world to jump from them. To see the more wild Atlantic side, go via the tunnel at the north side of bay.
5. Nazaré – long, golden sandy beach, natural beauty, thriving traditions & seven petticoats
9 miles (15 km) north on the N242
Traditionally famous for its spectacular, long, golden sandy beach, the funicular up the cliff-side to Sítio, fabulous fish restaurants and seven petticoats; these days Nazaré is also on the radar of savvy surfers. The tremendous waves attract surfers from all over the world.
Even though it gets pretty busy in the summertime, Nazaré is a place where you can still feel, see and smell Portuguese traditions. Although it doesn't have any remarkable architectural highlights as such, its gorgeous coast, thriving traditions and relaxed atmosphere, make it a wise choice for a break.
Nazaré is divided into three districts, which are Praia (the Portuguese word for beach), Pederneira and Sitio. You have to experience taking the the Eiffel-style funicular up the cliff, bringing you to Sítio. From there you can enjoy spectacular views, the now famous Nazaré Cannon, its amazing waves, some of which reach a height of 30 metres - that’s a whopping 98.42 feet! And the lovely area of Sitio, which is a farming community, actually seems like a separate village.
I'm not at all surprised to see that one of my favourite restaurants is still going strong. I am happy to recommend the Ala Riba Restaurant, where you can taste the magnificent Terra e Mar (Surf and Turf). As weird as it may sound, the mixture of fillet steak with lobster and other fresh sea food is just out of this world. It's impossible to find words to describe it......the memory is embedded in my taste buds!
And what about the seven petticoats I mentioned in the introduction? The women waiting for their fishermen husbands to return safely needed to keep warm so they warm seven petticoats. Why seven, I hear you ask? Well there are various possibilities, but seven is a sacred number and it may relate to the number of colours in rainbow, or other sets of sevens.
6. Óbidos – one of Portugal's most picturesque towns, inside a castle & a chocaholics paradise
24 miles (40 km) south on the A8
This gorgeous place, inside a castle is one of Portugal's most picturesque towns. Traditionally owned by the Queen, Óbidos has been lovingly cared for, with traditionally painted houses, a labyrinth of cobbled streets and flowers overflowing from pots and trees. These narrow streets full of life and history are a must, but do be warned that such a pretty place does get very busy in the summer season.
The town's beautiful main gate, Porta da Vila, is a must-see. The Passion of Christ has been depicted wonderfully, using traditional Portuguese tiles, and the gate leads you directly into Rua Direita, the main street, which is lined with temptation; in the form of chocolate and cherry-liqueur shops. The medieval castle is a must-see also.
In recent years, the town has decided to re-invent itself into a quirky, literary centre and not only has it opened over a dozen bookshops, but it has also encouraged local investors to open literary cafés and thematic hotels. Since 2015, Óbidos has been running a literary festival, in its magical medieval village, which attracts creatives from all over the world. In 2017, the dates for the festival are 19th-29th October.
Photo Dipl. Ing. Guido Grassow (Own work)
And as if all of that isn't enough to tempt you to spend some time in Óbidos, there's also the Lagoa de Obidos (Obidos Lagoon). The lagoon is the largest salt water lagunar system in all of Portugal. Just as nature intended, it is a unique, beautiful place with two contrasting, white beaches only metres away from each other. One is a surfers paradise, on the Atlantic side, while the other beach is a calm, haven, perfect for families with young children. The lagoon is also home to a number of bird species, some of which are endangered.
Lying around 6 miles (10 km) east of the town of Óbidos, is the world class golf course Praia d'el Rey (Beach of the King), which is possibly one of Europe's most stunning golf courses. Nestling amongst beautiful pine forests and white-sandy, undulating dunes, golfers may get distracted by the spectacular views out to the Berlengas Islands and over the Atlantic.
Photo Praia d'el Rey Golf Club
7. Mafra – an impressive palace-convent complex & a colony of bats
42 miles (69 km) south on the A8
Before going back to Ericeira or Lisbon, you should try to stop in Mafra, which is well known for its palace-convent. The impressive Palácio Nacional de Mafra, has 1200 rooms, which are linked by numerous staircases and endless corridors, all pulsating with history.
Some of the many highlights include the library, a huge monastery and an ornate basilica. The library is home to a colony of bats for the last three-hundred years or so, who do a great job of protecting the 36,000 ancient books. The small bats are let out during the night, when they manage to eat lots and lots of insects, who would otherwise damage the important literature.
The Tapada Nacional de Mafra, is the palace-convent's former royal park, and as it was once a hunting ground, it is still home to plenty of wild animals, and interesting flora. The town's main square, Praça da República, which lies opposite the palace-convent, is lined with restaurants and cafes.
Aldea José Franco – a beautiful, miniature clay world
On the national road close to Mafra, leading to Ericeira, please don't miss the amazing miniature clay village; Aldea José Franco. Born in 1920, José was the son of a mother who sold China ware and clayware and his father was a shoemaker. He spent a great deal of time with his parents, and also learnt about pottery from some of the local potters, as the region Sobreiro, is well known for this.
As he grew up he started to dream of creating a typical landscape, made from clay of miniature farms and houses. He realised his dream in a space next to his family home. The landscape, homes and little figures, are all hand made. Visitors can really feel how life was back in those days, and learn about the activities and customs of Portuguese rural life. The characters such as the farmer, the iron monger, are all moved with water!!
Wherever you need to drive afterwards, finish up your trip with a typical, local snack of some amazing Pao com Chouriço (Bread with Chorizo), baked in a wood oven; it's really delicious. After this amazing experience, you only have to drive 25 miles (40 km) to reach Lisbon.