A new sort of reserve

Any day I learn something new is a good day. I’d never come across the term – Surfing Reserve – before coming to the Portuguese coast and the fishing town of Ericeira. Sitting about 35 km north of Lisbon, the population of the town apparently quadruples to 40 000 each summer. There are about 40 beaches around and about so plenty of choice and plenty to do.

Its origins are mixed. One story has it that it was once  the terra de ouriços (land of sea urchins). But recent investigations suggest that it wasn’t a tide of  ouriço, but rather prickles of ouriço-caixeiro (hedgehogs)  that gave the town its name. I’ve seen neither so can’t vouch either way. 

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Its waters are said to have restorative powers but given the high winds and strong undertow, swimming this week has been minimal. Back at the turn of the twentieth century, many of Lisbon’s elite built houses here. Some of the villas are quite spectacular, with the tile work particularly impressive.

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In the early 1940s, European refugees fleeing Nazi persecution made their way to the town. Poles, Germans, French, Belgians and Dutch expatriates found a second home here and there are painted tiles on the various walls in town saying as much. There are no shortage of old ladies willing to take you by the hand and lead you to where you want to go. You could wrap one up and bring her home.

Back in 1910, the king’s yacht was anchored offshore. On 5 October, the day of the revolution, the young king Manuel fled from here with Queen Amélie and the Queen mother. Crowds watched from the shore as they set sail into exile. Quite poignant. It was the end of an era.

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Walking through the narrow cobblestone streets trying to decide which fish restaurant to eat in, I got a pain in my neck from looking upwards and nearly took a spill a number of times. The tile work is quite something.I’ve said that already but it’s worth repeating. From complete facades to tiled pictures of saints and boats, it’s like a massive outdoor art gallery.

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Today, the fishing village  is more dependent on seasonal tourism. I’d imagine that retailers and restauranteurs hope to make enough in the summer months to get them through the winter. Well fixed on the surfing map, beaches like the nearby Ribeira d’Ilhas host a round of the ASP World Tour Surf Championship. A world surfing reserve since 2011, Ericeira takes its place right up there with  Malibu and Santa Cruz in California, Manly Beach in Australia, and Huanchaco in Peru. Surfing schools abound. Classes are plentiful. When asking if we were too old to take one, the chap said the oldest student he’d had was an 87-year-old woman. Fair play, I say. But I have yet to be tempted. I have too much respect for the power  of the sea and too little faith in my  ability to stay afloat.

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