Once a naval superpower, Portugal is defined by its

A group gazes out over the village of Nazaré from the 110-metre-high Promontório do Sítio lookout.

Call of the
coastline, and the abiding allure of the Atlantic
by JENNIFER PATTERSON

Waters are calling me. Seas are calling me. All distances raise a bodily voice and call me, And all seafaring ages felt out of the past are calling me.
–Álvaro de Campos, Ode Marítima

On a clear day, the moss-covered ramparts of the medieval
Castle of the Moors in Sintra, Portugal, afford spectacular views of the Atlantic coast. Just 18 kilometres to the west lies Cabo da Roca, the westernmost point of Portugal and mainland Europe. But today, visibility ends just beyond the castle’s serpentine walls. A maritime mist envelops the ruins and surrounding woodlands, offering but a glimpse of the old town below. During the Islamic occupation of Portugal, in the eighth century, this fortification’s walls guarded the coast and Tagus River, the entrance to Lisbon. Flags representing various Portuguese kings flutter in the wind as I climb the Royal Tower to the castle’s highest point. I try to imagine what it might have been like here later, during Portugal’s Age of Discovery, when Vasco da Gama sailed to India and Pedro Álvares Cabral discovered Brazil. I’ve always been intrigued by that period in history, between the 15th and 18th centuries, when advances in Renaissance shipbuilding and celestial navigation led to Portuguese expansion in Africa, South America, the Indies and Asia. Portugal made it a crusade to spread Christianity, conquer Islam and discover riches rumoured to be scattered along Africa’s west coast. 
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Exploration and trade brought great wealth to Portuguese kings, who commissioned elaborate monasteries, monuments and churches, which to this day symbolize the grandeur of the country’s golden age. With 830 km of coastline, Portugal is a country defined by its connection to the sea. I’ve come here from Barcelona, Spain, where I’ve been living for a year, to explore Portugal’s seafaring history, discover its traditional fishing villages and tour its stormy Atlantic coast in an effort to understand the connection, past and present. The local tourism organization has handpicked a series of picturesque seaside towns for my early-fall journey – essential stops for exploring this ever-evolving relationship with the sea. My nine-day tour has begun here, in the hill town of Sintra, 24 km northwest of Lisbon. Described by Lord Byron as a “glorious Eden” for its wooded slopes and magnificent manor homes, Sintra was also once a favoured retreat of Portuguese kings. From here, King João I planned the 1415 conquest of North Africa. Just two years later, Prince Henry the Navigator became governor of the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, and began to lay the foundations of what would become the Age of Discovery. I’m eager to see that part of the country, but first I’m headed north, up the coast.

After a 20-minute drive, I arrive in the

(clockwise from top left) Seafood stew, a traditional Portuguese dish; surfers in Cascais, a coastal town west of lisbon; fishing boats and colourful buildings in the city of Peniche; a traditionally dressed woman in Nazaré advertising rooms for rent; the Castle of the Moors, overlooking Sintra.

whitewashed fishing village of Ericeira, one of the most picturesque resort communities on the coast. The village, with a resident population of 7,000, is one of Portugal’s renowned surf meccas. Ribeira d’Ilhas Beach, 2 km north of town, is considered one of the best surf spots in Europe, hosting the ASP World Tour Surf Championship annually. But there are more than 40 beaches reputed to have good surf in the area. Today is exactly 100 years and one day after the last Portuguese monarch, King Manuel II, and his family launched their boat into exile here, marking the beginning of the Portuguese First Republic. While I see no evidence of a centennial celebration, the terracotta-roofed village is reportedly hosting a 10-day culinary festival, to be followed by another surf competition, the Quiksilver Pro Portugal. Today is the day after a long weekend, and the cobblestone maze of pedestrian-only streets in the heart of Ericeira’s old town is almost empty. Still on Spanish time, I have a late-

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(fish stew, surfers, nazaré woman) Jennifer Patterson, (Peniche) José Antonio Moreno/MaxxImages, (castle) Susan e. Degginger/Alamy/AllCanadaPhotos

afternoon lunch at Mar d’Areia, a traditional seafood grill with an enticing display of local delicacies: wreck fish, turbot and sea bream. Moments later, I’m served six grilled sardines the size of small mackerels. The salty fish, salad, potato, a bottle of sparkling water and a garoto (espresso with a dash of milk) cost only 10 euros, a bargain compared to Barcelona. Down on the waterfront, I sit and watch waves crash in among cavernous rocks, awed by their power after spending so many months gazing at the comparatively placid Mediterranean. This same coast that brought invasions of Moorish pirates and launched expeditions to the New World now lures surfers, scuba divers and underwater archaeologists on the quest for shipwrecks. Today, as an old tractor pulls a fishing boat from the water, the beach is empty save for seagulls and one set of footprints in the peach-coloured sand. In the summer, temperatures here shoot up to the high 20s and these beaches are packed with swimmers, surfers and sunbathers. Whitewater sprays the stones, receding with such force that each wave threatens to be bigger than the last. I venture closer to the water to glimpse Portuguese nautical proverbs

painted on rocks: “Any port in a storm,” and, “Time and tide wait for no man.” A lone fisherman casts his line from the rocks as I walk, past homes decorated with blue-and-white azulejo tiles, to the Chapel of Nossa Senhora da Boa Viagem, overlooking Praia dos Pescadores, the same beach that saw the departure of the royal family. The modest chapel once served as a lighthouse, guiding fishermen home at night or in inclement weather. Painted wooden boats in the port bear exotic names such as Paraiso Encantado (Enchanted Paradise) and Luar de Agosto (August Moonlight). A tangle of crab traps and nets emanates a salty, fishy odour that mingles with the scent of wood, guano and wet pavement. In the distance, the coast-side cliffs are laced with waves. From here, I’m off to Peniche, an hour’s drive north along a winding oceanside road. after spending the night in a room with a view of the Atlantic Ocean at the five-star Praia d’El Rey resort in Peniche, I meet João, my English-speaking guide to the area, in the hotel lobby. This affable tourism veteran with a Groucho Marx moustache will show me the highlights of

The next day,

Peniche, Óbidos and Nazaré before setting me free to explore the Algarve on my own. Located on a peninsula jutting into the Atlantic, Peniche could not be more connected to the sea. Its history has been one of fishing, canning and now surfing. While the scent of sardine factories still attracts seagulls, these days surfers from all over the world bring much-needed tourism dollars to Peniche, especially in the slower winter months when the waves are biggest. On Supertubos, the surf beach known as the European pipeline, the Rip Curl Pro Portugal competition is already underway, having attracted the likes of Kelly Slater, Owen Wright, Tiago Pires and Stephanie Gilmore, but the events have been postponed due to unfavourable wave conditions. Surfers wander aimlessly around town in the rain, conspicuous in shorts and flip-flops. Their behaviour – gazing out to sea, hoping for better waves – is not unlike that of sailors dreaming of their next voyage. I start to see the connection between the sea and the Portuguese notion of saudade, a melancholy longing. This same sensation must have fed explorers’ desire to venture out and discover new lands. “The ocean is so rough here,” says João,

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as we park next to the breakwater protecting Peniche’s harbour from the open Atlantic. “There are stories of people – even cars – being swept out to sea by the waves,” he says, adding that it’s too rough to venture out on the open ocean today, dashing my hopes of catching a ferry to the Berlenga Islands Nature Reserve and exploring the archipelago’s stone fortress. So we head instead to Peniche Municipal Museum in the town’s 16th-century fort, where it becomes clear just how intertwined the lives of the locals are with the sea. Alongside nautical-themed exhibits of fishing trawlers and shipwrecks are displays of maritime-inspired hobbies – knot-tying for men and lace-making for the wives and daughters of fishermen – which continue to this day. “All societies that are linked to fishing have a history of lace-making,” the woman at the museum tells me, explaining the connection between the making of lace and the mending of fishing nets. We skip over puddles en route to our lunch reservation at Restaurante do Parque, where we order deep-fried John Dory fish with açorda de ovas, a polenta-like pudding of bread and fish eggs; and caldeirada de peixe, one of Portugal’s delicious fish stews – and some Alentejo wine. “I love the rain. I love storms,” the meticulous 40-something waiter says cheerfully, confessing to be a surfer. He complains of too many people, though. Peniche has become too popular. After lunch we drive 25 km east to Óbidos, a medieval hill town of whitewashed houses and terracotta roofs that is dominated by a castle and enclosed within 14th-century walls. The castle, now a pousada (a historic hotel), was rebuilt after King Afonso Henríques took it from the Moors in 1148. This is where I will sleep for the night. After strolling through the rain-sluiced cobblestone streets below the castle, and savouring an evening glass of port at a tiny bar, I sink gratefully into the double bed in my small medieval room with red-shuttered windows. The next day, João and I head to Nazaré, a fishing-village-turned-beach-resort just past the protected cove of São Martinho do Porto. This town of 15,000 is well known for the traditional costumes worn by the fishermen and their wives: head scarves, aprons and colourful, layered petticoats for the women and checked shirts for the men. With only a few hours to explore the town before I drive south to the Algarve, I spend most of my time people-watching. Older Nazarene women in
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traditional dress flog dried fruit to tourists. A silver-haired woman in a floral blouse brandishes a Room for Rent sign printed in five languages. At one end of the main beach promenade, a group of 13 surf instructors in hoodies and jeans sizes up the waves. “Nazaré’s north beach has the best surf in Portugal,” one of them boasts as the group poses for a photo, “better than Peniche or the Algarve.” The beach, Praia do Norte, is a pristine stretch of cream-coloured sand bordered by dunes, just north of the Forte de São Miguel Arcanjo lighthouse. For our last meal together, João and I share a cataplana de peixe e mariscos, a rich fish and seafood stew replete with mussels, clams, sea bass, crab, squid and prawns. I depart Nazaré reluctantly, with a long drive ahead of me – to Sagres, in the southwestern corner of the country, some 400 km away. It’s already late in the afternoon.

I approach Monte da Vilarinha resort,

set on the edge of coastal parkland, at night. I’m exhausted from driving in the rain, and the dirt road seems to lead nowhere. But as I descend into a valley, the lights of the resort come into view like a beacon. The rain buckets down as I pull up and park. The girl from the front desk, who has rushed outside to greet me, hands me an umbrella as I step out of the car. After four days of exploring the coast, I feel a bit like a wayworn sailor who has found his way home. This is the Algarve, where Portugal’s Age of Discovery really began. The next day I emerge from a cozy bungalow to find clear skies and a fragrant garden of lavender amid dust-coloured hills. This eco-chic oasis, with its rustic low-rise casas, each with a private patio and a kitchen, will be my base for two more nights. I take a drive 15 km south to Sagres, at the country’s southwestern tip, to explore Fortaleza de Sagres, the fortress where, between 1419 and 1460, Prince Henry the Navigator ran the Sagres School of Navigation. Nowhere is Portugal’s connection to the sea more evident than in this place, the historic training ground for Europe’s best shipbuilders, cartographers, navigators and sailors – Vasco da Gama, Fernão de Magalhães (Magellan), Pedro Álvares Cabral, Bartolomeu Dias. Nearby Cape St. Vincent, a seafaring landmark with a lighthouse and dramatic cliffs that drop 75 metres to the sea, was once believed to be the edge of the world, and served as the launching point for windWeStWorld

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backed galleons and lateen-rigged caravels that sailed off to discover new lands. A strong wind blows as I walk past sagecoloured shrubs and craggy rocks along the promontory that once protected the entrance to the Mediterranean. On the weathered ramparts of the fortress, I gaze past rusted cannons to waves crashing into sheer cliffs, then climb to the top for a panoramic view of the Atlantic, from Cape St. Vincent to Lagos, in the east. I explore the tiny chapel, which, along with a wind compass made of stones, dates back to the era of the navigation school. Near the chapel stands a padrão, a cylindrical stone monument topped by a cross and the old Portuguese coat of arms. Before leaving the Algarve, I make a special trip to nearby Lagos to acknowledge the

RENEE WEIMER
AMA Travel Specialist | Portugal
Portugal is a beautiful country with friendly people, amazing architecture and truly gorgeous beaches. If you’re pressed for time, the best way to discover Lisbon, the capital city, is by tram. Route 28 is known as the “tourist tram” because it passes many historical buildings: São Vicente de Fora, a 17th century monastery, the moorish Castle of São Jorge and Portugal’s neoclassical parliament building, which was formerly a convent. If you like pastries, make note of the stop in front of Pastelaria A Brasileira, one of the city’s oldest and most popular cafés. After a long day of touring Lisbon’s sights, I suggest checking out the city’s culinary scene. You can expect fish on most menus. Make sure you don’t leave without sampling bacalhau, a salted and dried cod often sautéed with garlic, onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Dinner at a traditional Portuguese restaurant, especially in one of the tourist centres, will also include a performance of fado, Portuguese folk music. Not too far from Lisbon is Cascais, a quaint fishing town with great restaurants, beaches and, most importantly, shops full of great finds to bring home to friends and family. Need help planning and booking a trip to Portugal? Call Renee at 1-888-989-8423 or visit your local AMA centre.

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darker side of the Portuguese expansion: the transatlantic slave trade. An arcaded old customs house once served the first slave market in Europe. One of Henry the Navigator’s protégés brought the first slaves here from the Sahara in 1441. The market has been converted into an art gallery and is closed for renovations. I’m disappointed, but choose to interpret the gallery’s closure as symbolizing the end of that infamous chapter in Portuguese history.

Nearing the end of my trip, I drive

north, back toward Lisbon, and spend a morning in Belém, a town just west of the capital. I pay a visit to the Maritime Museum, housed in the west wing of the Monastery of the Hieronymites. Examining the astrolabes, ship replicas and 16th-century maps of Africa, I finally understand this country’s tendency to look outward, toward the sea, and to points beyond the horizon. It was the love of God and gold, and no doubt that old longing, saudade, that fuelled the initial desire to conquer new lands. Today, Portugal’s connection to the sea manifests partly in nostalgia for that golden age and partly in a very practical dependence on the bounty of the ocean – whether for fishing, sport or tourism. From the Maritime Museum, I cross a busy street to Belém’s waterfront, with its view of the Tagus River and, to the west, the Atlantic. Here, on the 52-metre-high concrete Monument to the Discoveries, the figures of da Gama, Magellan, Cabral and several other navigators, cartographers and kings are carved into an imposing, stylized ship. At the prow, holding a caravel, the statue of Henry the Navigator gazes out to sea, a sea that changed Portugal, and by extension, the world, forever.

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