Edwina Pitcher, author of the new Wild Guide to Portugal, chooses her favourite little-known beaches, from surfing hangouts north of Lisbon to hidden coves in the wildlife rich Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and the beautiful sandy beaches by the sandstone cliffs of the west Algarve (some are accessible only by sea: take a kayak in the early morning for magical solitude).
Praia do Baleal, Peniche (North of Lisbon)
The peninsula of Peniche, a hundred kilometres north of Lisbon, is famous for its waves. Surfers gather here year-round like pilgrims. At any point in the town you can glimpse the sea, and the great thing with Peniche is that if there are no waves on the one side of the peninsula then there will be on the other. As well as the wild Atlantic surf, it also has long sandy beaches, calm coves and limestone cliffs wrought with ravines, crevices and sea caverns worn by the plunging, sucking sea.
Wander along the Baleal peninsular until you find a small cove or secret beach. Waves come in gently here, lapping on the sand, having crashed in on larger rocks further out. Perfect for small children with buckets.
Park up in Casais do Baleal and walk down to the beaches.
Praia do Abano, Cascais (West of Lisbon)
This sandy cove is a stone’s throw from the dramatic beaches along the Cresmina dunes. Rich in wildlife, the beaches form part of the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park; look out for stonechats, wagtails and lizards. Abano’s small beach is overlooked by the imposing 17th century Guincho fort and is generally a quieter beach. The Abano cliffs rise up on the other side with views over to Cabo da Roca, the most western tip of Europe, and the Sintra hills. You can follow a footpath up the hill for 800m to reach the cliffs and their Jurassic rock veined with cooled lava. Their sun-warmed stone, facing west, makes a perfect sunset spot.
From Charneca take the N247 to Guincho. Follow the white dirt road north for 700m.
Praia do Amália, Odeceixe (Southwest coast)
This sandy cove is hidden between green cliffs on the Costa Vicentina, the southwest coast of Portugal, facing the Atlantic ocean. The famous Fado singer Amália had her retreat from Lisbon here for years. She would escape the crowds to this secret beach where she could learn to swim in peace. A waterfall cascades down from the verdant hills coursing in small rivulets over the sand to the sea, perfect for a shower after a salty swim. The Rota Vicentina, a 400km walking trail along this coastline following fishermen’s trails and smuggling tracks, passes by here.
From Brejão take the coast road towards Azenha do Mar. At the yellow flower sign turn right down track though raspberry fields. Park outside Amália’s house. Walk left downhill and follow the track to the beach.
Praia da Baleeira, Sesimbra (South of Lisbon)
Hidden along the south coast of the Setúbal peninsular, this secret cove is protected by cliffs either side and due to lack of sand, small size and steep access it remains unvisited. The turquoise, sometimes emerald sea that surrounds this coast, known as the Costa Azul, certainly lives up to its name. From the steep descent down, the sea appears startlingly blue against the white cliff face. Wild rosemary covers the clifftops. To the east are the wild hills of the Serra da Arrábida, perfect for hiking along many footpaths, until they fall away to searingly blue sea. This deserted beach, at Baleeira, is a hidden gem and ideal for a skinny-dip.
From Serra da Azoia take Rua da Baleeira at orange signs for the ‘Area Desportivo’. Pass the football pitch and park after 500m. Walk straight ahead and then always take left along the tracks until you start the descent.
Praia da Senhora da Rocha, Carvoeiro (West Algarve)
The sandstone cliffs of the west Algarve coast are sea-worn, eroded into stacks and riddled with caves. There is Benagil cave, a watery Pantheon with sunlight streaming through a hole in its domed ceiling, is accessible only by sea: take a kayak in the early morning for magical solitude. At Praia de Carvalho rock-hewn steps lead down a sandy tunnel to the beach with further cliff-carved caves to explore at low tide. Praia da Senhora da Rocha is a beautiful and less-visited beach. A windswept chapel on its promontory above shelters the shell-strewn cove beneath. Float on your back, ears underwater, listen to the sand shingling.
Exit N125 at Porches and follow signs to Senhora da Rocha. Park in town and walk down to beach.
Wild Guide Portugal: Hidden Places, Great Adventures and the Good Life by Edwina Pitcher contains over 700 secret and out of the way places across Portugal.
About the author: Edwina Pitcher is a travel journalist, photographer and video blogger who specialises in the conservation and legacy of Europe’s wilderness and wildlife. She has travelled extensively throughout Portugal.
Reader Offer: The guide costs (£16.99) but Greentraveller’s readers can receive 25% off and free P&P with coupon GreenTraveller at checkout on wildthingspublishing.com
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