Visited Portugal in September 2017

Since we moved to The Hague we have become acquainted with surfing (wave surfing) in Scheveningen. A single surf lesson there started our interest. Considering that the surfing conditions in The Netherlands are often quite bad, we thought about doing more surfing during a holiday elsewhere in Europe. This led to our holiday in Portugal right after our wedding on 2 September 2017. Below is our travel schedule, with the train journey and ticket prices for a single person.

  • Mon 04 Sep train from Rotterdam to Lisbon at 8:58 AM (€ 153).
  • Tue 05 Sep arrival in Lisbon at 7:20 AM (€ 148).
  • Sun 10 Sep bus from Lisbon to Peniche.
  • Sun 17 Sep bus from Peniche to Lisbon.
  • Sun 17 Sep train from Lisbon to Rotterdam at 9:34 PM (€ 148).
  • Mon 18 Sep arrival in Rotterdam at 10:02 PM (€ 158).

As a genuine environmentalist, it took some research to figure out how to get to Portugal by train in a short time. While France and Spain have comparatively good high-speed rail networks, they are not well connected now. The journey over the France-Spain border isn’t possible with high-speed trains yet. Portugal is much worse because even the normal railway connection with Spain is poor.

Fortunately the Spanish Renfe Operadora operates a night train from Irun. This Spanish town is just across the border from Hendaye in southwestern France, which is the final stop of a TGV line. This night train goes all the way to Lisbon. Starting from the tram to The Hague Central Station in the early morning, this meant we could step out of the train in Lisbon the next morning.

While efficient, that night train isn’t very comfortable. We opted for the expensive two-person cabin with shower and toilet, but the bathroom didn’t look very inviting. We didn’t sleep very well either and the dinner was quite bad as well, I’d seriously recommend taking your own food, maybe even an army ration with a flameless heater if you insist on warm food. If I’d take this train again (which I would because it’s a fast way to travel) I’d just go for the simple reclining seat. Much cheaper, just suck it up with the discomfort and lack of quality sleep. It won’t be much better in the expensive cabin anyway.

We spent five days in Lisbon first before we took a bus from Lisbon to Peniche for a week of surf camp. Lisbon reminds me of Amsterdam in a negative way. Like Amsterdam, Lisbon has been turned into a zoo for tourists, complete with tuk-tuks contributing to traffic congestion. All thanks to ridiculously cheap flights while honest tourists like me pay a premium for sustainable train travel. In spite of this, it is a nice city with an interesting city center spread over several hilltops. Not the most interesting city I’ve seen, but certainly good. The day trips to the palaces at Sintra and Mafra were very memorable on the other hand.

Peniche and it’s surroundings aren’t a tourist trap, it’s busy with surfers instead. The surf camp we booked with, Maximum Surfcamp (now defunct), followed a simple formula: you have a small room, shared bathroom and a communal courtyard where meals were served. In the morning everyone gathers for the buses to the beach, for the surf lessons which continue into the afternoon. You also get a wetsuit (the water isn’t warm on Portugal’s Atlantic coast) and a surfboard. And mountain bikes to explore the surroundings. This for seven days for a flat fee of € 500 per person.

The food was very simple but adequate. We did decide to eat in a good restaurant in Peniche a few nights for more varied food. We would have desired some more luxury in the sense of a private bathroom. The surf camp also had a rather large scale, with a lot of people who were hosted on the grounds. Smoking being allowed at the busy courtyard wasn’t good. On the other hand, the company of the other surfers was great and the surf teachers were friendly. And of course the surfing itself is so much fun. There is some kind of magic in the calm of waiting with others in the line up, waiting for the next wave to ride.

I felt like I learned a lot and would definitely want to do a whole week of surfing again. Since doing the surf camp I surf regularly at Scheveningen. You have to be lucky to get good surfing conditions and with surfing being relatively difficult to learn, I feel I need a lot of time to advance in skill. Even so, I greatly enjoy it. I certainly want to come back to Portugal for more.

Photography wise, I couldn’t be stuffed to take a lot of photos somehow. Those I did take I don’t regard as interesting. I want to finish with a few restaurant recommendations: Laurentina in Lisbon and A Sardinha in Peniche. You’ll have a hard time with vegetarian and vegan food, but I like the ubiquitous dried salted cod, called bacalhau in Portugese. It’s interesting how they can prepare it in so many different ways.

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