A few months after I had started in my blog in 2009, Elizabeth Montalbano contacted me because she wanted to write a guest post about a life-changing trip she took to Aljezur, Portugal, to learn how to surf. Little did she (or I) realize just how life-changing that vacation would be. Fast-forward four years later, she contacts me to let me know that she moved to the charming little town of Aljezur and would I be kind enough to let my readers know about her cozy guesthouse, Casa Boa Vista, which she rents out. Here, Elizabeth describes why Aljezur is such a special place that you should at least visit it — and possibly even move there!
Four years ago I posted on this blog about traveling to the Costa Vicentina natural park areas of southwest Portugal and learning to surf, and the things I discovered about life and myself in the process.
Little did I know at the time that I wouldn’t just learn a new sport, but also find myself a new home and an entirely way of life. A year after I visited Portugal for the first time, I left my full-time job as a journalist in the United States, gave up most of the things I owned and headed to the little agricultural town of Aljezur to start what I like to call “part two” of my life.
I now live permanently in the charming little town I wrote about then, and work as a freelance writer as well as run a little guest house that overlooks the verdant valley that greets you as you enter Aljezur from the north.
While it remains relatively sleepy in the winter months, in spring, summer and autumn Aljezur is flooded with visitors—particularly in July, August and September, as well as Easter time in early spring. Many of them come from the north of Portugal itself as well as other northern European countries like Germany, Austria and Holland, where long winters and short summers send residents heading for sunshine and warm climes as soon as the first breath of spring wheezes in the south. But increasingly visitors from the United States also are discovering this area of Europe, which still remains less expensive and significantly less crowded than the other beach hot-spots of southern Spain or the French Riviera.
While undoubtedly of the major attractions for visitors to Aljezur is the surfing— there are three excellent surfing beaches nearby —there are plenty of other reasons to come to this little corner of the world as well.
But first because it’s an unavoidable topic, let’s talk about the surfing first. The sport itself has exploded in the last 10-15 years and surf schools are everywhere that promise people the thrill of riding a wave. However, many people take surf lessons for the fun of it but don’t pursue the sport itself—which I can tell you firsthand is like having a full-time job and really is a lifestyle choice, not just something you do halfheartedly.
If you want to try it, though, the beaches near Aljezur are a good place to start, in particular Praia da Arrifana, a beach about 10 minutes from the town marked at its south end by a large headland and a daunting rock — Pedra da Agula, or needle rock—that presides over the beach like a passive natural guardian of the wild coast. There is a surf school right on the beach — aptly named Arrifana Surf School — and others nearby including Arrifana Surf Lodge and Algarve Adventure.
Surf schools also set up on in beach huts on Praia de Monte Clerigo and Praia da Amoreira—both also within a short drive from Aljezur—during the summer months of June, July, August and September, and generally offer the same type of equipment and services.
If surfing’s not for you there are plenty of other things to keep you occupied. Outdoor activities in general abound, such as rock climbing, mountain biking, hiking or horseback riding. Algarve Adventure offers rock climbing and mountain biking excursions, and Horseriding Aljezur offers horseback riding for beginners and experienced riders alike through the hills and valleys of the picturesque coastline near the town.
Another attraction ripe for exploration is the recently established Rota Vicentina natural walking trail, which travels directly through the heart of Aljezur and the beautiful Algarve countryside surrounding the town, as well as a long swathe of the Costa Vicentina coastline.
For the more historically minded, Aljezur has sites for you to visit as well. The town’s famous castle, built in the 10th century and a remnant from the Moorish rule of the area, sits atop the town’s west side and is accessible from a winding road that’s part of the Rota Vicentina. From there you can take in a spectacular view of the town below and the surrounding area, including Monchique—a mountainous area just east of Aljezur famous for its spas that can easily be visited on a day trip.
You can also visit the Museu de Arte Sacra Monsenhor Manuel Francisco Pardal, which showcases religious art from the Catholic Church, which has played a large role in Portuguese history and life.
For those of you of a more leisurely persuasion who prefer a holiday full of lounging on the beach, drinking wine and eating sumptuous food, Aljezur and its surroundings can accommodate you as well.
In addition to being excellent surfing beaches, Arrifana, Monte Clerigo and Amoreira are also lovely places to pass a hot and sunny Algarve day. Amoreira in particular—with a river that runs from Aljezur to the sea at one end of the beach—is a favorite in the summer for swimming and sunbathing. If there are too many waves for swimming safely, the river offers a cool respite from the abundant sunshine the region boasts all year round.
Want to experience the Southwest Coast of Portugal like a local? Check out Casa Boa Vista on its website or Facebook page, and don’t forget to read Elizabeth Montalbano’s guide to Eating in Aljezur. Photos by Cassar Photography.