Costa Vicentina: A hidden surfers' paradise in Portugal

By Fred Jéquier

Photo from cEkonomista.

Every year, surfers across Europe flock to some of the most popular surf spots in the continent. Usual suspects include Biarritz in France; San Sebastian in northern Spain, Sennen Cove in Cornwall, England, and Peniche in Portugal. If you're looking for somewhere new to ride some waves this summer, look no further. The stunning Costa Vicentina is where you should be looking. This incredible coastline—rich in history, culture, and, of course, waves—has numerous beaches that are perfect for a summer surfing adventure.

Where is Costa Vicentina?

Costa Vicentina is set in the incredible Alentejo and Algarve regions of Portugal. Part of a natural park that starts further north and runs from the fishing village of Burgau in the south to Odeceixe Beach, Costa Vicentina is the longest stretch of protected Portuguese coast, with beaches as far as the eye can see.

This area of preserved nature has breathtaking, rugged character that is different to other parts of southwestern and southern Portugal. Heading west from Lagos, you'll leave the picturesque caves and coves behind you and will soon find yourself amid vast, empty swathes of sand or tiny, inaccessible beaches—perfect for the more adventurous surfer, as they are continually hammered by the full force of the Atlantic Ocean.

History of the region

Costa Vicentina has a rich history that precedes its current role as a surfers' paradise. Cape St. Vincent, the most south-western point in Europe, has religious traditions that stretch as far back as the Ancient Greeks, who called it the Land of the Serpents, and the Romans, who considered the horizon beyond which the sun set sacred, referred to it as Promontorium Sacrum, which means Holy Promontory, and is the Latin origin of the coastal town of Sagres.

The Romans saw the cape as the end of the world, where the sun would be submerged each day into the endless ocean—a belief that some still clung to during the medieval period. Skip forward to the 15th century, and Costa Vicentina became an increasingly important area during the European age of discovery.

Photo from Lisbon Tourism.

Prince Henry the Navigator (1394-1460), the fourth child of King John I of Portugal, and the Governor of the Algarve, dedicated his life to furthering Portugal's early voyages of discovery and founded the School of Navigation in Sagres. He also oversaw the creation of caravels—ships that were faster and lighter than their predecessors, as well as highly maneuverable, which was perfect for exploring the African coast line and going into the Atlantic.

The Fortaleza, or fortress on the headland above Sagres, located on a dramatic, narrow headland that juts out into the Atlantic Ocean, may well have been where Henry's School of Navigation was based, he certainly spent a good amount of time there planning his voyages. Nowadays, it's a must-see for tourists. This windswept spot overlooks the ocean, with incredible coastal views.

Top surfing spots

The Costa Vicentina has a plethora of beaches for you to choose from, each different to the last. Whether you're a beginner, or an advanced surfer used to charging waves as tall as houses, you are bound to find a beach that suits your needs when you head to this unique coastline. Here are just a few of our favorites!

1. Arrifana Beach

Half way between Praia de Odeceixe and Sagres, this crescent-shaped beach is perfect for surfers of any level. Beginners can make the most of the slightly slower waves at high tide, and those with more experience can head out at low tide for the faster waves. On days with a good swell, the beach can have a lot of visitors, but this is a great spot for both surfing, and relaxing. The town has a variety of restaurants and bars for when you've built up an appetite carving the waves.

2. Amado Beach

A 25-minute drive from Sagres, the waves that roll into Amado Beach are not reliant on the tides, making it the perfect spot for surfers all year round. One of the most consistent surfing spots in the area, it is open to all Atlantic swells, and as a protected area, it's not built-up, allowing you to enjoy a secluded, peaceful beach. If you're planning on visiting this stunning bit of coastline, you'll be able to find a place to stay in Sagres, or even Lagos, which is just 40 minutes away.

3. Castelejo Beach

Just 12 kilometers from Sagres, Castelejo Beach can be affected by westerly winds, meaning that in the summer months, the waves are conducive to anyone who wants to learn how to surf from scratch. Meanwhile, in autumn, the beach can come into contact with some fairly strong Atlantic swells that create world-class waves—perfect if you're a seasoned surfer.

4. Beliche Beach

Even closer to Sagres than Castelejo Beach⁠—a 10-minute drive in fact⁠—Beliche Beach is surrounded by large cliffs, creating a stunning spot to get in some surfing. The waves are at their best here either side of the main summer months, and they are perfect for intermediate to advanced surfers to enjoy.

5. Zavial Beach

Just east of Sagres, Zavial Beach is one of the first major surfing beaches when you enter the Costa Vicentina—and one of the best-known. With fast waves that are enhanced by strong winds, it gets good swells that are great for beginner and intermediate surfers. On days when there is a lull and the waves are not at their best, the beach itself is a stunning spot to relax or swim.

Surf schools

If you've never been surfing before, but fancy having a go at it while visiting the Costa Vicentina, we've got some suggestions of surfing schools that'll help you on your way to becoming the next Kelly Slater.

1. Boa Onda Surf School

The Boa Onda Surf School has a great reputation. Set just a 10-minute drive from the town of Aljezur, Boa Onda Surf School has classes throughout the year, with prices ranging from 35€ for half a day or a five-day course that costs 225€ in high season. They also have options for a residential course, and you can rent all the necessary equipment from the school, so you don't need to invest in a pricey new board and wetsuit.

2. Odeceixe Surf School

Founded in 2008, the Odeceixe Surf School is set close to the beach and has a small team of experienced instructors. For a day's class in high season, it'll set you back 60€, and up to five days will cost 250€. Typically, one class will get you between three and four hours in the water with an instructor.

The price doesn't just cover your lesson, though. You will get the use of a board and wetsuit, transport to beaches only locals know about, and even sports insurance—along with a comprehensive guide in dangers, such as rips, currents, and how to safely paddle in and out of the surf.

3. Mission To Surf

With more than 20 years experience, Mission To Surf will make the impossible possible. Set in Palmeirinha, and with surf classes for beginners to advanced surfers, Mission To Surf has something for everyone. A beginner course will place you in a class of no more than eight students, so you can be sure of maximum supervision from your instructor. A week-long course costs 250€ in high season and 200€ in the low season, with classes typically lasting four hours. You can also opt for one-on-one classes for an hour, which 55€ for the first hour, with the option of a second hour for an additional 28€.


Keep exploring the incredible beauty of Portugal with a stay at one of our amazing accommodations!

A breakdown of the best beaches by region in the U.S.

By Eric Wright

Spanning an astonishing 3.8 million square miles and bordered by three different oceans, the U.S. is one of the most geographically diverse countries on the planet. From the vast deserts in the southwest and the plains of the Midwest to the Colorado Rocky Mountains and icy tundras of Alaska, it really is a world unto itself—and it doesn't stop there. The sheer diversity of the U.S. extends all the way to its 12,383 miles of coastline, which means a plethora of beautiful beaches for you to visit and enjoy.

Plan your summer trip accordingly with our breakdown of the best beaches by region in the U.S.

The West Coast

The West Coast cozies up to the Pacific Ocean and offers a fantastic variety of stunning beaches—from rugged, windswept cliffs to soft sand that stretches on as far as the eye can see. Although the temperature may be lower than the beaches of the southeast and Gulf Coast, this area more than makes up for it with its peaceful beauty and awe-inspiring views.

1. Laguna Beach, California

For many, the 36 stretches of Orange County's Laguna Beach are the epitome of a West Coast beach getaway. Whether you're spending the day spiking up a volleyball at the popular Main Beach, exploring ancient caves at Thousand Steps Beach, or snorkeling the epic underwater marine park at Crystal Cove, a summer vacation at Laguna Beach offers something unforgettable for everyone.

2. Cannon Beach, Oregon

The iconic image of Haystack Rock, reaching up 235 feet into the heavens, is one of the most recognizable natural attractions on the coast of Oregon, and Cannon Beach itself is full of majestic coves just waiting to be discovered. The upscale resort town has many charming boutiques and quality restaurants, which are great to stop in at after days of long, scenic walks and, of course, saying hello to the resident puffins!

3. Cape Disappointment State Beach, Washington

Contrary to its name, the 2,032-acre Cape Disappointment State Park on the Long Beach Peninsula is the ideal spot to enjoy a beach vacation, with a great variety of both terrain and wildlife. The freshwater lakes and majestic cliffs create a unique landscape right where the Pacific Ocean meets the Columbia River. If its hiking, calm weather, and endless ocean views you're looking for, you've just found your perfect beach getaway!

4. El Matador State Beach, California

The jagged coastline of El Matador State Beach is one of the most unmistakable coastlines in Malibu, and the area is brimming with long sandy stretches, fabulous rocky inclines, and otherworldly sunsets. With the ocean full of kelp forests, visitors to the area can embark on an amazing whale-watching tour with majestic views of the coastlines massive boulders, steep cliffs, and mysterious sea caves.

5. San Gregorio, California

As one of the many state beaches running along the scenic Route 1 between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, San Gregorio boasts one of the best places to enjoy the gorgeous bluffs, vast sandstone cliffs, and sandy beaches found along this gorgeous coastline. Nature lovers will also be in their element, with a protected estuary housing a variety of native birds and animals, as well as the opportunity to spot a whale passing by.

The Gulf Coast

The Gulf Coast stretches on for hundreds of miles through the states of Louisiana, Alabama, Texas, Mississippi, and Florida—welcoming millions of tourists each year for summers of enjoying year-round warm waters, idyllic fishing conditions, and water sports. The white sand and emerald green waters of the Gulf of Mexico are sure to enchant any visitor, making it the ideal beach vacation destination.

1. Galveston Island State Park, Texas

As a protected territory, Galveston Island State Park offers a more peaceful getaway than many of the Gulf Coast beach destinations, with its vast wetlands, dunes, and tranquil beaches being a respite from the busier tourist traps. Located just an hour from Houston, the 32 miles of sandy beaches couldn't be more of a contrast from hectic city life.

2. South Padre Island, Texas

Located off the southern tip of Texas, the half-mile-wide barrier island of South Padre offers a retreat packed with incredibly clean shorelines and shimmering water. The shallow water makes the island a perfect spot for families, while those looking to get their blood pumping can try their hand at boating, kayaking, and parasailing. With some of the best waves on the Gulf Coast, those surfers out there will have also found their slice of southern heaven.

3. Gulf Shores, Alabama

The "sugar sands" in Gulf Shores, Alabama, offer a family-friendly destination full of impeccably well-maintained beaches and glistening ocean. Although Alabama doesn't boast as many miles of beaches as its neighboring states, the champagne shores dotted around this area are simply incomparable, and the 6 miles of soft sand at West Beach are a testament to this. Get ready for relaxing beach days full of collecting seashells, taking a dip in the calm waters, and enjoying the warm gulf breeze.

4. Orange Beach, Alabama

Situated just a 10-minute drive east from Gulf Shores, Orange Beach offers even more white quartz beaches and pristine, green-blue ocean waters. Open year-round, with public beach access, Orange Beach has earned a reputation as one of the best beaches on the Gulf Coast. Why not spend days swimming, sunbathing, and building sandcastles with the kids? You can even take a thrilling parasailing trip high above the scenic beauty of this fabulous area.

5. Gulfport, Mississippi

The second-largest city in Mississippi after the capital of Jackson, the diverse downtown of Gulfport is a southern tourist hub steeped in charming local history. With pristine sands stretching 6.2 miles and outlined by swaying palm trees, this is a paradise for those looking to kick back and enjoy a true beach vacation. The theme and water parks draw many visitors each year, while the various water sports rentals along the coast are perfect for some high-thrill experiences on the emerald waters.

The East Coast

While the West Coast gets a lot of the credit for the best beaches in the U.S., the 3,000 kilometers of Atlantic Ocean coastline on the other side of the country boast their own unique selection of sandy shores, rocky outcrops, and charming beach towns. From the hip vibes of Miami Beach to the peaceful sunsets of Hilton Head Island, the East Coast is a must-visit destination in and of itself.

1. Block Island, Rhode Island

Nicknamed "The Bermuda of the North,” New England's Block Island is home to 17 miles of beaches, which surround the vibrant town center. The clear waters of Crescent Beach are simply unmissable, while the dramatic clay cliffs at Mohegan Bluffs are well-worth making the descent down the 141 wooden steps to the spectacular shoreline. Those seeking some history should head to the northern tip of the island to the North Lighthouse, built in 1867, and nature lovers can spot migratory songbirds at the Block Island National Wildlife Refuge.

2. Miami Beach, Florida

Connected by bridges to mainland Miami, the island city of Miami Beach truly is one-of-a-kind, in terms of the unique atmosphere found in this idyllic area. Models, A-list celebrities, and eccentric locals alike can all be found at South Beach every summer, making it a perfect destination for afternoons of people-watching in the Florida sunshine. The wide beaches, full of fine sand, are just begging for you to sink your toes in them while sipping a mojito, and after sunset, the clubs and bars start to fill with nightlife-lovers ready to dance late into the night.

3. Virginia Beach, Virginia

Just a short 30-minute drive southeast of Norfolk International Airport in Virginia, where Chesapeake Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean, Virginia Beach is an outdoor enthusiast's dream. The North American Sand Soccer Championships and annual Coastal Edge East Coast Surfing Championships both draw in fans from far and wide, while the opportunities to go kayaking, parasailing, and jet skiing are practically endless. An iconic part of the beach is the 28-foot-wide boardwalk, which stretches on for 3 miles, with arcade games, live music, and street entertainers.

4. Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Full of tranquil Atlantic Ocean beaches, world-class golf courses, and historic lighthouses, the coastline of Hilton Head Island offers a laid-back vacation surrounded by scenic natural beauty. The subtropical climate also means the boot-shaped sea island enjoys mild weather year-round, while the high-class restaurants, summer festivals, and epic water sports provide something for everyone. With a welcoming atmosphere and small-town charm, this really is one of the best family vacation destinations on the East Coast.

5. Nantucket Island, Massachusetts

Those looking for an undisturbed, peaceful beach getaway have found their solution with a vacation on Nantucket. Found at the easternmost end of the island, Great Point is widely regarded as one of the most secluded beaches in the U.S. The reason for this is that visitors to the area need a beach permit to drive their 4x4 across the rugged sandy tracks to the historic Great Point Lighthouse. The beauty of this hidden gem is simply breathtaking, while watching the sun set across the vast Atlantic Ocean from Madaket Beach, located on the opposite side of the island, is an unforgettable experience.

Non-Continental

From absolutely incredible reefs and some of the most romantic coves imaginable to beaches with green, red, and black sands, its no wonder that Hawaii is widely considered to have some of the best beaches on the planet. If you're looking for a vacation of discovering a stunning new coastline every day, you've found your perfect getaway in Hawaii.

1. Sunset Beach, Hawaii

Located on Oahu's North Shore, the 200-foot-wide Sunset Beach stretches on for 2 miles and boasts prime surfing conditions, so much so that it forms part of the world-famous Triple Crown surfing competition. You can spend an afternoon watching surfers try their luck on the legendary waves or spotting some of the exotic tropical fish in the reef. Don't miss the enchanting sunset over the distant horizon before nightfall, too!

2. Kailua Beach Park, Hawaii

With crystal-clear, aquamarine water and talcum white sand, along with great swimming conditions, it's no surprise that Kailua Beach Park on Oahu regularly ranks at the top of the list of the best beaches in the U.S. Located on the eastern shore, it's difficult to imagine an ocean more turquoise blue than it is here, and with the powdery, 2.5-mile beach, kayaking along the coast is sure to be a dream-like experience that no one will ever forget.

3. Lanikai Beach, Hawaii

As a constant rival to Kailua Beach Park, Lanikai Beach also often ranks as one of the best beaches in the world. As the endless, aqua blue waters stretch on seemingly forever, it comes as no shock that the meaning of Lanikai is actually "heavenly ocean." The alluring waters are simply asking to be dived into! One of the main attractions here is the staggeringly beautiful sunrise, so be sure to get up early and make your way down to the beach for some other-worldly imagery at dawn.


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