After a whirlwind six weeks travelling through Europe, I thought settling into a quiet Portuguese seaside town would be the perfect way to unwind, relax, and maybe try a surfing lesson or two, just to check it off the bucket list. What I found in Ericeira was so much more - seven days turned into 11, new friends turned into family, and while I am still just a beginner, I've developed a new respect and appreciation for surfing. And I'm almost entirely positive that my fantastic experience can only be attributed to my stay with Chill In Ericeira Surfhouse. After researching multiple surf camps up and down the coast, I decided that sticking closer to Lisbon would be easiest, as I planned to explore the capital of Portugal for a week following my time at the beach. Located a quick 40 minutes northwest of Lisbon, Chill In had great reviews and availability in a shared twin, which seemed blissful after staying in multi-person dorms for the majority of my travels so far. Located on top of a small hill overlooking Praia do Sol, incredible sunsets can be watched nightly from the balcony of the main house, which features a bright and clean common area and dining space, where daily breakfast is served free. A short two minute walk down a cobblestone street will bring you to the second house, which features a backyard BBQ space and bar, used for family style dinners a couple times a week. Rooms in both of the houses are quirky and charming, filled with cheerful colors and funky furniture, like coat racks made from repurposed bicycles. From the decor to the warm welcome you receive right away at reception, it's hard not to feel instantly at home.
But the thing that truly makes Ericeira so special are the people, both locals and visitors alike, who find their way to this little slice of heaven. A true surf town, the majority of visitors come to ride some of Portugal's most infamous waves. Located not far from Peniche, where the Rip Curl Pro takes place every year, Ericeiria embraces the laidback, good vibes mentality that so often characterizes sleepy surf towns that haven't quite made it on the map as big as San Sebastian, Waikiki, or Bali. During my mid-season visit, I was (pleasantly) surprised to find myself the only American in Ericeria. Used to being surrounded by other North Americans and Australians, it was great to actually spend time with and talk to Europeans. I've also found that there's a certain prejudgement in my travels that comes with being an American (shocker) that's much harder to break through when you're in a large group of them. By the end of my nearly two weeks in Ericeria however, my new friends often would slip into German, even when speaking directly to me ("Whoops! Sorry, I forget you're not German sometimes"). All of the owners can be seen making regular appearances throughout the day, with Dani leading the charge on BBQ nights, Edo joining for weekly dinners at Calavera or the occasional night out at Adega Bar, and private lessons available with surf pro Joana. With group surf lessons for beginners to intermediates offered twice a day, the local surf instructors are also regular fixtures around Chill In and help form the tight knit family that makes this surfhouse stand out from others. When they're not working, you can usually find them at the cafe down the road enjoying a fresh juice (pre-lesson) or beer (post-lesson) with the other guests or late night at Adega, convincing you that that third caipirinha is a great idea (it's not). Returning seasonal staff like Timmy, who mans the bar, and receptionists Lydia and Ana round out the rest of the crew, leading organized dinners and nights out in town, not only providing opportunities for guests to mingle and get to know each other, but memorable (sometimes hazy) nights with new friends, as well.
Beyond the people, Ericeria embodies everything Portugal has to offer - good waves, perfect location, great weather from spring to early winter, and fantastic food. Only 40 minutes from Lisbon, day trips to the capital are quick and easy if your body needs a break from surfing, as is getting to some of Portugal's other most notable destinations, such as Sintra, Peniche, and Nazaré. Renting a car is extremely affordable in Portugal and can sometimes be cheaper than the €40 Uber or €60 taxi to/from the airport, offering a reasonable alternative to public transportation. For an underrated surf town, Ericeria has a surprising number of diverse restaurant choices. From traditional options like grilled octopus with a glass of vino verde to Mexican to sushi, there is something for everyone on any given night of the week. If you rather have someone make the decision for you, Chill In organizes nightly group dinners at alternating restaurants weekly, featuring all-inclusive or all-you-can-eat menus from €17-€25. I took full advantage of these dinners multiple times and was never disappointed; there was so much sushi left on the table after one meal, that it had looked like we had barely touched it, despite devouring at least 4 large platters - all for €23, including drinks! Another night resulted in some how polishing off 4-5 bottles of wine over the course of a 2 hour dinner, between 4 people - we quickly lost count of the exact number when my friend Meikel kept topping off our glasses before any of us had a chance to finish what was already there, immediately ordering another bottle (oh, those sneaky Germans); again, all for a reasonable, all-inclusive amount! Not only was the food outstanding - I can't wait to get my hands on those clams again - but you can't beat a deal like that.
After an amazing seven days in Ericeira with new friends, it was an easy decision to extend my stay and celebrate Halloween with my Chill In family - Lisbon could wait. While Halloween isn't very popular in Europe, including Portugal, the next day is a national holiday, so even those who skipped on dressing up were out celebrating and people spilled into the cobbled streets outside of what became some of my favorite bars, like Adega, Tubo, and Puro Malte (pasteis de nata shots, anyone?). After a few too many jägers, a lot of glitter, and one pair of lost fairy wings later, a few of us decided that my birthday in May would be the perfect time to all come back to Ericeira for a reunion - and that is how my return to Portugal this spring, the first place I have chosen to return to instead of exploring a new one, quickly became a real plan, with friends from four different countries joining me to help ring in my 29th birthday. If you're reading this and it hasn't convinced you to make Ericeira a priority destination in your travels, you should seriously reconsider - or maybe not, I might just want to keep this place to myself, where I know I will be welcomed back with a full tray of Ginjinha shots (I can always count on you, Silvi).