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Travel: Live, work and surf in this Lisbon village

Ericeira was once just another laidback surfing village. Now luxury hotels have opened up to serve a clientele on holiday, working remotely

Surfers walk down a beach in Portugal (Unsplash/Sacha Verheij)

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A laidback surf village along Portugal’s rugged coastline is getting a luxury upgrade. Once frequented mostly by Lisboetas looking to escape the city, the historic village of Ericeira has become the latest seaside Portuguese village to be newly discovered by foreigners who have come to the country searching for the best place to live, work remotely or vacation.

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Pre-pandemic, tourism in Portugal was steadily on the rise, with more than 27 million visitors in 2019, according to Turismo de Portugal. Now, a whole new wave of Americans and others with the ability to work from anywhere are moving to Portugal, taking advantage of its golden visa program and driving up home prices. A new digital nomad visa starting this month will give remote workers even more flexibility.

Located 45 minutes north of Lisbon, Ericeira—a fishing village with just over 12,000 residents as of 2021—looks like many of Portugal’s seaside hamlets: rocky cliffs, tranquil bays, low lying white-washed homes, and a main plaza with cobbled streets and walls festooned with azulejo tiles.

With eight kilometers of shoreline, Ericeira has long been a place where surfers found a variety of breaks that suit all skill levels. In 2011, the destination itself had its own big break. It was named a World Surfing Reserve by Save the Waves, which aims to preserve beach destinations with particularly spectacular surf zones. What followed was a decade of contained development that grew alongside the increase in surfers making a beeline for the destination. It now hosts surf competitions, including Quiksilver Pro Portugal, a major contest on the pro circuit.

The village became home to a smattering of surf schools and camps, juice bars, yoga studios and stores like Billabong, as well as ocean-facing hostels for surfing nomads. Residents and investors turned local houses into long-term-stay villas.

What it didn’t have, until now, was luxury places to stay. These days everyone from Barack Obama and Richard Branson to Kendall Jenner surf. They want their long days of hanging 10 to end with an evening at a fancy hotel with luxury amenities. “Today the people who surf are like me: They have families, they have jobs, and they have money to put into great surf vacations,” said Gonçalo Menezes, creative art director at Inspire Capital, a Lisbon-based investment firm that in June opened a luxury hotel in Ericeira. The hotel, Immerso, has 37 rooms spread across three buildings discreetly staggered into a valley about a mile away from the powerful waves that pound Coxos Beach and 2 kilometers from the heart of downtown Ericeira. 

“I’ve surfed Ericeira for a long time, and I thought it has the potential to be the next Biarritz,” said Menezes, who lived in Lisbon but moved to the village. Menezes says he recognized this opportunity to open Ericeira’s first five-star hotel because he saw how the demographics that make up the surfing community have evolved over time. In places like France and the Maldives, he saw his fellow surfers booking up the area’s most expensive hotels. Immerso — with its design-forward interiors, intimate spa, organic vegetable garden, and dining concepts consulted on by chef Alexandre Silva of Lisbon’s Michelin-starred Loco — isn’t just aiming to attract surfers. It’s for anyone who can appreciate nature and the outdoors.

Another hotel, Aethos Ericeira, opened on 1 September, about 5 km north of Immerso on a 130-foot-high limestone cliff near family-friendly Calada beach. Benjamin Habbel, a co-founder of Munich-based Aethos Hotels, says he and his partners were originally looking to plant their flag in Lisbon, hoping to take advantage of the buzz that has surrounded the capital in the last decade. But finding a nearly-finished, abandoned project in Ericeira changed their mind. “You have this property on a cliff with 180-degree views of the ocean — it’s something you’re not really going to be allowed to build here anymore,” he says of the perch that Aethos now calls home.

Originally planned for a rehab facility in the village of Encarnação, the building’s blueprint was perfectly suited for a hotel. There were already rooms and common areas. Habbel said they just needed to do the hard work of tweaking it all to accommodate the specific plans they had for Aethos: a double-height lobby, 50 rooms, a heated saltwater pool, a hammam, a yoga and meditation deck, and an indoor-outdoor restaurant overseen by Afonso Blazquez, a Portuguese chef who has refined his skills in the Michelin-starred kitchens of Fortaleza do Guincho in Cascais and El Celler de Can Roca in Girona.

The laundry list of amenities is a major upgrade from the more limited options that were offered in the surf hostels around town. But Habbel says this is exactly what the modern surfer was looking for, echoing Menezes’ earlier sentiments. “The surf community is now attracting segments that may not have previously been part of that world. What we were seeing is that surfers aren’t just beach nomads traveling around in Volkswagen vans,” Habbel adds.

Joana Andrade, Portugal’s first big-wave female surfer, is the hotel’s partner for surf lessons. They cost €56 ($55) for a three-hour class. “We definitely have the amenities, design and service that would place us in a more luxury lifestyle category, but we liked the idea of gathering into one place the diversity of the surf community,” Habbel says of the hotel, done in a mashup of mid-century, art deco and beach-chic design. “We have bunk-bed rooms for surfers who might be on a lower budget all the way up to larger suites with balconies that look out to the most amazing views.” 

The opening of these two hotels add a long-missing layer of high-end hospitality to this surf town.

Their dining concepts have the potential to become destination restaurants. They are joining a growing band of high-quality outfits that have recently popped up in and around Ericeira. Ūmmi, an organic, gluten-free hard kombucha outfit, was just founded here. 5 e Meio is a new taproom brewing uniquely Portuguese-flavored craft beer. There’s Indigo, a beachside hangout that has become the go-to for sunset cocktails. And Terço do Meio is a vegan-friendly sourdough bakery.

Most of these would have been unheard of in Ericeira five years ago. So while these hotel openings might be expediting the journey, the direction Ericeira was slowly heading has been written in the sand almost as soon as that World Surfing Reserve designation was announced. And there is already talk of more development to come. With every new opening, Menezes says, “Ericeira is writing a new story.”

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This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.

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