As published in the April 2022 Edition of Planet Golf Review Magazine. To read the entire issue click here
I ease the car onto the Vasco da Gama bridge, admiring the bluebird sky above that’s mirrored in the cool, blue waters of the Tagus River below. It’s November, and Portugal is enjoying “St. Martin’s Summer.” The sun is beaming, and my heart does a little skip as I leave the hustle and bustle of Lisbon behind, feeling like an explorer, embarking upon a quest to uncover the secrets of the largely undiscovered Silver Coast.
In a little over an hour, my husband Dave and I are checking into the luxurious, five-star Evolutée Hotel at the Royal Óbidos Spa and Golf Resort. Stepping onto the balcony, I can taste the tangy, saltiness of the sea in the afternoon breeze as I catch a glimpse of the wild Atlantic Ocean in the distance. It’s too late in the day to play a round, but there’s plenty of time for a Mandalay massage before heading into town.
Óbidos is delightful during the day but even more enjoyable in the evening after the tour buses have departed. Driving west towards the ancient town, I can’t help but be impressed by the well-preserved Moorish fortress that dominates the skyline. It feels like a place where time has stood still. As I step through the Porta da Vila gates, I’m immediately transported back to an era of intrigue where royalty reigned supreme. It was here that with the help of the Knights Templar, King Afonso I defeated the Moors to reclaim Portugal.
At first, the narrow main street lined with quaint shops, restaurants, and cafés feels touristy, but as Ivo, our local guide, helps me navigate the maze of cobblestone paths, he weaves a tale of battles won, battles lost, triumph and tragedy, and I soon get a real sense of people and place. For more than eight centuries, Óbidos was known as the House of Queens, when a succession of kings would gift the village to his bride on their wedding day. Today, it remains the culturally diverse, historic heart of central Portugal.
In 2015, Óbidos was declared a UNESCO Creative City of Literature, home to the annual international FOLIO festival and more than fourteen unique and somewhat eclectic book shops. I pop into the lovely Igreja de São Tiago church where, as you might expect, there’s an air of reverence surrounding the tomes sold here. At the quirky Market Bookstore, I find wooden crates brimming with books among the organic fruits and vegetables, many of them quite old, perhaps even rare. My final stop is Espaço O and the Livaria De Adega, a wine cellar turned bookstore where I’m tempted to sample a local vintage while perusing the titles, but as darkness falls, I’m being drawn to investigate the castle looming overhead.
Making the trek to the top of the fortress is not for the faint of heart, but it’s worth the effort. I tread paths worn thin over the centuries by those who have walked the ramparts before me. Admittedly, I’m a little winded by the time we reach the battlements, but when I lean over the edge, that’s when the magic happens. A sea of twinkling lights illuminates the historic quarter’s whitewashed houses, and it’s easy to imagine that nothing has changed in a thousand years.
Dinner is at The Literary Man, the biggest literary hotel in the world, but its story runs much deeper. The converted convent reflects the vision of Óbidos’s former mayor, Telmo Faria, who wanted to attract writers, artists, bibliophiles, and tourists to the region to not only preserve its heritage but also stimulate the local economy. In addition to hotel guests, the public is welcome to enjoy a literary libation at the gin bar, or curl up on a big green, velvet settee and delve into the pages of any of the more than 65,000 books that fill the shelves. If I was travelling solo, I couldn’t think of a better place to hang out with a book as my companion.
But Faria’s vision extended beyond the literary world. He was also the impetus that brought world-class golf to the Silver Coast. Bom Sucesso, Campo Real Lisboa and the prestigious Marriott Praia del Rey and West Cliffs complex, one of Europe’s Top Ten Golf Resorts, all lay within striking distance of the town. Dave plays them all; however, Royal Óbidos is my favourite. Why? Not because it is one of the fairest layouts that suits me to a tee, or because they serve the best fish soup I’ve ever tasted, but because the second I enter the clubhouse, I feel the presence of Seve Ballestero. Royal Óbidos was his final masterpiece, and every aspect of the club celebrates the spirit of a great golfer and family man who left this world too soon.
I must have been a child of the sea in my past life, for wherever I go, the ocean beckons, and Portugal is no exception. While the country’s western shores may be known as the Silver Coast, it serves up mile after mile of golden sand, intimate beaches, rugged rock formations and some of the most incredible water in the world.
I’ve heard rumours that this may be the week that the wind and tides come together in perfect harmony to create those record-breaking 30-metre, 100-foot waves that propelled Garrett McNamara to stardom and turned a sleepy little fishing village into a world-renowned surfing destination. So, we put away our clubs and head north to Nazaré for a walk on the wild side of the Atlantic.
As we approach Praia do Norte, the dirt track that leads to the dunes is crammed with vehicles, so we make our way on foot towards the action. Dune buggies, vans, buses, and trailers painted every colour of the rainbow are squeezed into the narrowest of spaces, creating a kaleidoscopic wall that surrounds the beach. As I round the bend, I swear I’m about to step onto the set of a 1960’s Beach Boys’ movie. There’s a definite Bohemian vibe to this place, and while I’m not planning on catching a wave, I’m thrilled to be here watching these carefree spirits prep for the big challenge when it comes. Unfortunately, today is not the day, but I can still admire their prowess, determination, and sheer grit.
As the sun begins its descent, we take the funicular from the cliff top of Sitio to the much calmer, more serene Praia da Nazare. As we stroll along the boardwalk to Pangei-by-the-Sea for dinner, I notice the line-up of historic, traditional fishing boats nestled on the sand, and I’m reminded of simpler times.
Our table is ready, and I settle in with a glass of Summertino to watch Chef Carlos prepare his signature dish, octopus served three ways. Everyone is mesmerized as he arranges the garnish. The meal is a work of art that pays homage to one of Portugal’s most revered ingredients, presented by a master chef with a flourish and a big grin.
The next day fog blankets the windswept cliffs in Santa Cruz. I’m disappointed that I can hear the thundering roar of the surf, but my view of the sea is shrouded. Suddenly, the sun pierces the day and reveals an expansive stretch of golden beach in all its glory. I’m now free to explore the tide pools and hidden coves before making my way to Noah Surf House.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly isn’t the sense of peace and tranquility that envelops me as we head up to the second floor. Intuitively I know that this is no ordinary accommodation but a sanctuary where I can quiet my mind and feed my soul.
Tonight, we’re staying in one of the guest pods nestled on the hillside. As I open the door, I marvel at the attention to detail that has created this veritable oasis. The entire complex has been constructed using reclaimed and repurposed materials with a focus on sustainability. Natural elements combined with a minimalist décor reflect the beauty surrounding me when I pause long enough to appreciate it.
Heading to the communal kitchen and full-service restaurant, I’m suddenly aware that the path leads through an herb garden surrounded by rosemary hedges, and my appetite nudges up a notch. Judging from the smells wafting up from the open kitchen, I’m in no doubt that my hunger will soon be satisfied.
Tonight, it’s tapas for two. Five perfectly proportioned dishes, including creamy burrata cheese, topped with smoky tomatoes, delectable garlic prawns who announce their presence long before they reach the table and ceviche that is bright, spicy, and delightfully acidic. Our feast is accompanied by a rich, full-bodied glass of Quinta das cerejeira Grande Reserva 2014 – a vintage I had sampled earlier in the week at Quinta do Sanguinhal when I was there to learn the Pereira da Fonseca family’s secrets for producing award-winning wines.
When Noah Surf House opened, one of the owners, Marta, and her boyfriend Nuno, began holding weekly Get2gethers where guests, locals and staff mingle, make music, share laughter, exchange information and forge new friendships. For now, these magical evenings are reduced to joining a few others around the fire pit to exchange the highlights of where we’ve been, what we’ve seen and who we’ve met. The perfect end to a perfect day!
I awaken to a gentle light that gradually fills the room and a view that declares this is where heaven and earth meet. I understand that This Place that Celebrates the Sea is more than Noah Surf House’s tagline – it’s a defining experience, a place where one can simply be.
Tomorrow, I leave the Silver Coast with hidden treasure, the knowing that it’s the traveler’s willingness to connect with people, share dreams, and respect the environment that turns a vacation into an adventure.