Our lives need regular and consistent punctuation. A pause. A breath. A break. Unique and unforgettable experiences to help slow the relentless and, let’s face it, sometimes monotonous passage of time. Late to almost everything these days, I’m overdue a few away from standard British time to connect with myself, Mother Nature and some like-minded souls. I retreat to Surfers Lodge Peniche in Portugal to experience the sisterhood of surf and asanas.
Designed to be a home from home, I meet my new surf-sisters in the living room of Surfers Lodge Peniche. It’s uber-relaxed with no waste-of-space lobby, rather a discrete reception of up-cycled pallets. Not to be confused with code for shabby surf shack however, the Lodge is a hip yet humble 4-star surf-yoga boutique retreat with feel-good eco-credentials to boot. A place to surf, SUP and asana in style with friends, family, or solo. And it won’t cost the earth!
Conveniently only an hours’ drive north of Lisbon airport, Peniche has the most consistent surf closest to the UK. It’s also one of the best surf spots in the world. I’m on serious surf-turf here, and the girls I’m joining have postponed their morning lesson just for me. Thoughtful of them! But after two hours’ sleep I had something less energetic – more horizontal – in mind. Busy ogling the 17 unique suites and rooms, the Moroccan-inspired rooftop terrace, pool, hot-tub and yoga studio, I’d rather hoped to spend the afternoon reviewing the facilities.
NOPE! An afternoon frolicking in the freezing Atlantic followed by a wringing in the yoga studio is scheduled, to put me through my paces! I was all up for it back in London, really I was! Just that I wanted to bring my A-game, or even my B. But all I can think about is my Z-game.
And before I’ve even had a chance to micro-nap in the cab, I’ve arrived. Thankfully it’s a glass-fronted haven of a hotel. A zen-inducing dose of Portugese vitamin D washes over me as I absorb my surroundings. This feels much more than a home from home!
Conceptually it echoes low-maintenance surf culture that’s respectful of nature. Built from scratch by former Swedish surf champ John Malmqvist and his father (a world-renowned interior designer) it combines impressive design heritage with an honest desire to be eco-friendly about it. We are surrounded by natural, sustainable and recycled materials, from the bar of old fishing boats to the stone, concrete and glass structure. Everyday efforts to reduce waste, conserve water and energy, and eliminate single-use plastics have also earned it official eco-accreditation. It’s impossible not to relax and feel good about it here.
Striking attention to detail defines each unique room too. Luxurious themed suites for couples or small families, singles for the solos, and swish dorm-style rooms with bunk-beds for larger groups and families cater for everyone. If only I could have my hen weekend all over again! Rooms start from about £135 mid-season, but since most people come here to surf there are three and five-day surf packages incorporating video analysis, daily yoga, and even photography if you fancy. But John and the team will tailor a bespoke package according to your needs.
Alongside the super surf and yoga, there’s a hot social scene in the summer too. Hip DJ sunset sessions and BBQ’s with live music add to the holiday vibe. But fear not, socials wind down by midnight for those keen to get up and surf. For the more hedonistic, nearby beach bars are open until the early hours. If Soho House did surf & yoga, this would be it: only everyone is invited!
The good news is that there’s time for a quick bite before we surf. The menu is brilliantly balanced with light pre-surf options alongside carb-loaded comforts for post-surf munchies. Naturally the food is high quality and as organic and local as possible. Our surf instructor, turns up to say ‘hi’. He tells us to relax, don’t rush, but don’t eat too heavy. So we go healthy sharing quinoa and roasted vegetable salad, hummus loaded flatbreads, and sweet potato fries. We’ll indulge in burgers, fresh fish, delicious local wine, and yet more sweet potato fries later. For now, it’s time to go get wet.
We head off to the basement housing the surf school, massage room, and yoga studio which doubles as a games room and post-surf analysis cinema experience. The surf school is a real man-cave, all cool concrete with rows of pristine well-organised kit. I would be very happy to practise my Z-game down here. But no time for that! We’re sized up for our wetsuits and shown how to get them on without getting stuck. There’s surfing a short walk away but it’s not the right spot for us beginners. So Filipe loads up the van and we cruise for a few minutes to Baleal Bay with surf on either side of the sandbar. We choose the least busy side.
Portugal is a world-class surf spot. There’s Nazare’s monster wave where Hawaiian surf legend Garrett McNamara rode a record-breaking 100-footer! Incidentally John, who claims not to be a big-wave surfer, recently rode it for a documentary he’s making, not at its full height, but still! Nuts! Then 45 minutes south of that there’s Supertubos (which I thought was surf-terminology for those big barrelling waves, but is actually a place) in Peniche where the best wave riders compete in the World Championships every October. Err, surely this is not the right place for beginners?
But since Peniche is a large peninsula with sandy bays and rocky coves facing all different directions, there’s varied surf conditions here almost every day of the year. And consistent surf is key when learning. Nothing worse than turning up somewhere to find there’s nothing to learn on. Think spin studio with no bikes and horse riding with no horses. We’re warned it can get busy at the weekends though, so beginners are encouraged to come mid-week, particularly in high-season. It kicks off here from the beginning of April through October.
The surf school is first class too. All instructors have a relevant sports degree and are ace on the waves. Ours practically walks on water. Groups are small with six students or less to ensure safety and quality; that’s less time making mistakes, more time making progress. We start with a safety briefing on the beach. Since one of us has a scar on her forehead from a surfing accident in Cornwall years ago, we listen-up. And I’m feeling less wimpy about the chilly Atlantic – now I have bigger things like my board-fins and my face to worry about.
I’ve been surfing once before – six months ago – so I’m eager to repeat essential theory and technique. Filipe puts a positive spin on all my faults, including my yoga toes. My default Warrior II-like stance creates a ninja-yogi effect more than surfer silhouette. Maybe yoga isn’t so complimentary after all? We go through the motions and recite: chest up, back foot, front foot…until we’re ready to go bond with the blue stuff. Actually, the white stuff, as we first learn to stand on the white foam. PHEW!
The swell calms as the days’ progress, and we’re paddling out into the blue by day two. Filipe shows us a few ways we can get over or under the break, but there’s little chance I’m purposefully duck-diving my way through a wave! The hardest part seems to be identifying a micro-ripple that will morph into something surfable, then paddling just right to catch it at the right time in the right place. Still working on that! Poor Filipe tirelessly pushes us onto the waves with endless patience when I bail or fail. It’s thrilling for me none-the-less. Standing up and riding gives that rush of dopamine which gets us back out there eager for a fourth lesson in two-and-a-half days. But by then, my arms have zero paddle power left. I take my chance to pause, float prone Savasana face down on my board, close my eyes and zen-out. It puts a new spin on my Z-game. This is meditation and mindfulness without even trying!
The affinity between surf and yoga is well documented. Warrior II issues aside, if you want the stamina, stability and flexibility to surf, yoga is the most obvious answer. It’s what keeps surf-king Kelly Slater and many other sporting legends at the top of their game in their 30’s and even their 40’s. That’s why it’s incorporated daily into the Lodge’s surf program.
Though her posture gives her away before she enters the building, Elisabeth is a relaxed yoga teacher. In the yoga-den we go back to the foundations, grounding ourselves deeply and firmly into the earth (though at times I feel like I’m still rolling about in the waves). Her practice is accessible for everyone at any level with no competitive egos to distract. We’re here to focus on our own body and mind; even allowed to laugh – it’s good for the soul! Today we’re focussed on twists to improve our spinal rotation, which (in theory) will help us turn and carve in the waves. My legs are shaking through a tough series of standing asanas. It’s more challenging that I had hoped for at this particular time, but her adjustments are helpful and calming. I feel cared for if somewhat dead as a doornail. Never have I been more ready to imitate a corpse, aka Savasana.
THE OTHER STUFF
Besides all of the above which will keep anyone happy for three days or more, there’s plenty to see and do in Peniche. SUP boards, bikes (with bespoke surfboard racks of course), and skateboards are available to get around au-naturel. Local tennis and golf can be arranged too.
Boats also leave every day from Peniche to the dramatic Berlengas Islands. A small archipelago that Canada left behind during the continental separation, we visit the largest island – now a nature reserve. I’m next to an ecstatic woman who finds every second of the 40-minute journey hysterical. Funny for the first few minutes, I’m just not feeling the same vibe. Maybe it doesn’t compare to the DIY high of surfing? Sadly, it’s here I see the plastic problem Surfers Lodge is trying hard not to contribute to. As a neighbouring boat accelerates, it churns up an unimaginable amount of rubbish concealed beneath the surface. We’ve an enticing option to snorkel, but opt to hike our way to the 16th Century fortress that once protected the mainland. It’s now an extraordinary hostel offering budget rooms-with-a-view for €25-a-night, with tasty lunches for day visitors too.
We eat that evening in Peniche’s gourmet restaurant, Tasca Do Joel. A long history as the best in town we’re told, and quickly convinced after the best olives and smoked ham (think Jamon) I can remember. The restaurant has its own gourmet shop and vineyard too so definitely leave space in your case! There’s also Restaurante Nau dos Corvos on Peniche’s cliff-top with an incredible sunset panorama. Sadly, that will have to wait until next time. As shall the well-preserved hill-top castle and walled city of Obidos about 25 minutes away. But that just leaves plenty to go back for.
And actually, I can’t stop thinking about going back. I managed to return with a buzz, a renewed motivation and feeling of wellbeing, as well as a more urgent need to go plastic-free, plus a super sleek water-canister my husband keeps trying to nick! I’m keeping myself content imagining how Surfers Lodge Peniche could conceivably become an actual home from home: my weekend retreat or annual pilgrimage at least. I feel like, given a few more days, I could rediscover something approximating my A-game in this place. It’s somewhere I can easily go solo, with my little family, friends or new surf-sisters to punctuate time with the unforgettable and unique. A pause. A breath. A much-needed break. And all without costing the Earth.
To make a booking call +351 262 700 030 or email [email protected]
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Hettie is the editor and co-founder of DOSE. A keen runner, she’s also partial to a blast of high-intensity and hot yoga. A country girl at heart, she divides her time between London and the lush rolling hills of North Devon. When she’s not jetting off on her next adventure, Hettie can be found in a candle-lit alcove with a laptop, a spaniel and a full bodied Malbec.