When people ask me about Portugal, they always want to know if I prefer Lisbon or Porto. My answer? Neither. I love both cities, but I’d rather spend my time in between them. Right in the middle of Portugal’s Atlantic coast, on the very edge of continental Europe, lie some of my favorite places in the world. Among them are Baleal and Ferrel: two tiny towns that have stolen my heart, and will probably steal yours too.
What Do Baleal and Ferrel Have to Offer?
These two towns are located close to Peniche, a slightly larger city that’s become world-famous for its waves. Every autumn, the best surfers on the planet flock to this little fishing port to compete in the championship tour of the World Surf League. But while Peniche gets all the attention, Baleal and Ferrel provide access to the same attractions — with a much better vibe.
Just north of Peniche proper, Baleal is the community that’s sprung up around the bay and island of the same name. The broad, sweeping beaches here promise every kind of condition for surfers of all levels, making it a hotspot for surf schools, shops, cafés, and hostels.
Following the main road inland from Baleal, you’ll reach Ferrel in just five minutes. It’s a tiny village with a super authentic feel; the businesses here cater more to locals than tourists. You’ll still find surf shops, restaurants, and a few accommodation options. But as you get farther from the beach, the influence of tourism noticeably declines.
What’s the best time to visit?
In the summer months, the population of Baleal and Ferrel grows exponentially. July and August are the high seasons, with surf conditions that are perfect for beginners. The swell picks up in September and October, drawing more experienced surfers, plus spectators for the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal competition at Supertubos beach.
The winter and spring are much quieter, but if you’re looking for lower prices and less action then you won’t be disappointed. My advice is to hit the mid-season sweet spot in May, June, September, or October. The weather and waves are still awesome, and you won’t have to share them with a million other tourists.
A Brief History of the Area
You can find a clue to the history of Baleal in its name: it comes from baleia, the Portuguese word for “whale.” Like many places in Portugal, this area was once a vital part of the whaling industry. In the Middle Ages, whales were brought here to be butchered and then transported to the harbor at Atouguia da Baleia.
These days, you can still find traces of this unpleasant past as well as the modern attitude towards it. On the road from Baleal to Peniche, for example, there’s a spray-painted message advertising the organization “Surfers for Cetaceans.” The surfers it alludes to started arriving here in the 1960s, and in just a few decades the town’s main industry made a decisive shift toward surf tourism.
Ferrel has also adapted to the influx of surfers and international travelers. However, it retains a traditional spirit thanks to the farmers, fishermen, and their families who still live there. With a population of less than 3,000, it’s the epitome of a Portuguese village that’s caught between the past and present.
What to Do in Baleal and Ferrel
Let’s start with the obvious. The main attraction here is most certainly surfing. If you’ve ever dreamed of riding waves, this is the place for you. There are dozens of surf schools that offer lessons for beginners, taking you through the basics step by step. You can book a package that includes accommodation and lessons every day, or reserve your own place to stay and take lessons à la carte. In my opinion, the best place to teach you is Happy Days Surf Peniche.
If you’re already an experienced surfer, you’ll be equally happy. There are plenty of places to rent wetsuits and boards (my preferred place to rent equipment right on the beach is Alex Surf School). Depending on the day, conditions might be best at Supertubos, Molhe Leste, Lagide, Almagreira, or one of the many spots along the bay of Baleal. You might want to rent a car so that you can drive between the various breaks!
And if surfing isn’t really your style? Don’t worry. First of all, the beaches themselves are absolutely gorgeous — the perfect place to lie in the sun, read a book, or kick around a soccer ball. Baleal offers beachfront cafés and bars, but north of Ferrel, you’ll find places with nothing but empty sand and epic views. You can even rent a bike and explore the coastline via dirt roads through fields and farms.
Looking for a place to crash? Try 33 Hostel for a cheap but comfortable HQ.
Finally, there’s one place you absolutely have to go: Berlengas Island. Buy a ticket from the port of Peniche for a short boat ride out to this protected Biosphere Reserve, which offers some of the best views I’ve ever seen in my life. Wander its trails, take a tour of its mysterious grottos, and explore the old monastery rising straight up from the sea.
Where to Eat and Drink
Thanks to their newfound popularity, both Baleal and Ferrel are full of dining options for all tastes. Of course, the traditional local cuisine is based around seafood. Don’t leave without trying some fresh fish, octopus, and shellfish — preferably at Taberna do Ganhão, right beside the sea. In Ferrel, Cantinho Saloio is a good option.
Once you’re sick of seafood (if that’s even possible), grab the area’s best pizza at Funky Donkey or an incredible burger at Master’s Burger — also famous for its veggie options. And speaking of veggies, make sure you hit up Kirana Café for healthy plant-based fare, and Bea’s Tostas for fresh sandwiches and salads. For freshly baked bread and pastries, A Ferreleja and Doce Dia are your best bets.
Last but not least, let’s talk bars. If you’re looking for the party, you’ll find it at Danau and Bar da Praia. Just steps away from the sand, these places feature live music and DJs almost every day of the week. Further inland, try Baleal Cocktail Bar for, you guessed it, cocktails, or Cartel 71 for top-notch tequila.
I’ll leave you with one last local tip: the place to be after surfing is actually the local supermarket. Grab a table on its sunny terrace and enjoy 2-for-1 drinks from 17h to 19h every day. That means each beer is €0.50… enough said.
Photos by Melissa Haun