On the coast between Aveiro and Porto, Esmoriz is a resort that is beginning to make a name for itself. Surfers are already coming round, as the town’s main beach has reliable beach breaks good for novices as well as old hands. There are surf camps where you can pass a whole week perfecting you skills by day, and partying or joining in activities in the evenings.
There has been a lot of investment in the environment around the town, and a nearby lagoon has been restored as an oasis for birdlife while there’s also a brand new sustainable park with 20 hectares of ponds, lawns and maritime pine forest.
Let’s explore the best things to do in Esmoriz:
1. Praia da Barrinha
On the resort’s northern beachfront, the Praia da Barrinha is a beach where you’ll leave the apartment blocks and bars behind for dunes and a small lagoon.
This is the widest beach in the area and is completely exposed to the savage Atlantic ocean.
Strong swimmers should be OK to paddle in this surf, but you’ll need to pay attention to the lifeguards and flags.
Surfers will get the most out of these waves, while for everyone else can watch the natural spectacle of the ocean while reclining on luxurious flaxen sands.
Praia da Barrinha has very consistent beach breaks: You can surf at this beach for around 150 days of the year, and with waves of between 1 and 2.5 metres, no rocks and easy access, newbies and hardened surfers will be in heaven.
Bathers don’t often venture into the surf and the beach is long enough to give everybody room.
Esmoriz has two surf camps, Surfivor and Porto.
Both have a range of packages, but a typical holiday will be a week of non-stop surfing.
You’ll have two sessions a day, and surfboard and wetsuit hire will be included in the price.
There are beach parties, yoga sessions, excursions and free bus transfers to other beaches with better waves if the conditions aren’t perfect in Esmoriz.
3. Parque do Buçaquinho
This fabulous park just south of the town is one of a few projects to improve the environment.
It’s hard to believe, but a decade ago this park was a sewage treatment plant.
And now it’s a 24-hectare natural space that has won awards for its design and sustainability.
There’s an environmental education centre, six ponds, two observation towers, boardwalks and paths for cycling or strolling through groves of maritime pines.
The cafe is powered by renewable energy and you can even rent a bike to explore the park, absolutely free provided you leave your ID as a deposit.
4. Igreja Matriz de Santa Marinha de Cortegaça
This church, five minutes from the beach, dates to the beginning of the 20th century, although its predecessors go back to the 1100s.
If you’re wondering what the appeal of a modern church might be, you’ll know as soon as you glimpse the facade, which is covered with blue and white tiles from the ground to the top of its spires.
These were painted in the 1920s and have trompe l’oeil alcoves with saints, false rose windows in a Gothic and Renaissance revival design.
This is the church’s greatest features, although you could also head in to see the paintings of the apostles on the chancel ceiling.
5. Barrinha de Esmoriz
The lagoon next to the Praia da Barrinha hasn’t had a happy recent history: Adored up to the 1970s it became polluted and the entire site was threatened by eroding dunes, a build-up of sediment and encroaching seawater.
But after a long delay a multimillion-Euro regeneration project was launched in 2016 and already the lagoon is making a comeback.
Trees have been planted, the lagoon has been dredged and the dunes have been rescued.
There are now footbridges around the water, providing viewpoints for herons, sandpipers, swallowtails and gull-billed terns.
6. Palheiros de Esmoriz
Away from the new developments in Esmoriz you’ll notice many wooden buildings, some looking dilapidated and others that have been spruced up and painted with pin stripes.
These are “palheiros”, old cottages for fishermen and are vestiges of a lost way of life.
Normally they were built on stakes driven into the sand dunes, allowing the wind to circulate underneath.
If the dunes shifted too much these houses could be taken apart and moved to a new location in a day or two.
The oldest are from the beginning of the 19th century and had storage space on the bottom floor and living quarters above
7. Praia de São Pedro de Maceda
It’s not often you can say that you’ve sunbathed on a beach next to a NATO base, but that’s just what you can do at Praia de São Pedro de Maceda.
In truth you won’t even know anything is there as the base is totally hidden among the high maritime pines, which come right down to the waterfront.
It’s a beach for people who want to get away from the herd, with a spacious belt of white sand edged by sandy cliffs.
There are lifeguards on the beach in summer, and like Praia da Barrinha the surf can be rather treacherous.
8. Capela da Praia de Esmoriz
This small monument on a square facing the coast is a witness to the power of the ocean the batters the coast along Esmoriz.
The chapel has stood here since the 1940s, and was a place of worship for fishermen.
It replaced an older version from the 19th century that was destroyed by the ocean.
Apparently the original chapel had been constructed 100 metres from the shore but was flattened in decades, which tells you how much the coastline can move.
The current version has an Art Deco stained glass window and a statue of Christ (Sr.
dos Aflitos) in a niche on the facade facing the water.
9. Festas do Mar
Esmoriz’s deep bond with the sea is commemorated every year at the end of August.
During these four days there are religious and secular goings-on.
The religious ceremonies begin at the Capela da Praia when the image of Christ (Senhor dos Aflitos) and Mary (Senhora da Boa Viagem) are venerated, both of which were shrines to the town’s fishing community.
There’s a mass, and the image of Mary is brought out to bless the sea.
There’s plenty of levity to balance the solemn religious aspect: The festival is also a time for parties, concerts, dancing and two big fireworks displays.
If you’re in the mood for a round of golf there’s a course almost in the town’s backyard.
And it’s as special as they come, as the Oporto Golf Club was the first course on the Iberian Peninsula, and the second on continental Europe.
It was founded by Brits working in the port wine trade and has the coastal setting and challenging winds of a links course.
Despite the age of this 18-hole course, and the venerable tournaments still hosted here, it’s not as stuffy as you’d think: Kids and inexperienced players can use the pitch & putt for a more informal game.
11. Day Trips
After Espinho, the next town up the coast, there’s an unending string of Blue Flag sandy beaches until you arrive at the mouth of the Douro in Porto.
One of these, Praia de Miramar, has a 17th-century chapel embedded into the rocks on a small headland, right on the beach.
Meanwhile Porto, a World Heritage city, is less than 30 minutes by car and has sights, nightlife and culture to last you much more than one day.
There are some things you simply have to do, like climb the 18th-century Clérigos Tower, tour a port cellar on the left bank, wander the colourful streets of the Ribeira quarter and be wowed by the lavish interiors of the Palácio da Bolsa.
12. Food and Drink
Esmoriz is in the Ovar municipality, famed for across Portugal for its pão de ló.
This sponge cake has a soft, melting texture and is sold wrapped in linen paper.
Like a lot of classic sweets in Portugal, the recipe was invented by nuns at convents and goes back at least 200 years.
By the sea, fish and shellfish are at the heart of the diet in Esmoriz.
Caldeirada de marisco (seafood stew) and bacalhau (salted cod) are big no matter where you go in Portugal, but if you’re more daring and want a dish more specific to this region, order something with eels.
These are fished just down the coast in the Aveiro Lagoon and come in a stew, caldeirada de eguias, or pickled, enguias de escabeche.