Sat. Jan 28th, 2023

To be fair, Portugal’s Ericeira, about an hour northwest of Lisbon, isn’t exactly some brand new discovery. It’s been on the radar for a while now—at least for surfers. Its waves are more accessible than the gigantic ones up the coast at Nazaré, but reliably interesting for a range of skill levels, which is why it’s Europe’s only “surf reserve.” But while the town itself retains a lot of the charm of the fishing village that it once was, its services have tended toward hostels, surf schools and cafés serving açaí and quinoa bowls.

That changed this summer with the opening of two new five-star hotels in the general surroundings of the town—not walking distance but within easy reach if you come with a car. (Call them Ericeir-ish.) Surfers are still more than welcome of course, but they also offer quite a lot to people who don’t care about chasing waves. And, joining with the existing hotel You and the Sea, they’re set to change the appeal and perception of Ericeira.

To be sure, Ericeira is unlikely to become the new Comporta, at least not anytime soon. But now it’s turning into a place that promises its own brand of slow travel. It’s a destination for people who appreciate nature (not just beaches), stylish design, quality materials and good food, but without the glamour or the need to see and be seen.

The first hotel to change the perception and position of Ericeira is Immerso (as in “immersion in nature”), which opened earlier, and which is built into a hillside to help it blend into its surroundings and to ensure that each of the 37 rooms has an excellent ocean view, especially at sunset. In fact, the television is to the side of the bed, making it a bit awkward to watch—the idea is to look straight ahead, out the window, instead.

The design, by Portuguese architect Tiago Silva Dias and designers Alexandra Almeida d’Eca (one of the founders of the hotel) and Bárbara Neto, is simple, with concrete floors, woven rugs in natural colors, organic shapes, artisan furnishings and textures from the land and sea. They worked a number of artists on items for the rooms, indoor lounge, long terrace and pool deck and fire pit.

The spa is more ambitious than it needs to be, with heat and wet areas, three treatment rooms and a menu of services based on the vegan, natural skincare brand Vinoble Cosmetics. The massage list ranges from Japanese shiatsu to hot stones to Ayurveda.

The restaurant, Emme, also takes its cues from the hotel owners’ conscious, local and natural philosophy. Dogma aside, its quite good, with a brief but tasty menu, a lively relaxed dining room and snappy service. The consulting chef is Alexandre Silva, who holds a Michelin star at his Lisbon restaurant Loco and earned a reputation for his excellent cooking with fire at Lisbon’s Fogo and the Alentejo’s Craveiral FarmTable.

Executed here by resident chef Paulo Pedro (ex-Fortaleza do Guincho), the menu is strong on local fish and seafood—the trio of oysters is an excellent starter, and the simple main courses are tasty—with some vegetables from the organic kitchen garden and saline-tasting plants from the sea mixed in. The spread for the breakfast buffet is well above average. When it opens later this autumn, Emme on Fire will be an outdoor, communal dining experience based on food cooked over an open fire—what they’re calling a “medievally festive” experience.

By coincidence, Immerso was joined last week by Aethos Ericeira, an unrelated hotel that also happens to prioritize consciousness, nature, community, wellness and design. On top of a 130-foot-high cliff in a nature reserve, it has spectacular natural light and lovely views over the Atlantic. It’s part of the the Aethos group (after the Greek “ethos,” or characteristic spirit of a culture), a collection of members clubs and boutique hotels in Europe that was founded by a pair of international serial entrepreneurs who want to create a “global family of conscious explorers.”

At the Ericeira hotel, which was designed by the Barcelona studio Astet and Portuguese architect Luís Pedra Silva, that means 50 suites and rooms that blend natural tones, materials and textures with the clean lines and soft simplicity of modernist design. The premium rooms have glorious views over the ocean, sometimes with private terraces.

At the restaurant, Onda (“wave”), chef Afonso Blazes and his team focus on shareable, sustainable fish and seafood from the surrounding coast, with plenty of vegetables in the mix. The dinner menu includes dishes like asparagus with fresh green curry, bergamot gel and sourdough croutons, and squid “noodles” with pickled mushrooms and dashi. The oysters here are excellent as well.

In line with the Aethos philosophy, there’s a strong wellness component, including a spa that uses organic products from Sweden’s Under the Skin brand, a gym with expert trainers, yoga classes with world-class instructors, a meditation deck overlooking the Atlantic and a stone-trimmed saltwater pool. But this Ericeira—and surfing checks quite a few of those same wellness boxes. (I dare you to think about anything other than surfing when you’re doing it.)

And Aethos being a five-star hotel, it has its own luxury take on the sport. It has a dedicated surf concierge, onsite storage facilities for boards and wetsuits, and onsite rentals. It also has a relationship with Joana Andrade, Portugal’s first female big wave surfer and champion several times over. She also started Portugal’s first female surf school in 1998, and continues to coach professionals as well as beginners.

Aethos guests of any skill level can book a private session with her and accomplish quite a lot in terms of skills and especially confidence in a short time. It’s a luxury version of surfing for sure, and also very much in line with the new direction of Ericeira.

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