Waves at Mundaka

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Watching Mundaka, you can ask simply how this magical wave is possible? We arrived on the day of a predicted 7-11ft swell. But the waves were certainly a bit bigger than that.

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Watching this wave break is phenomenal. It can be so big, so seemingly unruly, yet as soon as it hits the sand banks it just lines up and reels off. One wave can be surfed for an age across the entire estuary. There are multiple barrelling sections and the river current can carry you out into the line up.

The beginning of a wave. 

The beginning of a wave. 

The end of the same wave and still going.

The end of the same wave and still going.

It wasn't particularly easy to surf on a 5'8 surfboard. The only way into these waves was to take really late drops. To have the courage to sit on the inside, when everyone else is scrambling for the horizon, took some getting used to. The line up was busy but ultra respectful. There was a handful of guys getting the best, most critical waves but there were still plenty of wide sets and inside runners available for all.

This guy snagged a few sick ones. 

This guy snagged a few sick ones. 

And this guy... 

And this guy... 

Some of the hold downs weren't particularly pleasant. There were broken boards galore and a few people needing help getting out the water.  

4th broken board in two days

4th broken board in two days

When you were confronted with a good one, just making the wave was reward enough. But a few cutbacks at high speed were pretty fun. 

A good one. 

A good one. 

High speed cutback

High speed cutback

Having only previously surfed Mundaka when it was just a couple of feet, this was a different experience. Once you caught a wave there wasn't necessarily a way back to the line up by duck diving. The currents were so strong and so much water was moving around that paddling through it was folly. Luckily Mundaka has a beautifully beneficial rip. But even so, a lot of paddling stamina was required.

Rip back into the line up

Rip back into the line up

A lot of water moving

A lot of water moving

There are no official camper van spots in Mundaka but neighbouring Bermeo has one. We shared it with local carpark crews aspiring to a star role in Need For Speed.  

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Enjoyed this one  

Enjoyed this one  

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For three days the waves were awesome but reluctantly it was time to catch a ferry home. We travelled from Bilboa to Portsmouth and experienced land sickness for the first time. 

The Journey back

Central Spain

Central Spain

From Malaga and the Mediterranean sea to Mundaka on the Atlantic. Eleven+ hours of driving and a few nights were between us and a predicted monster swell. 

Flat Mediterranean Malaga

Flat Mediterranean Malaga

Sketchy sleep spot off random road. Police investigated us at 4am. 

Sketchy sleep spot off random road. Police investigated us at 4am. 

Seasons changed against a dramatic backdrop of endlessly evolving scenery. On the road we passed alluring valleys of every kind. Valleys of trees and giants boulders, pastel cities then onto postcard sandy lake towns.

Road through Spain

Road through Spain

Seasonal

Seasonal

We left Malaga and its lush green trees, stopped in Toledo with its autumnal leaves and then, passed through Valliddolid where all leaves had long fallen to the ground. 

Toledo

Toledo

Toledo, once the magnificent fortified capital of Spain, had plenty of historical offering. Sword shops are big news, there were five consecutive escalators to get up to the walled city!

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Since leaving Malaga the temperature kept dropping, mornings reached a low of -1'c. We wore jumpers in bed, woke up to frozen condensation and a liquified gas stove. Brrrr

Toledo camper van friendly carpark  

Toledo camper van friendly carpark  

We had a few bad sleeps in the middle of nowhere. One was freezing, one was sketchy and to end it all there was a car park prostitute encounter! 😳 We didn't stay anywhere long, beckoning us on was the beloved Basque Country. 

Alhambra

Granada  

Granada  

We continued our homeward bound history geek out. Stopping to see Katherine of Aragon's former pad in Granada. The Alhambra palace was her childhood home before coming to England. Where she ultimately married Henry VIII, aguably our most famous Royal fruit loop.

Nasrid dynasty palace  

Nasrid dynasty palace  

The Alhambra is phenomenal... We'd never heard of it before. But It's kind of a big deal in the palace game.

More Moorish mouldings

More Moorish mouldings

The palace was developed throughout history by many kings. First a 9th century Moorish castle was built, then came a palace then some 16th century Catholic finessing. Finally there was a random monumental donut built by Charles V, the newly appointed Holy Roman Emperor.

Colosseum style palace

Colosseum style palace

Moorish castle 14th century renovation

Moorish castle 14th century renovation

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The Alhambra palace is such a colossal tourist attraction the number of visitors are capped. Inside popular rooms the crowds pack in like sardines in a can. We swam against the constant stream of Chinese snappers to find more solitary spaces. 

Milling about  

Milling about  

Secret spaces 

Secret spaces 

Alhambra  

Alhambra  

The Generalife palace and gardens was our highlight, it was like a colourful paradise. 

Can't touch this

Can't touch this

High up

High up

The Alhambra was a spectacle, but mega crowds made it less fun compared to palaces in Seville. The mountainous Sierra Nevada back country made for icey nights so we didn't stay. We wanted to swim in the Mediterranean sea one last time before heading home.

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Seville

Plaza de España

Plaza de España

Sigh. It was time to leave our Atlantic adventure behind us and start the slow road home. Winter is coming. It's frosty presence and shivery nights began to encroach on our van life.

Time to head home

Time to head home

There were a few sights we wanted to see on the road home. We decided to stop in Seville; a Spanish city which underlined the golden age of Spanish domination. This historical river port was once the economic centre of Spain.

Royal Alcázar Palace

Royal Alcázar Palace

It's no surprise this culturally rich city is the home of some mega fancy abodes. This was our first experience of Spanish architecture at its most opulent. We were in awe of the Royal Alcázar Palace. It's Moorish origins gave rise to it's magnificent mouldings. The details of which are not justified in any photo. 

Nuff tings

Nuff tings

Some Game of Thrones scenes were shot in the palace. The gardens overflow with oranges like the water in the gardens of Dorne.

Sunspear, fun-sphere 

Sunspear, fun-sphere 

ET phone Orange  

ET phone Orange  

Mindless mouths  

Mindless mouths  

Next the Plaza de España also known as Queen Amidala's home planet Naboo in Star Wars.

Naboo

Naboo

Today would be a day of architectural geekery. Originally built for the world fair of 1920, this ornate Art Deco building is now government offices. How about a meeting on the boat lake? 

Boaters  

Boaters  

Art Deco

Art Deco

Seville is a great place to amble around, the lemon tree lined parks and grand boulevards make for a relaxing city centre. 

Pedestrian paradise  

Pedestrian paradise  

Metro

Metro

We caught the metro line back to our camper van. Overall it was a unforgetable stop off. Seville changed our perception of the ease and beauty of Spanish cities.

Praia do Amado

One big beach, three surf schools, one cafe

One big beach, three surf schools, one cafe

This was our favourite wild camping spot in the Algarve. It has a huge car park overlooking a stunning beach setting with plenty of space for friendly campers. The spot is similar but better than next door Praia da Bordeira.

Wave watching from our park up

Wave watching from our park up

Praia do Amado

Praia do Amado

We thankfully endeavoured to go to Amado after a conversation with some Dutch surfers. There was a medium wind from the north which wasn't doing wonders for the waves at Bordeira. We surfed some smaller uninspiring waves at Arrifana then left to pursue our Dutch advisors. 

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The north side of Amado had some shelter but the waves were closing out. 

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At a medium tide, the far side of the bay had some heavy wedging lefts. There is a large rock out in front of the bay that isn't quite submerged at high tide. It seemed as if this rock split the incoming waves and, after they refracted around the isle, some were gracious enough to rejoin and unload right onto the sand bank. 

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We stayed and surfed Amado for many happy days. At first sight it was uncrowded but there were busier days. There has been some tension for years between the surf school owners and the local surfers. Amado was apparently a beautiful secluded spot to surf all year round until a foreign national set up the first of many surf schools there. Now, during the summer months, there are hundreds of would-be surfers colliding into one another making this a place to avoid. 

Nature is our home, please take care of it. 

Nature is our home, please take care of it. 

Micro bistro at Carrapateira - best food yet

Micro bistro at Carrapateira - best food yet

South of Amado is Praia da Cordoama and Praia do Castelejo, two completely secluded beaches. The spectacular beaches in this region literally never end. 

Looking left toward Praia do Castelejo

Looking left toward Praia do Castelejo

Looking right over Praia da Cordoama

Looking right over Praia da Cordoama

On the day we visited Cordoama, the perfect sunny offshore wind conditions were paired with a swell and period too large for the beach break.

So so surf session  

So so surf session  

From the shore there looked to be some nice rideable waves. But it was bigger than it looked and a lot of paddling was needed to get right out the back. Once there, clean up sets came more often than not and the strong offshore made it difficult to catch anything.

Bigger than it looks

Bigger than it looks

Cordoama was great for a surf and nights sleep but Amado was calling us back. 

Cliff path amble

Cliff path amble

Sagres & Zavial

Surf in Sagres

Surf in Sagres

Seeking more manageable waves, we headed south to the beaches around Sagres. A popular town for surfers; both local and foreign. It's variety of beaches and coves, facing differing directions, provides surfable waves in most conditions.

On one particular day we checked Praia do Tonel but didn't see anything to take our fancy. We drove along to Praia do Beliche and were greeted by a quiet, picturesque scene.

Picturesque Praia do Beliche

Picturesque Praia do Beliche

There was a handful of people surfing head high peaks that were shifting around the bay. It looked inviting. But soon after the hoards arrived.

Arriving hoards

Arriving hoards

Quickly it became insanely crowded and to top it off a handful of locals were paddling up and down the beach claiming every wave that came through regardless of their position. At one point a bodyborder tried to convince me I had broken his 'other' board and I was to pay him there and then. The vibe rapidly soured and a swift exit was needed.

Warm up

Warm up

We escaped out of there to Cabo de Sao Vicente which, as a panoramic point had nothing on Cabo da Roca further north. We never returned to eggy Sagres except to check the beaches further out. 

Cabo de Sao Vicente cliff pano

Cabo de Sao Vicente cliff pano

Cabo de Sao Vicente

Cabo de Sao Vicente

When the wind is blowing from the north and swell is well overhead on the west coast, Praia do Zavial may well be pumping. We came down for a quick surf and the size and power of the waves was unexpected. 

Praia do Zavial further south

Praia do Zavial further south

Frothy drop

Frothy drop

Perhaps the swell direction wasn't quite perfect as there were a lot of close outs into shallow water. But a couple of big drops and a few fast runners were greatly enjoyed.

Fast runner

Fast runner

After our surf we popped round the corner to Praia da Ingrina. This was a lovely beach for lunch in the sun. As low tide approached, sucky barrelling waves breaking off the rocks appeared, it was too tempting. A surf in only board shorts was a great way to enjoy this little nugget. Although choosing the wrong wave or not being exactly in the right takeoff spot could have resulted in a scar to remember it by. The water was barely a foot deep over razor sharp rocks. Sadly no pics.

We stayed in next door Camping Ingrina, a worn but friendly campsite walking distant from Praia da Ingrina.

Algarve

Benagil cave - muchos wave cut holes

Benagil cave - muchos wave cut holes

Anyone who's watched day time TV will be familiar with the Algarve's appeal. We went to find a place in the sun leaving behind us some very windy waves in the west.

We yearned for a straight up windless beach day, our first stop therefore was Praia da Marinha. Supposedly one of the best beaches in Europe, there was nothing to nitpick it was bliss. 

Praia da Marinha

Praia da Marinha

Marinha, the perfect beach (without surf)

Marinha, the perfect beach (without surf)

Once we'd had enough beachy perfection we left to find the cave from a postcard we'd seen. This was the Benagil cave, it was concealed behind tours which claim it can't be accessed safely without a boat.

Cave dweller

Cave dweller

We read up on accessing the cave and decided to paddle the short distance there on surf boards.

No wetsuit and it's November

No wetsuit and it's November

Sea cave pow! Quality Go Pro shot

Sea cave pow! Quality Go Pro shot

Not only was this heaps more fun but we got the mother of all sea caves to ourselves along with other superfluous caves and private beaches!

Private beach 

Private beach 

We stopped for the night in Lagos, a shining tourist town with traditional cobbled streets, a marina and lovely sandy beaches. The shopping centre has the usual array of Portuguese superstores... Meh! We didn't feel like staying long, the natural unseen sights of the Algarve held more appeal.

Lagos - Praia Batata

Lagos - Praia Batata

The next day we hopped on a short ferry from Quatro-Aguas harbour to Tavira Island. This gigantic sand spit goes on for miles and was recommended to us three times!

 The ferry hop across the harbour

 The ferry hop across the harbour

This is a great beach for chilling out under a parasol with your favourite tipple. Having grown accustomed to amenitieless beaches we were happy to find beach showers and toilets here. 

Tavira island  

Tavira island  

We watched some teens attempt a surf on potential but minimal waves. Duncan wove a wind shield from sticks and then body surfed for most of the afternoon. 

Any wave will do

Any wave will do

Once we had sampled the more touristy Eastern Algarve we wanted to turn back. The surf was picking up in the west, so we preferred to return to our former location, location, location! 

Praia da Bordeira

Dusty beach roads  

Dusty beach roads  

We sampled many known surf spots south of Praia dos Aivados. There was Odeceixe, Amoreira, Arrifana and countless others, we found this guide to wild camping around the Algarve useful. The swell was still 2-3ft but the waves at each spot did not measure up to the equivalent conditions at Aviados so, we kept on searching. 

Sunset park up

Sunset park up

Finally we found Praia da Bordeira, a stunning scenic beach formed by a slow meandering river. Camper vans flocked to the cliffs to access the surf and to the beach for winter sun. It's magnificent beachy allure makes it a clear favourite for motor homes and vans.

Cliff top surf check  

Cliff top surf check  

Duncan heading for Bordeira beach

Duncan heading for Bordeira beach

We learnt that it's illegal to wild camp in the Algarve but in low season the dwindling tourists means it's tolerated. There are plenty of other surf wagons here for the winter. Together pursuing waves across the collection of beaches on the south and west coast of Portugal.

Van Spam

Van Spam

Duncan's casual approach. 

Duncan's casual approach. 

The surf flirted between fun and infuriating. Some days the left from behind the cliffs was peeling and playful yet at other times the backwash would bounce you off when you were least expecting it. It seemed better on a smaller swell, although the inside section could be heavy on the larger days.

Cliff side view

Cliff side view

A bigger day

A bigger day

There are no facilities at Bordeira whatsoever, we made frequent trips to the small local hamlet of Carrapateira. Washing your hair in a bucket post surf can only work for so long. After a few days the surf deteriorated, we moved out to seek permanent plumbing. 

Aljezur church

Aljezur church

Portuguese vista

Portuguese vista

The neighbouring town of Aljezur kept us interested for a couple of hours. After stocking up at the Intermarche we walked to the hill top Castelo. This was an important Moorish trading post with a once large river encompassing the town, the name Aljezur means 'islands' in Arabic. Today the river is a stinky stream. 

History cram

History cram

Ancient streets of Aljezur

Ancient streets of Aljezur

Praia dos Aivados

Dusty road to Aivados

Dusty road to Aivados

This was an ambiguous surf spot recommendation. To reach Praia dos Aivados we followed a long dirt track from an obscure tiny hamlet. At the end we discovered a beach break that felt relatively unchartered and discreet.

Stacking stones and watching waves

Stacking stones and watching waves

We were surprised to find this obscure beach clearing was home to many other camper vans. The habitual and curious glances at our number plates nationality followed. There was a mixed batch of hard core van life surfers, hunkering down for the winter waves. 

Van life from nowhere 

Van life from nowhere 

Sunset strolls  

Sunset strolls  

The beach was idyllic, as was the isolated beach community vibe. The lack of anything to call amenities weeded out everyday campers. Time passed slowly here framed only by the changing tides and arriving local surfers. 

Jump 

Jump 

Starry sky

Starry sky

The stars were incredible and the waves were up there among the best on the trip. The 2-4ft swell created beautifully breaking head high peaks that were about the easiest waves going. Although barrels were rare, every wave peeled with such perfection that you could consciously try any manoeuvre. We met a couple of guys from Devon there who said that the waves had been like that for 5 days straight. 
 

2-4ft swell! 

2-4ft swell! 

Easy peasy

Easy peasy

What happens if I do this... 

What happens if I do this... 

Sines & Porto Covo

Empty beach side park up

Empty beach side park up

This was the first glimpse of what we imagined surfing in Portugal to be like. Unpopulated rocky beaches followed for hundreds of miles with more beaches and empty land. The occasional crenelated old town like Sines was the only pattern changer. There isn't much tourism here, the scale of the landscape far outweighs its population. 

Porto Covo to Sines, far off in the distance

Porto Covo to Sines, far off in the distance

Despite the lack of official camper van sites we found the Intermarche luckily had free water and pay per go washing machines.

Clothes hanger hacking  

Clothes hanger hacking  

We drove up the coast checking spot after spot, the small waves were peaky and fun. Only a handful of other camper vans and some local surfers were to be seen. It's no problem to bed down for the night overlooking the sea, the Sines port lit up the sky. 

Sines by night 

Sines by night 

The next day we drove south to Porto covo, a  town with potential and full of pretty coves. The council were busy building new footpaths and car parks to attract next seasons tourists. 

Porto Covo please 

Porto Covo please 

The fun waves and relatively empty beach breaks in the area south of Sines made it somewhere we would gladly return.