Six Weeks in Peniche, Portugal

Mrs. ItchyFeet in Peniche, Portugal

Do you remember back in the day when kids would take a year between high school and college to travel around Europe? You know, stay at hostels, go from country to country, meet new people, find themselves? I want to do that! Unfortunately, now the European Union (EU), plus some non-EU countries, only allow us foreign tourists 90 days before they kick us out of the entire Schengen Area. That’s just not long enough! I’m thoroughly enjoying my time here in Peniche, Portugal and would love to continue on and see what the rest of Europe has to offer.

Having friends is fantastic!

I picked Peniche to visit specifically because my BFF’s (from high-school) parents retired here and invited me for a visit. It is so great to have friends in the area right off the bat. They took me all over the place to show me the grocery stores, restaurants, and beaches. Plus they fed me, which you know I love! I’m here for too long to stay in their adorable home, but enjoy their company when our schedules allow.

Mrs. ItchyFeet and friends looking at tide-pools
Tide-pools! I think I’m pointing at a sea-star. No touching!

Just today, my Peniche friends took me at low tide to go check out some tide-pools. So much fun! We did a bit of rock-scrambling down to an area with tons of ocean life. Purple, blue, and green seaweed. I saw a few sea anemones and limpets between the rocks. Plus, we saw so many sea-stars! Do not touch the sea-stars! They are for observation only. We also saw a local goose-barnacle fisherman catch an octopus, which is sad because they are such amazing creatures. The dude seemed a little nervous that we were there, not sure if he had a licence to harvest the octopus…

My friends also took me to watch an annual run that they have here in Peniche. It’s a nighttime run, which is really fun to observe. I think peeps run around the entire city! We just grabbed drinks (and panna cotta!) at a local restaurant. The owner of the restaurant is from New York so we chatted him up a bunch. Plus, he played all kinds of fun music for us and the runners. Way past my bedtime, but good times!

Portuguese is a lot like Spanish but also so different

In fact, I’ve been told that knowing a bit of Spanish makes learning the Portuguese language harder. You naturally want to use the same Spanish rules you just learned with this language that looks so similar. But you can’t. I want to pronounce “Peniche” as “pen-ee-shay” but it’s actually pronounced “pen-eesh”. Lisbon is “Lis-boa” and Porto is “Port-eu”. I’m slowly getting it, but I still keep saying “gracias” and that’s just not right. It’s “obrigada”, with the “-a” at the end because I’m a lady. Tricky!

Massive beach in Peniche
I really wanted to get in the water but it’s real cold. It may be the same ocean as the Caribbean, but it is not the same temp!

Peniche is absolutely gorgeous; lovely cobblestone streets and walkways, red shingle roofs, and adorable European homes. It’s a working fishing village that is quickly getting into the tourism game. It used to be an island, but over time the waterway between here and the mainland filled in with sand. This created two amazing beaches on either side of the new land-bridge with some really impressive surfing waves. In fact, the World Surfing League holds a professional competition here every year!

It’s also an amazing hiking destination. If you were determined, you could hike around the entire ‘island’ in about two hours. Many come here just for the hike. While they can do it in two hours, in practice I would find it very difficult. Every ten minutes I found myself with a gorgeous overlook needing to be explored. Stairs down to some caves to check out and read about their historical significance. A fort that needs to be photographed to share with you all. There is no way I could walk around this ‘island’ in two hours!

Natural (and unnatural) wonders

I decided that if I was going to see all the things this town offers, I would need a plan. That plan involves picking a specific site each morning and hiking directly to it. I try to stick to weaving through town to get to the location and walking back along the Atlantic Ocean. Otherwise, I get too distracted and don’t make the destination. It’s a struggle. There’s just so much to see.

View from inside Gruta da Furninha cave
The stairs down to get inside this cave were really sketch. I was hoping for bats. None found. Great views though!

My favorite so far has been a cave known as Gruta da Furninha. There are actually a bunch of caves in the area. You walk until you see a yellow wooden fish on a post. This often indicates that it is a suitable spot to wander down some steep crumbling steps, with no guardrails, to stare in wonder at the surging Atlantic Ocean. Also caves! No bats, but you can’t have everything. The caves are very cool and I highly recommend you check them out if you are in the area. Bring hiking shoes!

While searching for the caves, I happened upon some stairs leading down to a hidden beach. Well, it would be a beach at low tide. When I went down, the water completely covered the beach up to the rocks, but I got to see a ton of crabs wondering about. I have this ambitious idea that I will eventually swim in this ocean. However, it’s a bit cold for me. I think I got spoiled in the warm Caribbean waters of The Dominican Republic! Maybe with a wetsuit?


My dad mentioned to me when I was younger that he likes lighthouses. So now, wherever I go, I try to get a photo of me in front of one so I can send it to him (and my mom). Lucky for me, there are three really cool lighthouses here in Peniche. The first, and most fun, is at the end of this freakishly long breakwater that protects the harbor from those waves people like to surf on at the beaches. The city uses dolosse stacked against the breakwater to protect the walkway out to the lighthouse. Dolosse are wave-dissipating tetrapod concrete blocks that look like massive children’s jacks. Way cool looking.

Mrs. ItchyFeet next to red and white lighthouse.
This is the first lighthouse I made it to here. You can see the matching one on the other side of the harbor.

Unfortunately, the first time I tried to hike to the lighthouse, there was a chain with a small hanging sign across the walkway. Why? The sign seemed to warn that waves were too high to continue safely on the path. What!?! Okay, now I see it. Every once in a while, a wave would hit the wall of dolosse with a spectacular splush that would wash away anything stupid enough to venture out there. No guardrails mean you would have a long fall, with a sudden stop, onto the rocks on the other side. No thanks.

I finally made it all the way out there on a nice calm sunny day and it was well worth the walk. You must pay attention to not inadvertently meander off the edge while checking out all the birds and boats and looking for dolphins. I’m assured there is at least one dolphin that wanders into the harbor on occasion… No dolphins spotted but so many fishes! I got a great photo of the lighthouse. The matching one is on a different breakwater across the harbor. That is a much longer walk for a different day.

What else is there to do?

You all know I love a good cemetery! The Cemitério Municipal de Peniche is so close to my apartment, I had to check it out. From the look of it, people here bury their dead about four feet deep but create an earthen mound a couple of feet above the burial site. Then they place these magnificent stone monuments on top of the mound. It’s really quite beautiful. I’ve been a couple of times and just walk around looking at all the different carvings and statues.

The Cemitério Municipal de Peniche
This is the Cemitério Municipal de Peniche. The stonework here is amazing!

Past the cemetery, if you keep going, you will make it to the Cabo Carvoeiro Lighthouse. I made the mistake of doing this hike on a foggy day. There are these amazing overlooks of the Berlengas Islands with a matching lighthouse across the water. Well, not when the fog is so great that you can barely see the top of the lighthouse on the mainland, let alone anything out in the ocean! There was a really cool ladder that went down the side of one cliff into a cave of sorts. You could explore for hours here.

I went back to the northern tip of the ‘island’ when the weather was better. There’s this cool church over there. I peaked inside and it surprised me to see the walls covered in intricate blue and white tiles. So beautiful! You wouldn’t expect it from the outside of the church, which looks very common. I was also finally able to see further out onto the Atlantic Ocean, which was really surging. They have boat rides over to the Berlengas Islands for cheap, but I get seasick, so I might have to skip it.

The food here is amazing!

There is not much better than a good fruit market! The one here is a municipal market, so different venders set up their stands to sell fresh produce (probably picked that morning!). You should see all the lemons, cabbages, donut-peaches, and squashes. My favorite thing, however, are the vats of olives. Olives! Some with garlic and spices in olive oil, some pitted, some in brine, all different colors. I’m in heaven!

Dolosse stacked against breakwater protecting the harbor
The city uses these dolosse stacked against the breakwater to protect the harbor. You can hear and feel the ocean surge as you walk along it.

You go to each vendor and buy what you want. It’s all cash based, but at least the euro is very close to the US dollar, which makes the mental math easy. The vendor just shows you the price owed on a calculator, so you don’t have to be fluent in Portuguese. Saturday is the best day to go because there are a bunch more vendors, but you have to go early as it gets ridiculously busy. They even have butchers along the outside of the market and fish vendors upstairs, probably selling that octopus I mentioned earlier. Get there on the right Saturday and you can buy live snails as they slowly try to escape from their bin!

Prices for fresh food are less than half of what you would spend in Seattle, while processed foods are almost half as much. Restaurants are less expensive as well. This town really isn’t that touristy yet, so prices reflect what actual residents will pay. Lots of grilled fish (sardines!) and amazing desserts (panna cotta!). Oh, and don’t forget all the wine! So lovely. Each bottle costs around three euros. I’ve been enjoying vinho verde, a local wine similar to a dry white that’s slightly fizzy. Noms!

Peniche has a fort!

Peniche has a couple of fortresses, the most impressive of which houses the Museu Municipal. This thing is massive! Unfortunately, it is currently under construction, so you can only see the outside. Still, it is a site to see. Really thick, high walls and all. There is even a sandy beach underneath that I check out every time I head past the fort to get to the harbor. It changes dramatically with the tides, so it’s like a new beach each day.

Beach under the Peniche Fort
This is the beach under Peniche’s main fortress. It’s really cool to watch the tide come in.

Then there is The Fortress of Light. They built this one on the north side of the ‘island’ so the wind has all but destroyed it. All that is left are a few stone structures and an info plaque. However, you can still see how the defenders of Portugal would use the structure to shoot cannon balls onto invading ships. Pirates!

It’s on the way to Ilhéu da Papôa which is this stunning hike over terrifyingly high cliffs. Have I mentioned I’m scared of heights? There were a few truly terrifying moments, but it was worth it! It rewarded me with amazing views after crossing a couple of solid-looking bridges to the island. You can see all the way to the Berlengas Islands. Below the cliffs, peeps were fishing, free-diving, and scuba-diving. The kelp beds look really cool from that high up. There is a ladder leading down the side of one cliff, but I skipped that. No dying!

Oh, my gosh! I almost forgot to tell you about the weather. It’s like barely room temp here all the time. Having just arrived from the hot-hot-hot of the tropics, I’m not acclimated yet. I’m genuinely cold. I’m wearing socks and jackets and pants. It’s been a while since I’ve worn pants! All the locals are walking around like Seattleites in the summer; shorts and T-shirts and sandals. I need a blanket at night. I’m that cold. At least this will help me prepare for the weather back in Seattle!

View from Ilhéu da Papôa
Check out this view from Ilhéu da Papôa hike! I’m scared of hieghts and this is no joke! Worth it.

My apartment is weird

I’m here in Peniche during the prime tourist season, so finding a place in my price range was a bit of a challenge. Some folks don’t even rent long term. I ended up finding an apartment on one of the rental apps and then hunting the owner down stalker-style to contact directly. So much sleuthing! By the end, I knew so much about her that I felt totally fine sending her a $600 deposit before even seeing the place. Risky, I know, but it worked out.

The apartment is weird in that it’s long with the only windows being in the very front facing the street. You walk into the kitchen/living room area (ground level) and the bedroom and bathroom are in the back. If there is a fire in the kitchen, you would be trapped! Upon arrival, I was super excited that there was a bonus room in the back with a washer and dryer. I’ve been without a dryer for months, so win for me! Oh, and hot-water! That’s real nice. Not needed much in the tropics, but here it’s a must.

The really weird thing is that the bonus room has a skylight. It’s nice to have the extra light, but you look up onto someone else’s deck. I think it’s even the next building over that has this deck with my skylight in the corner. They put stuff on it occasionally to dry. Shoes. Clothes. Dead sea-stars. What happens if I need to clean the skylight? Do I wander over to their unit and ask to access their deck? I have questions! One morning I spotted a child looking down at me while I peaked up toward their deck and we both hurried away.

Ladder into cave on the side of a cliff
Yup. Still don’t like heights. I made it down there though!

Other things I love about Peniche (or just Europe in general)

Peniche has a 1pm town whistle to call everyone to lunch. Lots of the shops close for this afternoon siesta. Now, as an American, I think 30 minute lunch. Sounds lovely. Nope. The whistle calls everyone back to work two hours later. Two hours! Then the shops open back up. How cool is that!?! Now, if you are sad because you work in the food industry and have to stay open for lunch, don’t worry. Most restaurants close after 3pm and don’t open again until dinner time. Talk about caring for your humans.

I can drink from the tap! I missed that while in the Caribbean. It’s not just the getting a cup of water from the faucet that is so nice. It’s the washing veggies or rinsing rice noodles and not worrying about contamination that is so lovely. Not worrying about the water getting in my mouth in the shower. Rinsing my toothbrush under the tap. All the things you take for granted in the States.

Blue tiles inside a tiny church
Check out all the gorgeous blue tilework inside this tiny church on the north side of Peniche.

Recycle! Reuse! Community bins! It’s tragic to put glass, metal, paper, or plastic in the trash so I’m so excited to be back in the land of recycle. They recycle a lot here and I love it. It’s also perfectly fine to reuse things like egg cartons here. You just bring in the egg carton to be loaded with fresh eggs. And the eggs are so delicious! Community trash is a cool thing as well. They have large bins at the end of each block. No worries about illegal dumping to save money. The entire community pays for the service. Makes sense.

Last but not least is being able to put toilet paper in the toilet. The plumbing here allows for it. It is so awkward to wipe your bum and put the paper in the trash. So awkward! With empty wastebaskets, it also makes it much easier to find fragrance-free toilet paper. No need to perfume your tissue when it goes right into the toilet. It’s the little things in life that make me happy!

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  1. We loved having you, we are going to miss you, but know you will love Porto. It was so fun sharing our home with you, you are welcome any time. Hope to see you in Thailand!
    with loving kindness,

  2. Portugal sounds amazing!!!
    It’s great to hear about all of your adventures.

  3. Sounds like you are very much enjoying Europe and it’s little luxuries like clean drinking water and toilets that flush paper hehehe! It’s why bidet were invented and here in Thailand bum guns are the way we do it 🙂

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