Europe’s best beach holidays: Peniche, Portugal

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There’s a great restaurant and bar scene in this surf mecca, plus birdlife and snorkelling on peaceful islands a short ride away

It was the small and enigmatic Berlengas archipelago that drew us to Peniche harbour. Peniche, 60 miles north of Lisbon, is famous for its surfing beaches, but the islands off its coast often get overlooked. Every morning a couple of hardy passenger boats bounce over eight miles of waves from the peninsula of Peniche to Berlenga Grande. We took our seats on deck between sacks of onions and oranges and, flecked with sea-spray and followed by flocks of screaming gulls, we watched green hills emerge from blue waves ahead. At the port, the goods are unloaded with gulls wheeling and cawing overhead.

Seabirds nest everywhere: in the island’s grass, its sea caves and its hidden coves. Keeping out of nesting areas, we followed a footpath to a pair of sandy beaches. The sea is warmer here than at the more open mainland stretches and, at Praia da Berlenga, it is as still and clear as sea-green stained glass and offers fantastic diving.

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