Silver Coast: Obidos to Peniche

posted in: Portugal, Silver Coast | 2
The medieval walled town of Obidos on the Silver Coast of Portugal
Early morning in Obidos (before the crowds arrive)

Pretty as Obidos was, I was looking forward to heading back to the coast today. Harri’s brilliant planning meant we had visited pretty much everywhere on my original list but there was still one last place I wanted to see.

Peniche had caught my eye several years ago, mainly because of the photograph used to promote the port to tourists on many websites. The intriguing Fort of São João Baptista is actually located on the largest of the Berlengas islands, about ten kilometres offshore. We could see the island in the distance when we walked into Foz do Arelho, but it was obscured by the late afternoon haze. The fort’s walkway and bridge leading to the seventeenth-century fort has always reminded me of the narrow path leading to the church of Agios Ioannis Kastri on Skopelos where the wedding scenes in Mamma Mia were filmed.

Harri Garrod Roberts follows a footpath from the walled medieval city of Obidos back to the Obidos lagoon on Portugal's Silver Coast
The return walk to the Obidos lagoon was via a peaceful footpath

But I’m getting ahead of myself – we had plenty of walking to do before we reached Peniche. Obidos was blissfully quiet as we strolled out of town, the tourists yet to spill onto its narrow streets in their hundreds. Harri spotted a few early birds, no doubt overnighters like us, taking their lives in their hands as they made their way along the unguarded town walls. Generous to a fault, he gave me one last opportunity to join them, but I declined, knowing that even if I managed to fumble my way up the stone steps, I would at some point look down and freeze.

We left Obidos through the same arch in the wall as we arrived, and joined a narrow footpath running alongside a stream. Every now and then, I’d turn around and see how far we’d come since leaving Obidos (a hilltop castle is a great landmark). We stayed on the footpath, walking among high, swaying grasses, for over an hour, passing no-one except one elderly cyclist.

We could have lingered alongside the lagoon for hours in the hot sunshine

It was late morning and very hot when we at last joined the lagoon on its most southerly ‘arm’ (today’s forecast was 34 degrees). Having walked several miles to reach this shallow stretch of salt water, it seemed strange to think it once reached Obidos; in fact, there are medieval drawings which depict boats next to the town walls.

A heron at Obidos lagoon, near Caldas da Rainha
A heron wades into the water at Obidos lagoon

As they lapped gently against the pebble beach, the warm lagoon waters were very tempting. Nearby, a heron was venturing into the water, prompting Harri to do the same. It was an idyllic spot, though not as easy to get into the water as he’d envisaged (there was too much mud underfoot). There were several vehicles parked on the shore opposite and we watched as several canoeists entered the water and paddled along the water’s edge towards the distant ocean. I would have been happy to laze around in that perfect spot all afternoon, but there were miles to be walked and it was already past noon. If we wanted to reach Peniche at a reasonable time, Harri reminded me, we needed to get going.

Tracy Burton stands on the pebble beach at the top of the Obidos lagoon near Caldas da Rainha
Enjoying the tranquillity of the Obidos lagoon

Except, by now, it far too hot for walking (in fact, the hottest day of our trip so far). We followed the lagoon’s shoreline for a while before entering a large area of eucalyptus forest. Here, there was at least some shade, although the steep and rutted nature of many tracks did not make for easy hiking and brought back memories of those scorching, airless days we spent walking the Via Algarviana two years earlier.

Harri had loosely plotted our route with online mapping; however, with numerous tracks going off in every direction and no visual landmarks (just trees, trees and more trees) it was often difficult to work out which way we needed to turn. There was little consistency as far as online mapping was concerned either. One particularly poor quality trail was marked on Strava, but plunged us steeply downhill through trees with a huge ‘Harri, stand there and catch me if I fall’ drop at the end, while a ten-foot wide track which would have been fine for vehicles to drive along wasn’t mapped at all.

Outdoor writer Harri Garrod Roberts following a steep, rutted track through a eucalyptus plantation between Obidos lagoon and Peniche on the Silver Coast, in Portugal
Some of the tracks were badly eroded and difficult to walk

It was frustrating to know the ocean was over there, somewhere to our right, but that several million eucalyptus trees were blocking our view of the waves. An enormous cricket flew into my chest and I screamed, my first thought being that it was a bat!

Roadside poppies and cabbages near Peniche in Central Portugal
I loved the juxtaposition of wild poppies growing alongside cultivated crops

We stopped for a much-needed beer in at the small seaside resort of Ferrel, where I finally tasted my first ice-cream of the holiday (a rather delicious scoop of Carte D’or caramel flavour). Judging from the abundance of bars and restaurants – and the numerous surf shops – Ferrel is a popular holiday destination, which made the trusting behaviour of a young girl at a neighbouring outside table even more surprising. On her own and (presumably) needing the ladies, she disappeared inside leaving her mobile and purse lying on the table next to us (complete strangers who were about to leave). I asked my 21-year-old if she would ever do such a thing in a similar venue in South Wales and she looked at me as if I was mad!

A picnic table among eucalyptus trees near Peniche in Central Portugal
We found a picnic table among the eucalyptus trees but the chairs were missing

Back on the road, we were now catching tantalising glimpses of Peniche and the biggest Berlengas island. This stretch of coast felt like a developing tourist area, not yet fully established but with plenty of recently-built apartments and hotels. Having longed to reach the coast again, this less-than-scenic route into Peniche was not exactly what I’d envisaged. We were sorely tempted to rejoin the beach on the far side of the sand dune system, but with some distance still to walk and our previous disastrous experiences of Silver Coast beach walking, we thought it best we stick with the long, boring (but fast) cycle path.

Outdoor writer Harri Garrod Roberts in Peniche, on Portugal's Silver Coast
Arriving in Peniche

Fortunately, the historic city of Peniche was much more appealing aesthetically than its sprawling modern suburbs. Geologically speaking, the headland on which the old city was built is fascinating, with spectacular limestone cliffs dating back to the Jurassic period (that one geological period we all are familiar with!). By contrast, the red granite of the nearby Berlengas islands dates back to the Precambrian era and are cited as evidence of continental drift and geological activity in the region.

On October 27, 1892 the British cargo ship Roumania ran aground off the coast of Peniche while sailing from Liverpool to Bombay and 113 of the 122 people on board died.

Tracy Burton (the Walker's Wife) wanders around the imposing walls of the Fortaleza de Peniche on Portugal's Silver Coast
The Fortaleza de Peniche is an imposing structure

We had pre-booked a studio flat for the night, and were pleasantly surprised at how spacious it was, with a good-sized fitted kitchen and dining area at one end, a sitting area with settee, then the bed and wardrobe at the far end. We agreed we could have happily lived there for a few months without getting under one another’s feet.

Exposed limestone at Peniche dating from the Jurassic period with the Fortaleza de Peniche in the background
The limestone cliffs at Peniche dates from the Jurassic period

After a shower and a restorative cuppa, we set off to explore Peniche. There was a bit of a nip in the air as we strolled out to the Fortaleza de Peniche. Built by King João III in 1557 and completed in 1645 by King João IV, the fort was of vital military importance until 1897. It was here that German and Austrian prisoners were held during the First World War. We briefly thought we were going to be allowed to look around, before learning that the outer gates were only open because there was a private event for children taking place. Still, it was interesting to walk around the perimeter of this vast fort, a National Monument since 1938.

A cat living along the limestone cliffs of the Peniche headland, on Portugal's Silver Coast
One of the gorgeous cats we encountered on our evening walk around Peniche

We wandered past traditional white-washed properties where local people had claimed sections of the clifftop as their own and developed pretty and unusual outdoor spaces. This was my favourite part of Peniche, and it seemed the local cat population agreed with me for they lazed around everywhere

If you want to follow in our footsteps, download our route from Obidos to Peniche (25.1km).

The Via Algarviana – an English guide to the ‘Algarve Way’ by Harri Garrod Roberts is available from online bookstores, included Amazon’s Kindle store and is priced at £2.99.

The Via Algarviana: walking 300km across the Algarve by Tracy Burton is available in paperback (£5.99) and Kindle edition (£2.99) from Amazon.


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2 Responses

  1. Jane Callaghan

    I’m glad you found the ‘real’ Peniche. We rented there before we bought and go back about once a month, to stroll around the harbour, the fort and the back streets.
    After Ferrel, which I always think has a pleasant holiday atmosphere, you will have reached Baleal. Unfortunately, you continued along the main road, rather than deviating to the beautiful ( almost ) island. With fantastic beaches on both sides, you cross the narrow strip of coast and dunes and arrive in another world. Holiday homes on the side facing Peniche for sure, but then quaint fishermen’s cottages and quirky B and Bs, followed by a few bars overlooking the rock pools.
    Maybe next time!

    • TheWalkersWife

      Hi Jane, thanks again for giving me the benefit your local knowledge. In some ways, I think we were perhaps a little ambitious trying to cover so much in just 15 days (and covering most of the distances on foot). So much time spent hiking didn’t really allow us sufficient time to explore our destinations. Yes, we loved Peniche, especially those meandering cliff-top paths past the traditional houses. And so many cats. What a gorgeous place to live! We’re already planning our next visit to Central Portugal so I’ll add the stretch of coastline you mention to our list (Penela, Gois, Leiria and Alvaiazere are already on the list, as is a second visit to Nazare, perhaps when the surfers are there). Best wishes, Tracy