Timing was on our side when we stayed on the Lisbon Coast for a few days in September. I had seen some posts online about the island of Berlenga off the Lisbon Coast that really made me want to take a day to visit. I say timing was on our side because the ferry that goes from Peniche on the coast out to the island stops running on September 15. We were in the area on 13 & 14 September so would be able to make the trip!
The morning we had available to go to Berlenga started out as a bit blustery, windy and misty. Not terribly auspicious to be heading to an island in the Atlantic, but we decided to persevere. We thought that if they were not going to run the ferry due to dangerous conditions, we would just go to Obidos instead.
Here’s the nitty gritty…The ferry with Viamar leaves Peniche at 10am and we were told to arrive at least 20 minutes prior. What I didn’t realize is that there are a ton of other boat companies that offer rides to/from the island and that when you arrive to the port there is a buffet of options. I wandered around for a bit and couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do. Since I had read several things about Viamar, I decided to go with them even thought they seemed to have the most limited service. We could board the 10a with a return from the island at 4:30. It’s a small island and that seemed a bit of a long time but I paid the 40 Euro round trip (for two people) and met Zac at the boarding area.
The Ferry To Berlenga Island
I used to get seriously motion sick in almost any vehicle and boats were usually the worst. And so I generally think about the condition of the water and size of the boat, etc. before deciding to embark on such an adventure. However, I also just as frequently forget that I have this issue with motion and put myself in situations where things might get a bit hairy. This was one of those situations. Remember when I said the morning was blustery? Well, that included out on the seas as well. I finally thought this might be rough when, before setting out, one of the crew members passed around small black plastic bags to everyone on the ship. At first I thought, hmmm…but before I could even continue with a supposition about the use of this plastic bag, it occurred to me why he was giving these to us. Motion sickness! Good god. If the crew is handing out bags to puke in, obviously this was going to be rough.
Sure enough the seas were raging and the boat was up and down and side to side. I did some deep yogic breathing and meditation while I tried to distract myself with listening to an audio book. I also found myself focusing on a part of the seat in front of me that didn’t appear to be moving. Things were getting rough. It’s only a 30 minute ride from point to point, so I knew at least it wouldn’t be a prolonged sickness. Things got rough, at some point I started sweltering and felt all the blood drain from my face. That’s the first sign of passing out for me so I decided to amp up the breathing. There was a woman in front of me who was bent over and clearly not doing well. Zac said he heard people puking into their bags. It took everything in my being not to crumple over and puke but I managed to make it to the other side! We had arrived at the port of Berlenga a bit shaky and light-headed, but otherwise in tact.
The first thing you notice when you arrive to Berlenga is the amazing rock formations in front of the port. You also notice the incredibly blue/green waters surrounding them. The island was shrouded in mist and was windy and chilly. We started up the incline to do some exploring. There are a few trails on the island, most notably to a 400 year old fort and another trail that leads to the far end of the island. There’s no information about how far anything is or how long it will take you to get there. So we set out for the furthest point and then headed back. The island is not large so it took us no time to get to the furthest point. We sat for a bit and took in the caves we saw down below and just listened to the water.
We decided to head back and head down to the fort. It’s quite a few steps down from the top to get to the fort but it is an incredible walk down. I wasn’t super wowed by the fort, but it is well maintained and you can walk up around the second and third floors. We decided to sit of the wall of the second floor and gaze out to the water while we ate our lunch. It was a beautiful view and the skies started clearing as we sat and lunched.
We decided to start heading back toward the ferry point and see if we had time to do the other trail that is available. On our way toward the climb back up the stairs, we noticed a woman dressed in a wedding gown walking across the top of the mountain. I had noticed her earlier in the day; she wasn’t wearing her dress but had her hair all done up and the man with her was carrying a large garment bag. I thought bride at the time, but didn’t think much more of it. So, we were excited and surprised to see her, the groom and two photographers walking across the mountain ridge. We were then even more interested when we saw her descending the many stairs to arrive down at the fort. There were lots of additional eyes and cameras on the couple as they made their way around the island. We would see them again and again throughout the day; each time the bottom of her dress getting dirtier and dirtier. She had on some clearly fancy running shoes which was just the capper on this interesting photo shoot. We both loved seeing their progression across the island and were hoping that she would submerge herself a bit in the water. Alas, she didn’t go quite that far, but it was super nice to see someone doing this kind of photo shoot. That was a huge commitment on the couple’s part and certainly more on the photographers.
With our bridal show (temporarily) over, we headed out onto the second trail available to us. This one was a loop and we were concerned about being able to make it back to the ferry in time. We needn’t have spent any time worrying. The trail took us about 35 minutes to complete and we were left with about 2 hours to wait for the ferry. During our walk, the wind picked up and the skies cleared to a brilliant sunny blue. We were able to see some additional rock formations off this trail that were either shrouded by clouds/mist or out of sight earlier in the day. It was well worth braving the insane winds for these views.
There are several places to grab a bite to eat on the island. One restaurant and a sort of café at the ferry landing. I say sort of café because they didn’t really offer much other than coffee but they did have seats outside. The other place was a café at the fort. We decided to take a seat at the café near the ferry landing and do a little reading. It had turned into a gorgeous afternoon but this fair gal needed to get out of the sun. We headed down closer to the beach area and found a cozy little cave to hide out in for a while.
Finally the ferry arrived and it seemed almost the entire island, including the bride and groom, got on board. I was optimistic that with the clearer skies the seas would be better. No plastic bags were handed out so I took that as a good sign too. Happily the ride back was a little bit less rocky, but there was still a lot of yogic breathing, book listening and focusing on the lady’s hair in front of me. It all worked because we arrived back to shore with me feeling a little worse for the wear but also triumphant for having broken the motion sickness cycle. Next time, I may remember to give water conditions a bit more of a thought before I get on the boat. But then again, maybe not. I would hate to miss such an experience as we had today because of it. Even if you suffer from motion sickness, take some meds or do what you can to really try to get out to this amazing island. It was really worth the struggle.