A recent trip to Portugal to swim the waters around Lisbon succeeded because our connections were good.
After months of preparation and chatting with locals to finalise the trip, we landed in Lisbon. We were soon making the journey from our hotel in Carcavelos, west of Lisbon, to our first swim destination in Cascais, traversing the beautiful Estoril coast. Our swim guide and driver, André Santos, raised our spirits and kept the conversation upbeat. We were enjoying talking face-to-face – until then we had been exchanging vague ideas on social media channels, struggling with language barriers and the virtual world. Now we were in the real world, and our ideas were taking shape.
Andre explained that the beach we were swimming from that day was the finish line on a stage of the UltraMarathon Swim Series organised by the World Open Water Swimming Association (WOWSA). The Travessia Lisboa Cascais 20km swim took place last September. At the time, it was the longest swim race held in mainland Portugal. Starting at Doca de Belém, the course passed Lisbon and Oeiras, with the finish line at Praia dos Pescadores in Cascais. And this is where we stood, limbering up for our first taste of Portuguese waters.
André told us that he had competed in the event and finished in 12th place in a time of 4hrs 31 mins. The winner completed the event in 3hrs 52 mins. We were planning to swim a small portion of the course, but at a much-reduced pace! It was early December: the sun was shining from behind grey clouds, the predicted rain was holding off, and Portugal was looking beautiful. All was right with the world.
As we were climbing into our wetsuits, we gave André an overview of our swimming exploits, which included a recent swim in the tenebrous seas around the Faroe Islands. The Faroe Islands, you would think, share little in common with the sunny climes of Portugal; two lands on opposing sides of the geographical equation. What was the likelihood of a connection between them and our new Portuguese friend? Slim?
Amazingly, André was familiar with the Faroe Islands and, not only that, he hosted and swam with a group of Faroese swimmers prior to our visit and from the very beach we were standing on. The world felt smaller – and we were ready for our first swim in Portugal.
The waters around Lisbon in December are a favourable 14-16 degrees, but the air can be cold, and a gentle wind that day created a damp chill, so we decided to wear our thermal wetsuits for extra warmth. We set off from Praia dos Pescadores, Cascais, and set a course in the general direction of Carcavelos. We were one hundred meters or so out from the shore, always in sight of the buildings on land which provided some comfort. The going was good, but a little choppy. Soon we found a rhythm and settled in.
André swam beside us and kept us moving in the right direction; he moved through the water effortlessly while we seemed to battle with every stroke. We covered just over 2kms and ended the swim back at the beach we had departed from a few hours earlier and enjoyed a conversation with our new friend. André told us he has been a swimmer for most of his 28 years. His parents realised from an early age that he was a natural born water baby. His company Swim Together arranges tours across Portugal, and he has recently started pool training sessions for beginners and more experienced open water swimmers.
Our first swim complete, we were soon eyeing up options for the next one. This is the trouble with swimming – it constantly moves you on to the next one. With one eye on the weather conditions, which were wet and windy for the next few days, we decided to swim at Lagoa de Albufeira on the Costa da Caparica coastline. The lagoon, a sheltered spot, connects to the sea via a sand bank on one side and a beautiful inland body of water on the other. Located in a national park and about an hour drive south of Lisbon, the lagoon measures around 3.7 kilometres long, and is the deepest inland body of water in Portugal, with a depth of 15 meters.
Fishing huts on wooden poles poking out of the waters dotted across the lagoon made for a delightful back drop and a fun slalom course, weaving in and out.
The conditions were windy but settled, sunny but chilly. We covered 2.5kms in glorious clear waters and delighted in having the whole lagoon to ourselves. Fishing huts on wooden poles poking out of the waters dotted across the lagoon made for a delightful back drop and a fun slalom course, weaving in and out. This swim gave us time to work on our technique and enjoy the solitude of a winter swim, as this area gets busy in the summer. In the absence of thousands of lilo-based sun seekers churning up the water, we had the time and space to feel connected to nature in beautiful surroundings.
But winter swimming comes with its risks – the last day of our trip was a wash out. A huge storm across the area meant the waters were too dangerous to swim (although we dared a late evening “bob” in the rough seas of Carcavelos Beach). We therefore decided to experience the sea from the “other side” and hired bicycles to explore the famous national cycle route from Cascais running north along the rugged beauty of the Portuguese coastline. If you can’t get in the water, the next best thing is to travel alongside it…