Two five-star hotels have opened in the last 12 months and Michelin-starred chefs are spicing up restaurant menus. Surf season rentals have increased by 150% since pre-Covid times and rental profits have risen by 90% during the same period. I could be writing about California’s Malibu or Santa Cruz, or even Sydney’s Manly Beach, but I’m not. It’s Ericeira, our small surfing town about 30 minutes north of Lisbon.

Once a hard-to-keep secret, now dubbed Europe’s surf capital, Ericeira has become one of Europe’s hottest property investment areas.

Of course, this five-square-mile surfing community is not a brand-new find. In the early-to-mid 20th century it was the summer retreat of choice for Lisbon’s aristocracy who built their summer residences there. From the 1970s surfing became its focal point and the word about Ericeria started to spread. Then more recently, as the world record 20m monsters in Nazaré attracted the brave few that surfed them and drew in the bewildered many that watched, we’ve seen Ericeria’s fame grow and grow.

In 2021 it was awarded the accolade it deserved, earning the title of World Surf Reserve, the first in Europe and the second in the world. There are only 11 currently, including paradises such as Australia’s Gold Coast and Manly Beach, California’s Malibu and Costa Rica’s Playa Hermosa. It was Ericeira’s seven types of world-class waves within 4km of pristine beaches and consistent, almost year-round conditions, that earned it the honour.

As you’d imagine, it’s now the venue for various national and international competitions, including the national surfing stage of the World Qualifying Series, which takes place on Ribeira d'Ilhas beach, the region's surfing centre. At this event, local surfer Tiago Pires, who has always been connected to Ericeira, made himself known to the world before becoming an icon of the world surfing elite and the first Portuguese to join the World Surfing League.

Yet surfing isn’t Ericeira’s only bowstring. Being a short drive from Lisbon means people have always come to explore the gastronomy and the scenery made up of high cliffs interspersed with small sandy coves. This mixed magnetism has meant that the town has been appealing to a more wealthy crowd too with the recent arrival of the town’s first two five-star hotels, seen as recognition and response to the need to expand Ericeria’s premium offering. Chef Alexandre Silva, who holds a Michelin star at his Lisbon restaurant Loco, is now the consulting chef at the five-star Immerso hotel’s ‘Emme’ restaurant.

Waves of demand meet a low tide of supply

This transcendence, which has put a small town on an international stage, is now creating strong dynamics of supply and demand. AirDna, an aggregator for AirBnb statistics, shows that the number of rental properties available in Ericeira has decreased by 24% when comparing the fourth quarter of Q4 2019 to the same of 2022.

We know from being on the ground that this is because more people are staying there for longer. The short distance from Lisbon is also making it a hybrid working destination for Lisbonites and foreign residents. This trend is something we’ve seen across most of our markets at Athena Advisers, notably in the French Alps where owners choose to stay not just for weeks in the winter, but for months in the summer.

The importance investors place on the quality of life grows every day, especially after the Covid-19 pandemic. And whilst work is part of life, there are ways to unite the two. Ericeira is a destination where living in contact with many forms of nature is possible. Some here are calling it the ‘Portuguese California’, but I like to think it is cutting its own name in those chalky white cliffs.

With more people visiting, living and renting for longer terms, the reduction in supply has been met by an increase in demand, especially in the September-to-April surf season. According to AirBnb, Ericeira saw a 150% increase in rental activity when comparing the surf seasons of 2018/2019 with 2021/2022. The simple mechanics of low supply and increasing demand meant that rent increases followed. The profitability of rental properties in Ericeira during the surf season increased by a staggering 90% across the same period.

It is therefore not surprising that the region is arousing growing interest in demand amongst budding owners, investors and property developers. But planning and building regulations are strict in the area in order to protect the culture and aesthetics of the destination, so there is no huge wave of development arriving, instead only carefully selected projects. We are expecting more opportunities for property investors in the near future.

The winds in the surfing world are normally favourable to new investors that target increasingly popular surfing regions and we think Ericeira’s story is only just starting. If a lucky few can catch its wave with new real estate opportunities that respect the lifestyle and authenticity that fascinates its thousands of visitors, they could be on to a big break.

by Rita Cunha Ferreira - Athena Advisers