An hour down the Portuguese coast from the legendary break at Nazaré, Noah Surf House is creating its own nucleus of surf culture. Except you don’t have to surf to be a part of it. But you should try at least once. But it’s okay if you don’t.
When Surfer Magazine debuted in 1960s Southern California, it didn’t matter how hard at work the writers were at the office. If someone yelled “surf’s up!” the place would empty in seconds. The very picture of happy-go-lucky hippies on the hunt for a good time and a great wave. Apocryphal as that story may be, it’s nevertheless the perfect encapsulation of our idea of surf culture. 5,000 miles and 60 years later, the founders of Noah Surf House have set out to replicate it.
Noah Surf House opened in 2018, on a strip of beach on the coast of Portugal. Hotel aficionados took immediate notice. Reviewers called it an “instant hit.” Travelers from around the world began flocking to it. Impressive for an establishment that seems so niche — and that has the most intimidating sport in the world right there in its name. But it’s not just surfing here. And Noah is not just for hardcore surfers.
In reality, Noah Surf House is one of Tablet’s most family-friendly hotels. The “surf” in the name could just as easily refer to literal ocean spray from the North Atlantic. Everything here is coated in seaside symbols. Fishing nets drape the surfaces and octopus traps hang inconspicuously here and there throughout the public spaces. Outlying cubist bungalows reflect the ocean like sea glass, and touches of wood add the flair of a snack shack on the local beach. Never has a hotel looked so positively giddy to find itself by the waves. Guests are cordially invited to feel the same way.
“Not all our guests are just surfers,” the hotel assures Tablet. “But they share enthusiasm for this lifestyle — a relaxed atmosphere where you can meet and get to know people from all over the world, who come with the same spirit and the same willingness to dive in.” The Noah lifestyle goes way beyond the waves to include cliffside trekking and bike rentals, on-the-water yoga called “liquid balance,” and even a skatepark. The infinity pool, solar deck, jacuzzi, trampolines, and restaurant/cocktail bar/snack bar provide even more worldly thrills. And there’s perhaps no better mascot for the culture than the nightly get together around the fire, where everyone’s invited to gather with a glass of wine and sing along with the guitar. You can’t tell us the writers of Surfer Magazine wouldn’t wholeheartedly approve.
If you aren’t able to locate Noah Surf House merely by the siren song of good vibes, you can check a map for a small village on Portugal’s Atlantic Coast called Santa Cruz. Surfing enthusiasts will instantly note that it’s about 80km south of Nazaré, the modern-day mecca of big wave riding. Both towns are set within the Costa da Prata, or Silver Coast, a strip of shoreline between Porto and Lisbon that can uncontroversially call itself one of the most beautiful stretches of beach in the world. The region hasn’t totally blown up yet, but its popularity is rapidly expanding. Hotels like Noah are not only happy to host, they’re helping to generate the interest.
Surfing is available at the hotel, to state the obvious. Incredible waves and instructors provide lessons for all levels of experience. In truth, it seems a shame to visit Noah Surf House and not attempt at least one ride. There may be no friendlier place to make the leap. Either way, the hotel’s design, architecture, and emphasis on the active is welcoming and irresistible. No, you don’t have to surf when you’re here. But you’ll have no trouble leaning into the spirit.
Nuts & Bolts
A bite-sized breakdown of your most frequently asked questions.
Why this hotel and why here?
They call it Magic Land. Locals do, that is, like the hotel’s owners — Marta and Goncalo — born and raised here. Santa Cruz isn’t exactly unknown in Portugal, but it hasn’t made the complete transformation to tourist magnet like some of the more popular villages on the Atlantic Coast. The hotel describes the “unchanged, raw vibe” of their setting — a place where demography combines with geography for wide, remote beaches.
In short, “waves without crowds” on a stretch of coast about an hour’s drive from Lisbon. Most guests stay about three to four days.
Who comes here (and are you sure they don’t all know how to surf)?
We’re sure, but it’s paradise if you want to learn. Those who find this little surf hotel in Santa Cruz don’t all come for the surfing, but it’s safe to say most come for the active lifestyle. Like we said above, there’s cliffside trekking and bike rentals, “liquid balance” yoga, and even a skatepark. And the infinity pool, solar deck, jacuzzi, trampolines, restaurant and cocktail bar allow for less active activities. “Since the beginning the vision was to create much more than just a place where people stay to surf or learn to surf,” the hotel tells Tablet. In other words, it’s a vibe.
When’s the best time to visit?
Seasonal swings in temperatures aren’t so extreme in Portugal, and the beaches around Santa Cruz aren’t known for their masses of tourists — so you’re safe to visit in any season. As far as surfing, the hotel swears that on the Costa da Prata (the Silver Coast), “every month of the year is good,” and everything just depends on the conditions of the ocean. But “normally our sea has excellent surfing conditions all year round, with waves for all levels. ” Looking for the biggest waves? Time your visit between September and April, particularly December through February.
Best room for a solo traveler? A couple? A family?
There are eight rooms in the main hotel building and thirteen outlying bungalows at Noah Surf House. The bungalows, away from the main attractions, are cozier and more private — good options for couples or solo travelers. In the main building, the Terra Rooms lack a sea view but feature a terrace or garden, and can fit up to six or eight people, the larger option including the kid-beloved bunk beds (accessed by ladders). The Mar & Cook Bungalows are also worth mentioning — for up to four people, with sea views and fully equipped kitchens.
What’s a design feature I would miss if you didn’t tell me about it?
Recycling is literally an art here. This site was once a holiday camp for local children, and the former building’s been preserved in a number of ways. Old pipes serve as lamps, a water deposit makes for a fireplace by reception, bricks from an industrial coal furnace are put to use as wall covering, and an entire wall was preserved to avoid new construction. Even the storage lockers from the previous building were recovered and featured here.
What’s there to eat?
The hotel restaurant doubles as cocktail bar and snack bar. All welcome features of a place like this. The main menu takes Portuguese cuisine as a starting point and incorporates Japanese and Mediterranean flavors for a wide range of dishes. Everything’s sourced as locally as possible, with plenty of fresh seafood as well as vegetables from the hotel’s organic garden based on season. A second restaurant, formerly on the beachside, has recently closed — the hotel is planning to redirect that energy towards a refresh of the main restaurant in 2023.
Tell us about sustainability.
The project was centered on the idea of harmony with the environment, using cork for natural insulation and placing local plants on the bungalows’ garden rooftops. Solar panels generate seventy percent of all hot water for the showers and taps, and the interior design itself revolves around recycling of old materials in a genuinely creative way (see above). And we’re always impressed when a hotel restaurant uses vegetables from its own organic garden.
What’s the final word?
Surfing can be intimidating, there’s no doubt. Noah Surf House aims to make it a friendly — even family friendly — pursuit. And if you’re not interested in riding the waves, there’s plenty of other activities on offer, like hiking or stand-up-paddle yoga. The design alone should put you in the mood for the beach. ▪
Book Noah Surf House on Tablet Hotels.