Feet in the sand

With the summer heat comes the desire to go to the beach. The sea, the sun, and the tans call out to the vast majority. Today, even in times of social distancing, we accept the days spent on the beach as normal. But how did this habit start?

Although it is good for the mind and soul, in addition to the body, nowadays the trip to the beach is more for leisure. But it was not always so. In the past, cold sea water, combined with salt, was considered to be good for your health. A trip to the beach was more for therapy than fun. The first records, in Portugal, of bathing in the sea refer to its beneficial effects and date from 1753. Later, when he was exiled in Brazil during the Napoleonic War, king João VI was advised to treat a tick wound, which caused him a fever, by bathing in the sea. He bathed in a wooden box because he was afraid of being attacked by crustaceans. It was recommended that he remain in the water for some time, in his box, which was supported by slaves, so that the sea iodine helped to heal the wound. In fact, it is said that this was the only time the king washed, as he was known for being very careless with his hygiene.

In the middle of the 19th century, the trend started to pick up. Almost all the beaches around Lisbon were a bathing destination for the elites in the capital of Portugal. Cascais gained fame as a beach destination thanks to king D. Carlos’ liking for that area. Queen Maria Pia, on the other hand, preferred the boardwalks in Ericeira, taking advantage of the easy access from the National Palace in Mafra and the beauty of the Ericeira village. Further north, the elite of Coimbra were advised by doctors to take advantage of the beaches of nearby Figueira da Foz. For children, São Martinho do Porto beach was recommended for its calm waters. Therefore, the idea of the beach as a destination for therapeutic purposes continued throughout this century.

Only in the 20th century, particularly in the roaring 1920s, did the idea of enjoying the sun on the beach and in the sea for leisure purposes begin to gain traction. In the 1930s, another place won the status of the best beach in Portugal: Estoril, due to the projects of the entrepreneur Fausto de Figueiredo. In this century, the hype of “going to the beach” was already spreading. Clothing was specifically designed for this purpose, as you can read in an excerpt from the memories of the Marquis of Fronteira and Alorna: “Men and children went into the water with long knitted suits, tights, with white and black horizontal stripes, knees covered and sleeves below the elbows. And the women dragged through the sand and water the heavy tails of dark castorina dresses, splashed with white mist. With supreme luxury, black alpaca bathrobes embroidered with white silk soutaches were used “. However, to carry on with this pomp and circumstance, vacationers did not spend the day dressed like that. Men arrived in suits and ties and women in long dresses. They changed clothes in the stalls just to go to the sea. There was no sunbathing and walks on the beach were taken fully clothed.

Later, already mid-20th century, the trend really boomed. In such a way, that in the 1960s, swimsuit competitions began to take place. The North of Portugal was the fashionable bathing area. Only in the following decade did the Algarve become the top choice for summer holidays. Almost everyone started to venture along national roads towards the south of Portugal.

In about 350 years, what can we say has changed? Today everyone goes to the beach. Something that was only possible for elites, and only for therapeutic purposes, became a habit for everyone. The wealthiest people, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, bought houses for their holidays, in Cascais, Ericeira, Figueira da Foz, Nazaré, basically along the entire coast of Portugal. Later, the people turned to the south and to the milder weather in the Algarve. There they also bought holiday homes. Ah! And another habit that has changed in the last few decade. People walk around in sandals and their bathing suits have shrunk!