All sorts of experiences within a short distance range.
The Arrábida region, 30 minutes from Lisbon, is a surprise to all those who visit. After crossing the Tagus and before reaching the River Sado, the hills, sea and land come together in these three magical and enchanting places where history is written in the stones and the quality of life can be felt in the air.
If you head south out of Lisbon, you don’t have to go far to find three small gems worth discovering with time and leisure. Sesimbra, one of the most popular holiday regions for the Portuguese, has all the hustle and liveliness of a holiday resort. With snack bars and classy restaurants for partying, Sesimbra also offers a lively family environment besides beach and nightlife. Distant from the urban excitement, the imposing Cape Espichel and the legend of Azóia envelop it in a mystical and contemplative atmosphere that is ideal for enjoying the sunset.
And as you approach, you start to see the outline of Palmela and its castle forming, with the form of the hills of the Serra de Arrábida hills in the background. Palmela has plenty of food options which help you to gather your forces to climb up to the castle and visit the old main square, from which smoke signals would be sent to communicate with the castles of São Jorge and Alcácer do Sal. In Setúbal today, the only smoke you see is from the BBQs, grilling fish for the hungry customers who have been on the beach or gone for a walk. Don’t miss the great culinary speciality of the area: fried cuttlefish. It’s ideal as you try to catch a glimpse of the bottlenose dolphins in the River Sado.
In this area, which is perfect for nature tourism thanks to the Sado estuary nature park, you can also combine your passion for golf. Arrábida provides a unique verdant backdrop, with its beaches hidden in the middle of the vegetation, its walking trails and the beautiful town of Azeitão where you can visit the wineries and the famous muscatel producers and try the incomparable tortas which are the delight of the region.
If you want to find the best beaches in Lisbon, head south to Arrábida, pass through Setúbal and forget the ferry to Tróia. As you drive towards the popular Albarquel and Figueirinha beaches, don’t stop. It’s the beaches in the coves formed by the serra, stretches of golden sand between the transparent blue of the sea and the lush green of the hills, that you’re after. Memorise the names: Galapinhos, Galápos, Coelhos and Creiro. Park the car and follow those leading the way. Believes us, it’s worth it. A little further on, you’ll see Portinho da Arrábida, one of the prettiest beaches in Portugal. On the Sesimbra side, Lagoa de Albufeira is perfect for wind and kite surfing. At Meco, there are nudist beaches and a cosmopolitan atmosphere; while at Sesimbra the mood is more family oriented.
If you visit Setúbal and Arrábida, you’ll be surprised by the magnitude of the nature and the balance between hills and sea. But to get to know the nature of this region better, mainly the huge area of the Sado estuary, there’s no better way than to explore the huge wetlands separated from the sea by the Tróia peninsula: the Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado. Here you can find countless species of birds and several dozen dolphins amid marshes, sandbanks, rice paddies and a vast area of woods and reed plantations. This conservation area is also home to several threatened species, such as the black bat and otter. Ideally, join one of the many cruises that visit the estuary from Setúbal to observe nature in its calmest state. But if you only have time to take the ferry across to Tróia, you may still catch sight of the friendly dolphins. Nature is famous for being generous here.
Palmela castle is one of the most impressive sights in the Lisbon region. Occupied, conquered, lost and regained, it is a faithful testament to the battles waged during the first royal dynasty (1143 to 1383) to establish the territory of Portugal. Erected at a uniquely strategic point, between the Tagus and Sado rivers, it was founded by the Romans, probably in 310 BC. But the first fortifications were built by the Moors from the 8th to 9th centuries. The castle was successively added to: the primitive round towers by the Romans; the square towers by the Moors; the entrance tower by the Master of Avis; and the cannon fortifications by Pedro II. It has a great view of the Arrábida hills and Sado estuary. It also houses two churches, one lined with 17th-century tiles and a set of 16th-century graves. Come and visit for its view and unique location.