Things to Do in Setubal District
With coves of golden sand and bright blue water hidden among pine-covered hills and vineyards, Arrábida Natural Park (Parque Natural da Arrábida) in Portugal is a hidden gem for nature lovers. The beaches are the main draw, but the park also attracts hikers and photographers, who come to explore the landscape and enjoy the panoramic views.
Along the winding Portuguese coast lies Sesimbra, a small fishing village with a 17th-century fort overlooking the sea. Its 12th-century Moorish stone castle is perched up on jagged cliffs that drop down into calm Setúbal Bay. There is a small historic monastery within the castle walls, and the best mountain and sea views can be seen from a climb to the top.
Sesimbra is famous for its deep sea fishing and fresh seafood. There are several waterfront restaurants serving fresh fish, and fisherman will often auction off their catches from the harbor. The clear, protected waters of the bay create ideal swimming and scuba diving conditions. In addition to active water sports, there are excellent hiking trails, beaches, and natural parks in and just outside of town. With local beaches and an old town to stroll through, it’s easy to enjoy a quieter pace.
One of the largest wine producers in Portugal, Bacalhôa Wines of Portugal (Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal) is set in a 15th-century castle previously owned by the Portuguese Royal Family. Bacalhôa has a long tradition of winemaking—a family-owned company founded in the 1920s, their wines are made from grapes from seven different wine-regions in Portugal.
Bacalhôa offers tours, tastings, a museum and gardens for visitors to explore. The surrounding grounds include carefully manicured hedges among flowing fountains and reflecting pools. The museum houses the family’s private art collection, which contains pieces from Africa, South America, and Asia as well as stunning examples of Portugal’s traditional azuleijo tiles. A highlight of a visit to the estate is the atmospheric storeroom – where antique wine casks lay in a dark room, adorned with ancient Portuguese tiles.
A variety of wines are available for tastings, including award-winning cabernet sauvignons, rosés, port wines. Visitors can purchase bottles and cases of wine, as well as locally made cheeses and other bites.
Known for its wild, untamed landscape, Cabo Espichel is a southwestern headland in the Setúbal District. The cape meets the rough waters of the Atlantic Ocean with dramatic, high-rising cliffs and a wind-blown, barren landscape. Atop the cliffs lies raw, isolated countryside, and many visitors describe the area as mysterious and spiritual.
Beyond the incredible scenery, the cape is home to ruins, fossils and other sights. At the water’s edge there’s a lighthouse, offering great views of the seascape. Also perched at the edge of a cliff is a small, simple white chapel, with the deep blue ocean as its backdrop.
There’s also the Santuário de Nossa Senhora, a baroque-style church, built in 1707. The main structure has been well maintained, with original tiles and stonework, and the surrounding area has ruins to explore. But the sights at Cape Espichel go even farther back then the 18th century—the area is also home to several sets of fossilized dinosaur footprints that are visible on the side of a cliff. The footprints are estimated to be 145 to 150 million years old.
Turquoise water, white sand, a long beach framed by mountains…a familiar scene. Yet this beauty of the Portuguese coast remains relatively undiscovered. As a result the beach is often quiet, uncrowded, peaceful and clean. The lands surrounding the area are covered in rice paddies — miles of green until the wide expanse of sand meets the shoreline. There are pine forests, vineyards, and villages nearby as well, with Comporta located in the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve and wetlands.
In total there are more than twelve miles of sand dunes and white sand beaches. The area of Comporta Beach (Praia da Comporta) is certified as both accessible and “Blue Flag” for its commitment to upholding environmental standards. The clear turquoise waters often draw comparisons to the Caribbean. Conditions can be good for surfing and windsurfing as well — though you’ll likely have the beach to yourself.
While in southwest Portugal, travel to what feels like the heart of Africa by heading to Badoca Safari Park. Situated about an hour and a half south of Lisbon, the wildlife park features animals that are native to Africa and that live in surroundings similar to their natural habitat.
To get the full experience, you’ll have the opportunity to explore the critter-filled landscape during a 45-minute safari ride. While on the excursion, you’ll spy wild animals such as giraffes, zebras, camels and more. Other park activities include the lemur experience, during which you can interact with the endangered animals; and a children’s petting zoo, complete with goats, donkeys, lambs, ponies and more. And if you’re keen for more adventure, even go — and get soaked — on the African rafting ride.