With its castles, hills, fog and forests, Sintra looks as though it was ripped straight from the pages of a fairy tale. For centuries, this was the preferred retreat of Portuguese kings, and its beauty has been celebrated by legions of poets, painters and authors. In order to properly soak up the atmosphere, and to visit everything it has to offer, we decided to spend a week there.
On the way back toward Sesimbra from Cabo Espichel, we pulled over to check out the beach of Riberia do Cavalo. After realizing that reaching the beach would require a 30-minute walk through the brush, we almost bailed; this was the final activity of our five-day road trip, and we were both tired. But we decided to tough it out… and thankfully so, because this beach was worth it.
If you drive along the southern coast of the Setúbal peninsula all the way to the west, you’ll eventually arrive at the Capo Espichel, where the land suddenly ends, plunging into the Atlantic. A sanctuary and a lighthouse are found side-by-side on the cape.
Although we spent two nights in Sesimbra, a beach town on the western side of the Serra de Arrábida, we never really had a chance to explore it in depth. We arrived late into the first evening, after touring the Arrábida National Park and sampling the wines of Azeitão.
Having completed our circuit of the Arrábida National Park, we found ourselves in the small town of Azeitão, known throughout Portugal for its fine wines and cheeses. Here, we would visit a summer palace, which was once home to royalty, and today acts as a small vineyard for the Bacalhôa wine company.
Stretching between the cities of Setúbal and Sesimbra, the National Park of the Serra de Arrábida was established in 1976. A lushly green region of mountains, cliffs, beaches, hidden convents and winding roads, the Serra de Arrábida is the perfect place for a scenic drive… if the weather is playing along. Or even if it’s not.
For all its aspirations to high culture, with avenues named for opera singers and plazas dedicated to poets, Setúbal is a fishing town at heart, and always has been. With a privileged position on one of Europe’s prime natural Atlantic ports, Setúbal has long been defined by its relationship with the sea. We went to check out the docks, and indulge in the city’s most famous dish, choco frito, before climbing to the castle.
From the ramparts of the Castelo de Palmela, we had an excellent view over nearby Setubal, which would be the next destination of our four-day road trip from Lisbon. Although we knew it was Portugal’s third-largest city, we were surprised by the extent to which Setubal sprawls along the coast, and suddenly uncertain we’d given ourselves enough time to see everything the town had to offer.
As our third month in Lisbon started, we took the first of two extended road trips we had planned. For this one, we’d be spending five days south of the capital, in and around Setubal, Portugal’s third-largest city. Before arriving there, we made a pit-stop in Palmela, a small village in the hills.