Palmela, Arrábida & Azeitão
Travelling to Palmela from Lisbon, via the Tagus River’s 25th of April Bridge, is a cross-over experience in more ways than one. Within minutes, the long white-sand beaches of the Atlantic coast rise into towering, chalky cliffs and the surrounding hills burst with lush Mediterranean vegetation. Castelo da Palmela (Palmela Castle), conquered from the Moors in the 12th century, has incredible views across the Arrábida Natural Park that stretch, on clear days, all the way to the city. September sees the town’s infamous wine party in the main square, Paços do Concelho, where locals demonstrate their grape-treading techniques and fireworks explode from the top of the castle: a great show if your schedule allows…
Neighboring Arrábida takes its name from the Arabic word for ‘place of prayer’; after even just a few moments breathing in the fresh air and wild, isolated surrounds it’s easy to see why. The Arrábida Natural Park extends some 10,000 hectares and boasts a soil, micro-climate and diversity of flora and fauna considered amongst the best in Portugal. In the heart of the park, the sprawling 16th century Convento da Arrábida dazzles like a white beacon amidst the dense green hills.
Follow the small winding road that takes you to the sublime hidden beach and calm emerald waters of Portinho da Arrábida. Or head to the charming villages of Azeitão at the foot of the mountains, famed for their wine (housed in extensive cellars), olives and delicious queijo de Azeitão sheep’s cheese. Other specialties of the area include azulejos in São Simão and the divine tortas de azeitão sponge rolls. Close to Alfarim, the tiny village of Aldeia do Meco is a quasi-private beach retreat for Lisboans keen to escape the city incognito. On Praia do Meco, the Bar do Peixe remains a prime spot for a tasty lunch or dinner on the sea-facing terrace. Fresh fish, anyone?
JOSÉ MARIA DA FONSECA WINE ESTATE
(Vila Nogueira de Azeitão)
Founded in 1834 by José Maria da Fonseca (and still in the hands of his descendants), this gorgeous old estate is famed for its Moscatel de Setúbal and Periquita, the two leading ambassadors for fine Portuguese wines. The Moscatel is made out of Castelão grapes, an indigenous variety that thrives in southern Portugal and was brought to prominence by the da Fonseca family; Periquita is the oldest Portuguese table wine, enjoyed for its fruity, spicy character. It’s worth visiting the cellars in the Manor House Museum as well as taking a trip to the family’s José de Sousa Winery in southern Alentejo, complete with amphorae cellar.
BACALHOA WINE ESTATE
(Vila Nogueira de Azeitão)
Founded in 1922 as João Pres & Sons, Bacalhôa Wines has developed into one of Portugal’s most innovative wine producers. In 1998, Commander José Berardo became the principal shareholder. The company continues to grow from strength to strength with new vines and properties, modernized wineries and vast contemporary art collections all true to its pervading theme of ‘Art, Wine and Passion’. The beautiful Quinta da Bacalhôa estate, formerly belonging to the Portuguese royal family, dates back to the first half of the 15th century. Now classified a National Monument, it also houses the country’s largest private collection of azulejos and an array of modern art.
– José Maria da Fonseca wine estate
– Bacalhoa wine estate
– Watching the sunset at Meco Beach, sipping a drink on the terrace of Bar do Peixe…Cheers!