The Alentejo Coast

One of Portugal’s lesser-known but stunningly picturesque shorelines is the Alentejo Coast, a haven of long sandy beaches and hidden coves sheltered by golden cliffs stretching for over 150 kilometres (93 miles) between the Tróia Peninsula and the western Algarve.

Bordering on the open Atlantic, this sun-baked region of southern Portugal remains largely undeveloped due to the fact that it is less accessible compared with many of the more popular parts of the country’s coastline.

As vivid and spectacular as the great plains of the Alentejo’s vast interior, the Costa Alentejana (as it is known locally) is blessed with many unique visitor attractions which are best enjoyed during the quieter months of late September through springtime.

Rising in the hills of Ourique deep in the heart of southern Portugal, the River Sado winds a silent passage through this peaceful part of the country to its majestic estuary between Tróia and the bustling port city of Setúbal.

Tróia itself is a long peninsula that was first settled by the Phoenicians prior to becoming the Roman city of Cetóbriga. Look out for the friendly pod of bottlenose dolphins whose grey fins are a common sight in the waters just off the Tróia shoreline.

Heading south down the coast brings you to the ancient Moorish town of Alcácer do Sal nestling along the banks of the River Sado about 40 kilometres inland. Its castle complex overlooking the upper town features a Romanesque church built in the 12th century and a fascinating archaeological museum.

Further south lies Sines, birthplace of the intrepid explorer Vasco da Gama and a bustling port town with centuries of maritime history. Its most prominent landmark is the medieval castle overlooking the historic centre where the great navigator was born in 1469.

Where to go in southern Portugal

Dotted with prehistoric remains – the Carthaginians and Romans certainly left their mark there – the sleepy town of Vila Nova de Milfontes (conveniently situated midway along the coast) is a pleasant, whitewashed town that attracts a large number of summertime visitors looking for the best bathing and surfing spots in Portugal.

Perched on low cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, Porto Covo (indicated on the Google map below) is another of the Alentejo’s most picturesque coastal towns. A former fishing village in days gone by, the core of its historic centre is a haven of quaint cobblestone streets set around an old town square.

A scenic path heading north along the cliffs from Porto Corvo leads visitors on foot to a group of fascinating (and photogenic) rock formations where a stairway can be followed down to Samoqueira Beach, one of the most spectacular stretches of golden sands in the whole of southern Portugal.

Continuing down the Alentejo coast, the charming seaside town of Zambujeira do Mar is both a vibrant resort during the summer and a very relaxing place to stop for a couple of days out of season when its wild beaches and exhilarating cliff-top rambles attract birdwatchers and nature lovers from all over the world.

Much of this whole area is located within the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, a vast protected area that covers almost 1,000 square-kilometres in total. One of the last natural strongholds of mainland Europe’s pristine southwestern coastline, it features many long walking trails (hikers are urged to follow the Rota Vicentina signs) and a succession of quaint little fishing villages where visitors can enjoy a traditional Portuguese meal (often al fresco) and cosy accommodation (if required) along the route.

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