Towering over Lisbon’s southern coastline, the great limestone ridge of the Serra da Arrábida, 40 km south of the city and clearly visible from its higher points, is home to the world’s oldest living examples of Mediterranean vegetation.
Now a protected area, the slopes of this unique mountain chain, which runs due east-west and rises to a height of 500 metres, are carpeted by the original forest of the Setúbal Peninsula known as Mediterranean maquis, a product of the region’s particularly mild climate.
Deriving from the Arabic for a place of prayer, Arrábida is a rich coastal landscape comprised of a mosaic of orchards, vineyards, pastures dotted with historic military and religious architecture, small settlements, farm houses and vacation homes. The contrast of its smoothly undulating lines of relief abruptly meeting the sea in the form of sheer cliffs is one of the most visually striking images in southern Europe.
Geologically speaking, the area is noteworthy for four major reasons, namely its scientific importance, regular occurrence of Arrábida Breccia (a rare and highly-valued marble rock type), its karst topography/phenomena and the small Pedra da Mua site with its important fossil deposits and dinosaur footprints.
Located between the large estuaries of the Sado and Tagus rivers, the Serra da Arrábida is a natural habitat for a great variety of wildlife with a reported total of 34 mammals, some 200 resident and migratory birds, 17 reptiles and 12 amphibians residing there, including some important colonies of bats, wildcats, eagle owls, peregrine falcons and the magnificent Bonelli’s eagle.
It is also the place where fine moscatel wines are made and dairy sheep graze unhurriedly on mountain herbs and plants in the fertile meadows to produce the prized milk used for the famous Azeitão cheese.
Some of Portugal’s finest scenery is to be found there, most notably the secluded cove of Portinho da Arrábida with its white sandy beach and translucent turquoise waters.