Nestling among vineyards and olive and cork trees, Azeitão is a pretty little town situated on the old road between Lisbon and the port city of Setúbal at the foot of the Arrábida mountains just 40 km south of the Portuguese capital.
Dotted with country palaces, running fountains and narrow alleyways, it is famous for its wines, olives and creamy sheep’s cheese, the latter prized as one of the best in the country.
At the entrance to the village stands the magnificently classical palace of the Távoras, one of the great families of Portugal. Its coat of arms was erased by order of the Marquês de Pombal when the Duke of Aveiro was arrested inside the palace for his alleged complicity in the plot to murder King José. He was subsequently executed.
Located in the centre of town, and open to visitors all year round, the José Maria da Fonseca cellars produce the region’s renowned muscatel wine, as well as a wide variety of popular red and white table wines.
2 km away stands the Quinta da Bacalhôa, considered one of the loveliest country houses in Portugal. Built by King Manuel I as a summer palace for his mother, it was bought in 1528 by the son of the great Viceroy of India, Afonso de Albuquerque. With its melon domes and Italianate loggias, the house features a garden blessed with some very rare 16th-century azulejo panels.
The best beach in the region, and arguably the whole of Portugal, lies 12 km south at Portinho da Arrábida, with its crystalline turquoise waters and a batch of sleepy waterside shanty restaurants where freshly-caught grilled fish is the order of the day.
The great limestone ridge of the Serra da Arrábida is home to the world’s oldest living examples of Mediterranean vegetation. The Arrábida Natural Park (now a protected area) is unique for its unusual soil and microclimate, both rare in this part of Europe. More than 1,000 species of plant have been recorded there.
For visitors, spectacular views of the Tróia Peninsula and far beyond are guaranteed from the main road (Estrada da Escarpa) that runs along the crest of the Arrábida mountains.