Reachable by ferry from Setúbal, the pristine setting of the Tróia Peninsula is unquestionably one of Portugal’s best-kept secrets.
Located just 47 km south of Lisbon, this idyllic holiday hideaway was first settled by the Phoenicians and later became the Roman city of Cetóbriga.
The peninsula’s modern resort with hotels, restaurants and a casino stands at the tip of a narrow spit of land comprised mostly of white sandy beaches fringed with shifting dunes and emerald pine forests stretching almost 20 km into southern Portugal’s Lower Alentejo region. There’s also an 18-hole golf course of international repute.
Regular car and passenger ferries serve the Tróia Peninsula from the city of Setúbal and arriving there by sea is very much akin to landing on an island.
Much of the territory is set within the confines of a nature reserve, the Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado, a protected wildlife haven with a wealth of bird-watching possibilities, most notably the little stint, grey plover, bar-tailed godwit, sandpiper and, if luck will have it, the famously shy purple heron or ever-watchful marsh harrier.
The area is also popular for its resident school of bottlenose dolphins, whose charcoal-grey dorsal fins can often be seen scything the water’s surface from Tróia’s nearby shoreline to produced one of the rarest and most endearing natural exhibitions in Portugal.
Another must for visitors is a short detour to the remains of the Roman fish-preserving centre of Cetóbriga located just 2 km from the ferry terminal. All but destroyed by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami in 412, some very important finds have been made since excavations began in 1850. The main visible features are fish-salting tanks as large as 3 metres square, port buildings, tombs and baths with traces of mosaic and marble lining, but much more still lies buried beneath the sand.
Further down the peninsula, Carrasqueira is an old fishing community where you can still see traditional reed houses with their thatched walls and roofs and narrow fishing boats moored on the mud flats nearby.