By Lauren James
For those who find joy in off-the-beaten-track travelling, the southwest coast of Alentejo is the perfect place to visit with its barely explored countryside and small, friendly communities. Whether it’s roaming Porto Covo, hiking the scenic Camino Coastal Route or surfing the waves, the coast has something for everyone.
One of the most important tips for travelling here is to hire a car. Since the area is sparsely populated, public transport is not very reliable. Taxis are still accessible however and, depending on where you stay, there may be transportation provided locally by your host but relying on these modes of transport will not allow access to much of the coastline. Therefore, a car really is the best option.
The coast is part of the Costa Vicentina National Park which protects untouched areas of sheltered, sandy beaches and wildlife-filled fields. This protection and low tourist numbers help harmonise paradisical nature and local communities rich in culture, perfect for the travellers who want to experience a raw, authentic Portugal. Amongst the vineyards and farms, family-ran restaurants serve fresh fish and vegetables with local wine to enjoy under the sound of cicadas and crashing waves.
This area of Portugal is perfect for all things sports. Here are some things to keep in mind. Although Portugal can be pretty hot in the summer months, the Atlantic Ocean is not. At its warmest, from June to October, it barely reaches 20 degrees Celsius. Whilst this may sound unenjoyable, I found that, due to the hot temperatures outside, the cold water was not a very big issue when swimming for short intervals. Unlike the Mediterranean, the Atlantic is known for its high waves and strong currents. Bear in mind, once again, the lack of tourism in this area and take extra care when visiting the beaches as not many of them are lifeguarded. The higher waves make the coast perfect for surfing for all levels and there are many local surf schools dotted along the coast who love to welcome beginners (including Dream Sea Surf and Surf School ESLA in São Torpes). With the warm weather, great waves and friendly locals, it is instantaneously obvious why Portugal has been described as a surfer’s paradise. A few of the beaches, like Praia do Sissal, can be difficult to get down to from the sand dunes and the paths are not always obvious straight away so keep a look out for them.
Water sports aren’t the only outdoor activities this area has to offer. Horse-back riding is popular along the beaches and further into the countryside. This can be quite expensive but local farms often give good prices which are well worth the adventure. The Camino Coastal Route provides a breathtaking and tranquil route along the beaches and cliffs, providing both a physical challenge over the dunes on hot days and intimate, friendly experiences with the local communities that hikers come into close contact with. Whilst you may not want to complete all 280 kilometres of it, walking along the marked route for a couple of hours as a day-hike can be a safe and picturesque way to pass time.
A must-see for this stretch of coast is Ilha do Pesseguerio. The idyllic island is home to the ruins of a 15th century fort and can be reached with tour guides. Combining history and culture with sea and sun promises a memorable day.
In Portugal the price of food and accommodation is quite moderate and along the coastline it is a lot cheaper than in cities like Lisbon. It is possible to spend around 30 euros a day and keep things relatively cheap. A good way to do this is to visit vegetable stalls or supermarkets in Porto Covo rather than eating in restaurants. For accommodation, whilst there are eco-hotels and bed and breakfasts up and down the coast, a cheaper option would be to camp. There are many sites including the notable Natura Art Camping near São Torpes and Costa do Vizir near Porto Covo. The campsites offer another unique local experience as this is where many Portuguese people choose to holiday and so the sites are shared with them.
A beach trip to Alentejo’s tranquil southwest coast really is worth the moderate expense. Whether you are looking for history, authentic communities or a sports haven, there is something for everyone. Walk along the magnificent dunes or eat ice-cream in Porto Covo. Either way, you are sure to have an unforgettable holiday.
Photography by: Wikimedia Commons