Set on the waters of the Tejo estuary, Lisbon has many miles of fine beaches within easy reach. Carcavelos is the first one you‚will find, its waves and sea breezes attracting body boarders, surfers and kite-surfers alike.
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Sintra and the Cascais Natural Park, is the wind swept beach of Guincho, regularly home to European championship windsurfing and surfing events. For those wishing to test the waters, boards are for hire with lessons also available. Hang-gliding off the cliff face is also popular.
The Sintra coastline has a great deal to offer. There is Praia Grande, another great center for windsurfing and body boarding, with a track record of hosting world-class events. It also attracts fishermen and gourmets making weekend pilgrimages in search of the freshest fish and shellfish.
The red wines of Colares are grown in vineyards set among the palaces and lush greenery of the Serra de Sintra hills. UNESCO has classified this area as a World Heritage Cultural Landscape. The vines extend out into the Sintra-Cascais Natural Park and as far as the beach at Cabo da Roca, the most westerly point of mainland Europe. Make a stop here at the impressive Boca do Inferno (Mouth of Hell), with its immense caverns carved by the sea.
Following the coast round, you will come to Ericeira, in Mafra, a Mecca for Portuguese surfing. Its beaches include surfing favorites such as Praia dos Coxos and Ribeira D‚eôIlhas, with the latter already well established on the world surfing circuit.
Beyond Ericeira, the beaches keep on coming. Santa Cruz is considered by many to be the jewel of this coastline; while there is also Praia dell Rei and Areia Branca, the latter popular with divers and water sports enthusiasts.
Rising up from the seashore, Arrábida Park is a striking coastal landscape just outside Lisbon. Its highest point is at Serra do Risco, a magnificent 380 meter high cliff.
Guided walks or mountain biking are just two of the ways of exploring this natural environment, a rare national example of a unsullied Mediterranean landscape and vegetation. Options even extend to night tours.
Take the ‚”Circuito das Serras‚” a jeep tour for the swiftest way of getting to the Park’s highest points, or try the ‚”Circuito dos Arrozais‚” a tour, taking in part of the Sado River estuary.
Continue towards Palmela. There, the Maria I fountain points the way to the Castle built on an abutment jutting out from the Serra da Arrábida, and now home to an attractive pousada-manor hotel. Donated by Afonso Henriques to the Military Order of Santiago de Espada, and recently restored. The view from its walls is truly magnificent. Inside, there is the tiled Convent and Church of Santiago.
On arrival in Setúbal, follow the course of the city’s Roman remains. On the Travessa de Frei Gaspar, take a look at the set of tanks for the fish processing industry and used throughout the 1st to 5th centuries. An essential point of interest is the Fortaleza de São Filipe (Fort of St. Philip), which has been turned into a most comfortable pousada-manor hotel complete with views over the city, the Sado river and the sandy extent of the TrÃ³ia Peninsula. In the Praça de Bocage (Bocage Square) there is a statue to the poet after whom the square was named in the 17th century. In the Largo de Jesus, there is the city’s most striking monument: the Convent and Church of Jesus (15th century). Turn up around lunchtime and succumb to the temptations of the grilled fish at the restaurants along the riverside.
Reaching Portinho da Arrábida, take a wander along the beach, located between the highest point of Serra da Arrábida and the sea. The Pedra da Anixa, a small rocky island just off the sand is a choice spot for underwater spear fishing. Restaurants along the beach specialize in fish caldeirada (a stew-like dish) and the famous Setúbal red mullet.
The beautiful landscapes of the Serra da Setúbal and the beaches around the Sado river estuary provide an excellent backdrop to this scenic tour to the south of Lisbon.
Do not get confused, there are two "Azeitão". Start in Vila Nogueira de Setúbal. At the foot of the Serra da Arrábida (a Natural Park), this town is home to a rich historic and artistic heritage, particularly from the 16th and 18th centuries, including the renaissance Dukes of Aveiro Palace, the Church of S. Lourenço (St. Laurence) and the baroque Pasmados fountain. In this village try some of the justly famous and delicious cheeses and visit one of the local producers to find out how they are made.
Then continue to Vila Fresca de Azeitão. In the town surrounded by large country estates, the church of São Simao (St Simon) features a fine 16th century example of Nossa Senhora da Saude (Our Lady of Health). In the Quinta das Torres (Farm of the Towers - http://www.azeitao.net/quintas/quinta_das_torres_english.htm and http://www.visitportugal.com/NR/exeres/6D27D8A2-D3FA-4877-BE2C-AA8C5847B045,frameless.htm), there is now a country hotel (and an excellent choice for somewhere to spend the night) located in the 16th century mansion with the gardens being of particular beauty.
At tea time taste the divine tortas de Azeitão, accompanied by the local nectar, a beautiful chilled fruity muscatel wine, tasting as sweet as love itself.
A visit should also be paid to admire the sophisticated heritage of Quinta da Bacalhoa (http://www.bacalhoa.com/default.asp?lang=en/ and http://www.azeitao.net/quintas/bacalhoa_ingles.htm), with its extraordinary decorative tiles. Its Palacio (Palace of Bacalhoa Farm) dates from the final quarter of the 15th century and is one of the finest examples of renaissance architecture in Portugal.
Official website for the Costa Azul Region http://www.costa-azul.rts.pt/index_i.html