Sorry Charlie... Octopus does not taste like chicken
Nine new Michelin Stars in Portugal in 2017 for 23 total

Setúbal: natural beauty, a wealth of Roman ruins and delicious seafood cuisine - just south of Lisbon

Setúbal may not be on every tourists list when visiting Portugal, but its rich history and proximity to a number of exciting and scenic destinations makes it a great off-the-beaten-path destination. Within Portugal, Setúbal is known as the birthplace of the famous \ soccer coach José Mourinho, Portuguese poet Manuel Maria Barbosa du Bocage and singer Luisa Todi. It is also the birthplace of Portugal’s most famed architectural style, Manueline, and was once the most respected producer of salt in Europe. But to visitors of Portugal, the draw is Setúbal’s natural beauty, wealth of Roman ruins, delicious seafood cuisine and its close proximity to the nation’s capital, Lisbon. Located on the northern bank of the Sado River estuary about 26 miles south of Lisbon, Setúbal was once a Roman fishing outpost.

On the Travessa de Frei Gaspar are ancient vessels used in the fish processing industry to make a Roman favorite, garum, or fish paste. Setúbal is still considered a fishing community, but its industry is not as vibrant as it once was. A century ago, Setúbal was an important port in Portugal's fishing industry because of bustling canned sardine factories. Those factories are gone today, but delicious seafood dishes are still a trademark of many local restaurants. Setúbal was also known for making high quality salt for centuries. The pink salt of Setúbal was once considered some of the best in the world. But this industry fell into decline as well, and in recent years, Setúbal has concentrated on its history and natural beauty to boost its tourism industry.  Visitors looking for a unique place to stay should go to the Fortaleza de São Filipe, or Fort of St. Philip, a large bastion that looms over the city. It is no longer a guard post, but a modern Pousada hotel that highlights the historical aspects of the building and the surrounding area. Built in the sixteenth century at the mouth of the River Sado, it was used to defend the port from passing marauders. Understanding the importance of protecting the country’s third largest port, King Philip II contracted Italian architect Filipe Terzio to build the fort at the mouth of the estuary.


Today, it is less intimidating and more commonly admired for its stunning views of the Troia Peninsula and the mountains of Serra da Arrábida.  Below the fort is the Convent and Church of Jesus, a fifteenth century monastery and chapel that is the main historic monument of the city. Designed by architect Diogo Boitac in 1494, the church is an early example of the gothic-style, Manueline, with intricate designs and carvings in the Arrábida pink stone columns brought in from a nearby quarry. Other great sights include the sixteenth century cathedral Santa Maria da Graça with its beautiful hand-painted azulejo tiles. The Museu de Setúbal, found in the Mosterio de Jesus, has a wealth of religious relics and paintings. Part of the collection is dedicated to Bocage, an eighteenth century Portuguese romantic poet who called Setúbal his home. The Museu de Arqueológia e Etnográfia has an interesting collection of local artifacts, including Bronze Age pots and cork processing tools.  Visitors often head to the riverfront when taking a break from sight-seeing. Here, the restaurants prepare the freshest catches. Make sure to try the local specialty, grilled fish. Fans of the outdoors will also enjoy the variety of activities offered in Setúbal and the surrounding area. Just south and across the river from Setúbal is the sandy peninsula of Tróia.


Many of the high-rise luxury resorts have been demolished and the area is being restored in a more traditional style. Follow further south to the Reserva Natural do Estuário do Sado, a nature preserve with vast stretches of mud flats, lagoons and small forests of pine trees.  To the west is the quaint Portinho da Arrábida, a large beach protected from the wind by the cliffs of a south-facing cove. If you are feeling adventurous, climb half way up the cove’s slope and visit the sixteenth century Franciscan monastery. Restored by the Fundação Oriente, this monastery has increasable views of the ocean and the beach below.  Further along the coast is Arrábida Park, just outside of Lisbon. Here, visitors take in the stunning views of the white cliffs that overlook the Atlantic. Its highest point is at Serra do Risco, a magnificent 380 meter high cliff. Tour the park either on foot, on mountain bike or by guided tour. The Circuito das Serras jeep tour is the swiftest way to get to the park’s highest points, or for a more scenic route, take the Circuito dos Arrozais tour, which passes through the Sado River estuary. Guides are available both during the day and at night. North and inland is Palmela.

Visitors are often drawn to the castle located on the ledge along the Serra da Arrábida. Donated by Afonso Henriques to the Military Order of Santiago de Espada the castle is known for the magnificent views from its walls. Inside is the Igreja do Convento de Sant'Iago. Originally built in the 1600s, it suffered considerable damage during the 1755 earthquake, but has been recently restored and a portion was made into a Pousada. From its lofty location, the view stretch from Lisbon to the hills of the Alentejo.  Wine lovers will not want to miss a drive northwest to the small village of Azeitão, the spot of the famous wine cellars of José Maria de Fonseca. Here visitors will find a number of rural estates, including the Quinta do Bacalhau, a sixteenth century winery, and the Quinta das Torres, a warm country inn. During your stay make sure to try the tortas de Azeitão, usually accompanied by the chilled and fruity muscatel wine, a local favorite.  Do not get confused, but there are actually two Azeitãos.  The other lies at the foot of the Serra da Arrábida and is home to a rich historic and artistic heritage. Popular spots are the Renaissance-era Dukes of Aveiro Palace, the Church of S. Lourenço and the baroque Pasmados fountain. In this village try some of the famous local cheeses or even visit one of the local producers to find out how they are made.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Barbara A Miller

I have been living in Setúbal for 3 months. The Fortaleza de São Filipe has been closed for a year. The sign on the gate says it will be closed for 24 months, but the folks at the local tourism office infer it will be much longer than that. Apparently, the walls were shifting to an unsafe level and the government closed it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)