Several days ago, we took some time a short distance away from home to explore the southern Setúbal península.
Portugal has many hotels located on quintas (farms) and vineyards. We had stayed on one in January 2020 in Alentejo and, this time, chose the Hotel Casa Palmela as our base for exploration. The hotel is located in Quinta do Esteval and dates back to the 17th century. It is set back from the road and you approach via a grand gate down a vineyard lined road. It has two pools, a spa, several kilometers of trails and vineyards to explore and an excellent restaurant, from which you get amazing views of the sunset and rows of grapes below and the Natural Park da Arrábida beyond, where we ate every dinner and breakfast. It is not inexpensive, but the meals are very reasonable. The rooms are modest (or at least ours was) but the setting and the service is incredible. Strongly recommend.
On our first day, en route to the hotel, we stopped off in Azeitão. The town is reminiscent of a Sonoma County, California one. There are two large vineyards in and near town, Bacalhoa and Jose Maria da Fonseca which clearly have had an impact economically on the small village. We lunched at Casa Negrito tasting the local Azeitão cheese with bread and salads followed by a delicious goat cheese pizza and espressos. Three cheers.
Afterwards, we made new friends with guests and Ana, our hostess, alike at Quinta de Catralvos, a smaller vineyard with a more Sonoma-feel than the larger Napa-feeling Bacalhoa. The Quinta has guestrooms and hosts events, and we will definitely bring friends back for tastings.
On day two, we headed east along the N10 to try to check out the flamingos and other coastal birds at the Sado Estuary. We’d read high tide was the time to visit and bird sightings were pretty hit or miss and ours was a miss, mostly, though we did catch some flamingos take flight off in the distance. Mostly the birds we caught sight of were of the metal and macramé variety welcoming you to the snack shop and weird little museum about salt making with no helpful placards with explanations either in Portuguese or English.
On our third day, we headed over the mountains on a windy road and down to Portinho, a popular spot to which you can only walk or take a Tuk Tuk, at high season anyway, through the Natural Park da Arrábida. We wanted to check out the Lapa de Santa Margarida which is a chapel in a cave but couldn’t figure out the path to get there, despite the reviews we’d read and Google maps… next time. The town itself is pretty cool and would be a great spot to launch from for an excursion on the water.
From Portinho we headed over to Palmela. The afternoon was a hot and humid one but we climbed to the Castelo de Palmela, heat be damned, to take in the hazy views from the keep virtually alone. The upside was having the place to ourselves likely a byproduct of being there on an August Monday when, seemingly, the entire town was shut down for vacation. This included the Piloto vineyard wine shop which, despite internet research revealing it was open daily year round, was closed for holidays as well. Another next time.
Back to reliable Azeitao we headed for a snack before driving out to the Cabo Espichel where you would have had amazing views of the ocean but we ran into a weird foggy microclimate a full 15-20 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the inland towns to the east. The fog and wind made it easy to imagine being a pilgrim visiting the church or staying in one of its small dormitory rooms when the church was active.
This region of Portugal is very cool with a lot to offer, and despite some of the snafus we had in our attempts at exploration, it’s a great, close to Lisbon option for wine tourings and tastings to which we plan to return (in a less busy time than August).
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