The Alentejo has a clear vocation for Activity Tourism and for Nature Tourism. The beauty of the landscape invites excursions on foot, on mountain bikes and on horseback, and the country lanes known as estradas municipais, despite the absence of cycle lanes, are excellent for cycling-tourism.
On the rivers, the reservoirs and the coast, many water-based activities are possible. The beaches are of the highest quality. And the sky, with this fantastic climate, is ideal for parachuting, paragliding, ballooning and microlight flights.
Discovering this part of the Alentejo, open to the sea, is always fascinating. From the marshes bordering the Sado estuary, there stretches an immense coastline which, from the Point of Troia to the cape of Sines, takes the form of uninterrupted beach. In the interior, where the exuberant greenery of the hills of Serra de Grândola stands out, the cork-oak montado (woodland and pasture) lives alongside blankets of pinewoods, the rivers are retained as beautiful reservoirs and the abundance of water provides for extensive rice fields. Suddenly, the landscape changes. To the south of Sines, the most capricious fantasies of geological time have made the sea and the wind their gouges and chisels, carving out cliffs, contorting blocks of schist, creating cordons of dunes bordering the beaches, making and unmaking the beaches in small and secret coves, defining new contours for the vegetation, tempering the coastal plane, providing food for the algae, fish, reptiles, birds and rare mammals to live on …
It is a museum throbbing with history and with natural life and merits the classification of three Protected Areas: the Nature Reserve of the Sado Estuary, the Nature Reserve of the Lakes of Santo André and Sancha and the Natural Park of Southwest Alentejo and the Vicentina Coast.
From the Sado Estuary to the Cape of Sines
Bordering the river, towards the mouth, it is important to visit the Porto Palafítico (palaphytic – elevated on stilts) da Carrasqueira, a curious fishing port with a labyrinthine system of piers constructed on props sunk into the mud. Good views over the marshes.
If you feel the call of the interior and are a lover of long walks, you have many possibilities between Grândola, Santiago do Cacém and Lagoa de Santo André. Obtain information from the respective Tourist Offices about the PR (walking routes) and GR (accommodation guides) of this area and at least do PR1, "Rota da Serra” (17 kms, starting and finishing in Grândola).
From Lagoa de Santo André, where you will find good tourist accommodation and many natural beauties to explore, don’t miss taking a look at the fantastic dunes of Praia do Monte Velho. There is an excursion of great environmental interest starting from this beach: "Poços da Barbaroxa” (4kms, low level of difficulty). It is advisable to be accompanied by a guide. Booking can be done through the Centro de Interpretação do Monte do Paio, a space providing reception for and information about the Natural Park, with a permanent exhibition about the natural heritage of this Protected Area. From this centre there is the signposted "Percurso da Casa do Peixe” (4kms, low level of difficulty), which can be done without a guide. Don’t do the walk between December and April as stretches of the lake can spread.
As far as Lagoa da Sancha is concerned, it is practically a secret place. Discover it!
Before the Cape of Sines, if you like contemplating rough sea, you should make a detour to Praia do Norte. The agitation of the water and the dangerous depths advise against bathing, but there are rich shoals of fish in the submarine caves, which attract divers and hunters.
To do the beach again, it is necessary to go round the Cape.
From Cabo de Sines to Porto de Azenha do Mar
And, of course, enjoy being next to the sea in a land of fishermen and call to mind the taste of fresh fish that has just been caught. Here and in all places on the Alentejan coast is where you will find tascas (small taverns) and small restaurants, close to the beaches and fishing ports.
It is to the south of Sines that we find the Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, with its small beaches surrounded by schist escarpments. The signposted access normally indicates beaches with some kind of support: parking, lifeguards, bars and restaurants. Followers of Nature Tourism who wish to extend their exploration will not feel cheated: almost all of the cliffs can be traversed on foot along the fishermen’s tracks. Among the beaches for families, we would advise, in the Sines area, Morgavel, Vale de Figueiros (Figueirinha), the Praia Grande de Porto Covo and that of the Ilha do Pessegueiro, close to the fort. S. Torpes is the preferred beach for windsurfers and kitesurfers.
If you seek the intimacy of small beaches, you have various options among the so-called "Prainhas” ("little beaches”) of Porto Covo such as Vieirinha, Oliveirinha or Samouqueira. Not all have lifeguards and sometimes access is complicated. What is guaranteed is beauty, quiet and privacy. Among them, Praia do Salto has been, since 2002, part of the restricted group of naturist beaches officially recognised in Portugal.
In Porto Covo, you must visit its small square, the Largo Marquês de Pombal, considered one of the jewels of popular Portuguese architecture. Inspired by the Pombal model in Lisbon, it is an enchanting "waiting room”, where you can sit on the terraces and pick at a petisco (snack) and enjoy a refreshing drink in the company of these beautiful rows of houses, 18th century in their outline.
Continuing south, we reach the zone of Vila Nova de Milfontes, first with the beach of Malhão and then with the Portinho do Canal. In the town, it is enough just to follow the movement to find the beaches of Franquia, Farol and Furnas. In this area, the conditions for sports fishing and for diving are good. The River Mira, which here discharges its waters into a lovely estuary, can be navigated by canoe or motorboat as far as Odemira. It is a trip that is well worth making.
Some kilometres further on you will find the Praia do Almograve, considered one of the most beautiful in the south west of the Alentejo. It has excellent support facilities and good conditions for surfing and bodyboarding. In the town, a walking excursion is signposted: PR1, "Lapa de Pombas” (8.9kms, low level of difficulty, duration approximately 3½ hours). Setting out from the centre of Almograve, it proposes a walk to Porto da Lapa de Pombas and back, passing by the beautiful cliffs of the beaches of Almograve and Brejo Largoa and returning to the town through the cultivated fields of the interior. The theme could not be more appropriate: the formations of dunes and rocks, which speak to us of a history of more than 300 million years.
The beauty of this coast deserves time for contemplation and we are close to one of the most fantastic viewing points: Cabo Sardão. For birdwatchers it also has another objective: this is the only place in the world where the White Stork nests on sea cliffs. Go and visit it now and, from there, even if you are not adept at long walks, stroll a little along the cliff top. It is a dazzling experience and, if you wish, you can go from here on foot or by mountain bike to Zambujeira do Mar.
If you would like to take a rest from beaches and breathe the air of the countryside and of the hills, you are in an excellent place from which to make a detour to Odemira, a white town which hangs in a cascade over the River Mira.
From Odemira or Vila Nova de Milfontes there are two more walking excursions you can do: PR2, "S. Domingos” (starting in the village of S. Luís, 8.1 kms, medium difficulty), which pursues the themes of traditional architecture and the flora and fauna of the Serra; and PR3, "Troviscais” (starts in the village of Troviscais, 13.5 kms, medium difficulty), which leads us to the discovery of the River Mira and the montado (oak woodland and pasture) of the region.
Returning again to the coast, the next destination is Zambujeira do Mar. As well as the beach next to the town, with good facilities and good surfing and bodyboarding, there are others to discover, to the north and to the south. To the north, make sure you take a look at Praia de Nossa Senhora. In the area of the fishing port of Entrada da Barca, next to Touril, where you can eat good fresh fish, you will find well-trodden paths over the cliff which reveal, a long way below, small hidden beaches. If you are not an adventurous type, it is advisable to be content with simply taking a look at them.
To the south, it is scarcely 500 metres to Praia dos Alteirinhos, classified in 2008 as a naturist beach. It is large, beautiful, rich in fish and access requires some effort: the descent and the ascent together make up 300 steps!
If you are travelling with a family and want to make use of a beach, there are good sands at Praia do Carvalhal, with easy access from Brejão. From this village leads the road to the fishing port of Azenha do Mar, in the extreme south west of the Alentejo.