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  • Isla

Comporta: Europe's Last Hidden Gem?

Updated: Feb 19

I have been wanting to check out Comporta for a while. A small town just about an hour south of the Portuguese capital of Lisbon. Only having heard of the area being described as “Europe’s last untouched gem” makes me feel like I’m part of a small group lucky to visit. This part of Portugal has been carefully protected for decades by private families. The history of the area is long documented, but unique in that it still has kept a pristine natural beauty. There are no hotel chains, big box stores, or high-rises in this beach town. When you arrive in Comporta you are struck by just how small of a town this is. Chickens roam the roads in this sleepy village. You get the feeling that more families of storks reside here than people. During the off-season, many of the restaurants and boutiques are closed during the day (from 1230-3ish) and open up later in the afternoon. Even though the town thumps to a slow beat; the boutiques sell trendy high-end products.

Strolling the streets and browsing in the shops you get a sense that they offer an eclectic taste in interior design and fashion goods. You can tell that this is not just a small any Portuguese town; it has its own unique vibe. Walking out of the Comporta branded worn-down gates of the village rice fields stretch along the coast protected by sand dunes. There is an old sluice gate blocking the water from the canals entering the fields while the farmers are preparing the soil for a new season of planting. I am here at the beginning of April and the weather is pleasantly sunny with a mild Atlantic breeze. The temperature is about 25 Celsius during the day and feels like spring is in full effect. When you arrive in the area and see the surroundings you realize just why people have been wanting to keep this a hidden gem. The beaches along this part of the coast stretch as long as the eyes can see. Clean silky golden sand and clear blue water and you almost feel like you have a private beach to yourself. Due to the strict developmental protections in the area, this is the kind of beach you come to just relax. There are no vendors selling goods or beachside restaurants crowding this beach. It is just sand and water with a handful of chic restaurants scattered along the coastline.

When people talk about Comporta they also refer to the general area along this coast. There are many small villages that make up this part of Portugal: Grândola, Carvlhal and down to Melides. When you drive along the windy cork tree-lined country roads you will run into some of these towns. But this is a destination that is laidback, restaurants are open as late and early as they see fit. You come to this part of the world to enjoy life at a slower pace. I grabbed lunch at the beach restaurant Ilha Do Arroz. The terrace was beautiful with the outside deck built over the beach and was a great place to enjoy a local rose wine and some food. The seafood here is the main star of the cuisine but I go for some vegetarian options. Food is delicious but the highlight is being back in a beach restaurant on European beach makes you trick your brain that summer is here after a long winter.

On my way to check in to my hotel zigzagging a windy road where horses roamed in their pasture; I check in at A Serenada Enoturismo. A boutique hotel on a vineyard about 35 mins from Comporta. The hotel is situated on a hill overlooking the vines and cork trees dominating the landscape. Having flown in from Dubai it takes me a while to let my nervous system recalibrate to the quietness and calm of my new temporary home. The infinity pool overlooking the vineyards looks terribly inviting. The man checking us in takes us for a tour of the hotel and noted that the grounds has some hiking paths through the vineyards. He informed us that the oldest vines in this vineyard were planted in the 1960s. He offered us a welcome drink I asked to try the red blend from the original vines, and it was my favorite of the wines I tasted from the vineyard.

Since most of the town was closed mid-day when there earlier, I headed back to Comporta for dinner. The boutiques are opening up and you could tell there was a little more energy in the air. First, we strolled an open market called ‘Casa da Cultura’ featuring a variety of small businesses selling their products. The vibe is relaxed but sophisticated. Mostly offering clothing and interior decor in the signature cool Comporta style.

I head over to ‘Be Comporta’ a casual restaurant open most of the day and night. The owner offers us their own beer that goes down dangerously smoothly. Young couples, families, and elders sit by tables scattered in the street enjoying themselves. You feel like you are home and safe in a little world of your own. I enjoy a homemade mushroom and chestnut soup and burger then the owner refers us to his other establishment around the corner for a late-night beer.

Next morning I woke up feeling refreshed when I see the endless green foliage of the Portuguese countryside. I have breakfast in the restaurant and head out for my last day. I planned a horseback riding excursion that will allow us to really enjoy the landscape and its nature. I arrive at Cavalos Na Areia a horse stable that feels super chic. A small mini pony names Caramel roams freely eating and patrolling the grounds. The staff was understanding about our lack of experience with horses when I said I can’t even remember how many years ago it's been since my last time riding. In a group of about 15, we head out onto the rice fields on our horses. The guides lead us to the sand dunes and I feel lucky that I have my horse is pretty calm occasionally stopping to snack on some grass. The hooves almost sink like in quicksand but the horses seem to enjoy being out riding. As we ride along the dunes up and down we eventually reach the beach. It is empty as far as the eye can see and feels like we have stepped back in time before mass civilization. I hear a drone buzzing above us as the company offers videos and photos from your ride for purchase. We purchased the package for both and they were high quality making us look like we knew what we were doing.

After the ride I head over to Praia do Carvalhal for lunch at ‘Sublime Comporta Beach Club’ and as we come up to the host she asked us if we have a reservation. We say ‘no’ and she replied, “Oh no, that’s not good”. So, if you would like to visit this trendy restaurant I suggest you make a reservation. We decide to head into Carvalhal for lunch instead. We end up sitting down at 5 Sentidos Comporta, a super cute bohemian chic restaurant with a great wine selection. I enjoyed a green vine, a gazpacho, and a delicious local asparagus risotto. Everything we tried tasted delicious and fresh.

Next, we headed over to Praia do Pego to enjoy the beach. Even though we are here at the beginning Of April the weather is warm enough to enjoy the beach. The water was defiantly chilly but felt good after laying in the sun for a few hours. You really cannot deny taking a dip in the crystal blue ocean.

I head back to the Hotel to freshen up and speak with the lovely man working at the hotel about booking a table for dinner at the restaurant here at the hotel. The thing about staying in beautiful hotels is that you almost feel guilty if you go out instead of enjoying the property. He suggests a 3-course dinner along with a wine tasting to try some of the wines that they produce. I asked if it was possible for them to make a vegan menu for us and he said it was no problem.

Before dinner though I went to check out an award-winning Gin Distillery in the area. It is called 'Black Pig Distillery’ in Santiago do Cacem about a 30-minute drive from the hotel. This company has been awarded the best gin in Europe two years in a row and sources their herbs from their own farm and forest in the area. The property is huge and they offer tours of their operations and farm for visitors. Speaking with the bartender he explains the process of the production and ingredients of the gin. We taste all of them as well as their new rum; which is the only rum produced in Portugal. This is a place you can bring the whole family because the farm has a plethora of different animals and birds. Some are super unique like black swans, white peacocks, goats, donkeys, and much more. Also, on the weekend they have performances for the guests while enjoying a G&T.

I head back to my hotel via some back country roads for my final dinner in Comporta. The sun is setting over the pine trees and horses freely roam the fields. At the hotel, we enjoy a 3-course meal made especially for us. We start off with a red pepper hummus with local vegetables and bread paired with a glass of white. The second course is a vegetable curry with rice. Paired with Cepas Cinquentenarias red blend. For dessert, we enjoyed a poached port wine pear; a traditional Portuguese dessert. Winding down for the evening I am filled with gratitude for these days. This is a place you really can get away and enjoy life without the overwhelming excessive tourists. It truly felt really special and magical.


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