Here's everything you need to know to have an unforgettable beach vacation in Comporta, a local favorite in Portugal.
COMPORTA, Portugal - Because the pandemic has been so devastating for so many, writing about travel can seem trivial and a little irresponsible. But when I am reminded by how vast and intertwined the tourism industry is with so many parts of the global economy, I feel good about encouraging daydreaming and trip because doing so will reinvigorate the countless livelihoods that have been affected by our inability to travel. So while we may remain sidelined a little longer and redirected to explore locally, borders will soon stay open for good and the world will truly emerge from its devastating slumber.
Last summer I traveled with family and friends to Comporta, a village on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean an hour south of Lisbon. As a traveler, not a tourist, I chose Comporta and the Alentejo region for our summer holiday because I was looking for Portugal’s quiet coast, where the Portuguese spend their weekends away. Turns out I was spot-on.
As you drive away from the city and cross the Tygus River into the Alentejo, the landscape gradually changes, giving way to dry pastures, vineyards, towering umbrella pine trees, and electric green rice fields. In this part of Portugal, the scent of pine lingers in the warm breeze, the sound of cicadas competes with the boom of crashing waves, and the only traffic on the road is from a tractor making its way.
Though close to the capital, Comporta has its own quiet soul, attracting families who come to the area year after year to vacation away from the crowds who flock to the busy Algarve beaches in the south. Comporta draws few Brits, fewer Americans, and lots of international surfers who come to explore the breaks down the coast. Visit Comporta if you seek tranquility, empty beaches, good food, and the endless blue of the Atlantic. Oh, how I wish I could be there right now!
Lay of the Land
Located in the northwest corner of the rural region of Alentejo, Comporta is the kind of place that if you aren’t paying attention and sneeze while driving, you will miss it. The community that makes up Comporta is comprised of three villages from north to south: Comporta, Carvalhal, and Pego. Located just off the main highway that runs parallel to the Atlantic Ocean, the series of white-washed villages are mainly residential, each with its own small commercial district (with the exception of Pego). Until recently, the area around Comporta has been largely shielded from development, in large part because most of the land was privately owned by one family. In 2014, bankruptcy caused their estate and land holdings to be divided, drawing speculation that new development was inevitable. Fast forward six years, and Comporta remains as it has, with limited new construction thanks to environmental and structural restrictions that make investment and building more challenging. (Development is forbidden within 500 meters of the beach. Isn’t that enlightened government?) There are no all-inclusive resorts, no large, beach-front hotels, no strip-malls, cinemas, or discos. To the contrary, Comporta breathes simplicity with a few small, high-end boutique hotels, and a myriad of private homes for rent.
Where to Stay
A few minutes south of Pego is Sublime Comporta, a small hotel discretely tucked in away from the highway under a canopy of giant umbrella pines. The cedar-framed rooms, suites, and villas, designed to mimic the traditional fishing cabanas found locally, are spread out across the property to allow for privacy and to promote a rhythm of slow living. The simple architecture is complemented by sandy paths, cork trees, and wild grasses that are indigenous to the area. Accommodations at Sublime feature a minimalist, rustic décor that is simultaneously luxurious and comfortable. Many of the rooms feature private pools or decks with fire pits that beckon guests outside. In addition to the original rooms, Sublime has recently introduced a series of villas perched on the edge of a lagoon, a welcome place to enjoy a quiet evening watching fireflies.
Food at Sublime Comporta is definitely a focal point. The hotel’s main restaurant, Sem Porta, highlights a seasonal cuisine comprised of ingredients from local producers, including fishermen, farmers, and wineries. In front of Sem Porta is Sublime’s organic garden, which surrounds the Food Circle, an intimate and unforgettable outdoor dining experience limited to twelve people. Here, guests have the opportunity to dine in the garden, under the stars, with direct contact with the chefs as they create and cook over an open flame. In between meals or a trip to the beach (Sublime just opened its own beach club and restaurant), spend time in Sublime’s state-of-the-art organic spa, lay by the pool, stretch it out in the yoga pavilion, or hit a few balls on the tennis court. Whatever your speed, Sublime has something for everyone, but chill is definitely on the menu here.
Quinta da Comporta
The newly opened Quinta da Comporta adds a slice of fabulousness to the selection of accommodations in the area. Nestled beside vast rice fields, Quinta da Comporta is set just below the main road at the entrance to Carvalhal. The inspiration for the architecture and design of the resort and its 73 rooms, suites, townhouses, and villas draws from the natural environment of Comporta. The use of white-washed walls, salvaged materials such as wood and stone, and a neutral color palette reflect the relaxed atmosphere of local living. The large property is also home to a stunning spa with soaring ceilings framed in repurposed timbers. The spa pool with beautiful pastoral views is the perfect place to indulge in a relaxing moment of solitude. Beside the spa is the resort’s elegant brick patio with chaise loungers, umbrellas, and expansive above-ground glass pool. Beyond the pool is Quinta da Comporta’s outstanding main restaurant, serving a variety of Portuguese and Mediterranean dishes reflecting the bounty of this part of the Atlantic coast. While Quinta da Comporta is definitely marketing itself as a wellness destination, the resort is also very family-friendly, and perfectly suited for large group gatherings.
The area around Comporta is host to a number of private rental accommodations in all different categories. A few noteworthy properties are those under the umbrella of Silent Living, a collection of small villas designed to reflect the traditional fishing cabanas found in the area. The cabanas, anchored by a beautiful lap pool, are minimally designed with a white color palate, sand floors, and views of the natural reserve of the river Sado.
Large groups or a pair of families should consider renting Casa do Pego or Campo de Arroz, beautiful properties in Carvalhal that accommodates big groups, have infinity pools, views of the rice fields, and access to the beach. These are just a few of many private properties available to rent in the area. In addition, Airbnb has a large selection of accommodations. Before committing, be sure that you are comfortable with the location (consult your map), as location is everything!
Where to Eat and Drink
There is no shortage of good food in this part of Portugal. Most of the restaurants in the area draw from the community’s abundance of organic farmers and local fishermen.
Minerva is a favorite lunch spot in Comporta. Excellent organic salads, appetizers, and cheeseburgers are made with fresh, local ingredients and served in this secret garden at picnic tables in the shade of a giant oak tree. Sounds idyllic, right? For squirrely children, there is a foosball table and swings. Avoid Minerva in the evening, as mosquitos make this atmosphere almost unbearable.
Gomes Casa de Vinhos & Petiscos
This lovely family-owned restaurant is right on the square opposite the family’s impeccably curated grocery (more on that later). On our first evening in Comporta, we waltzed in without a reservation (a group of nine, including five children) and were accommodated with a wink and a smile. No problem. Inside the restaurant, simple, local dishes are served by the owners, who also have no problem accommodating children’s requests of buttered pasta. Gomes also has an excellent wine list showcasing many local, organic wines of different varietals.
Perched on the dunes above Pego Beach, Sal is an institution of a restaurant. Family-owned and -operated, Sal is the place for a long, alfresco, leisurely seafood lunch. At night, Sal is equally amazing for dinner under the stars. The owners run two other ventures, Sal Burger and da Comporta. Sal Burger, a semi-permanent food truck in the park in Carvalhal, serves a very limited menu of burgers, beer, and cocktails. Da Comporta, a stone’s throw from Jardin Minerva, serves Italian food for those craving pizza and pasta.
In the heart of Comporta, Cavalarica is arguably one of the hottest tables to book in Comporta. The converted stable house-turned-restaurant has a warm, romantic ambience, a place where long dinners are to be enjoyed among friends. The menu is refined, reflecting the biodiversity of the region. Plates are small and meant to be shared, allowing everyone a taste. Cavalarica is known for its cocktails, so be prepared to experiment outside your comfort zone.
Piadinas Zanotta Bar
Adjacent to Minerva, this little bar is a great spot for a pre-dinner cocktail. Grab a seat at one of the picnic tables and watch the sun go down over the rice fields. For nibbles, a food truck on the property serves wonderful piadinas, wraps akin to a stuffed quesadilla.
Pastelaria Geladaria A Tulipa
This little bakery in Carvalhal is the perfect spot for morning coffee, fresh orange juice, and pastries. Unassuming and completely local, the savory pastries were most memorable.
Where to Shop
This lovely interior design shop in the center of tiny Carvalhal carries a curated selection of furniture and design objects.
THE shop in Comporta where boho-chic meets the beach. One could easily find a colorful kaftan or sundress for every day of the week (if not month) in this expansive shop in the center of town. The front door is adjacent to Bar Colmo, which will happily whip up a spritz or an espresso to enjoy while you shop. They also have an online platform.
The selection of luxury beachwear at Côté-Sud, a tiny shop just off Comporta’s main square, is unparalleled. Stocking bikinis and one-pieces from brands such as Eres and Lenny Niemeyer and beautiful frocks from designers like Lemlem, Lisa Marie Fernandez, and Pippa Holt. If you have money to burn, this is where you will want to spend it.
If you have to stock a kitchen during your stay in Comporta, this incredible little grocery store in Comporta has it all, from local cheese and charcuterie to produce, dry goods, and wine. Do your grocery shopping in the morning because in the afternoon the check-out line is like none you’ve ever seen. Gomes is also an excellent place to purchase a Portuguese straw bag to lug your goods. Look up: They hang from the ceiling.
What to Do
Hit the Beach
You don’t come to Comporta unless you are gunning for the sand and the ocean! Each village has its own stretch of empty, golden beach backed by sand dunes and sea grass. Umbrellas and lounge chairs are for hire for a nominal fee and lifeguards are at the ready. The ocean here is perfect for swimming, body boarding, and those learning to surf bigger breaks.
Don’t worry if you get hungry: Each beach has its own restaurant and bar. Most recently, Sublime Comporta has taken over the structure at Praia do Carvalhal and created the Sublime Comporta Beach Club. It had not yet opened when I was there, but the published menu looks simply, well, sublime. To the south is Praia do Pego, where family-run Restaurant Sal has held court for many years and has a loyal local following (see above). To the north on Praia do Comporta, Comporta Café is an unpretentious beach restaurant serving simple, yet classic Portuguese dishes featuring local staples such as rice and seafood.
So, you want to learn to surf? Check out Surf in Comporta on Carvalhal Beach for surf and bodyboard lessons, and wet suit and board rentals. Private and group lessons for both adults and kids are available.
Watch for Dolphins
Book a boat ride through Airbnb experiences, which will take you searching for these wonderful whimsical creatures and will introduce you to remote inlets and coves along the coast. For a more organized group experience, contact Vertigem Azul, who take guests on a three-hour catamaran trip in the Sado River estuary to watch the dolphins.
Riding on the beach is a special way to experience the landscape of Comporta. Expert guides from Cavalos na Areia will lead you on a ride through the rice paddies and pine forest that dead ends in the dunes of the beach.
The dominant wine producer is the area is Herdade da Comporta, located right outside Comporta. If only I could buy their rose in the United States! Call ahead to make an appointment to taste two or five wines. Prices from 3 to 5 euros.
If I Had One More Day
I would linger just a bit longer with my morning coffee on the deck. I would walk just a little farther on my stroll through Pego’s farms. I would have one more glass of crisp white wine at lunch. I would watch the sunset from the beach instead of rushing home to shower for dinner. I would indulge in a second scoop of artisanal gelato from the Gelato Comporta vendor on my evening stroll through Comporta.
What I Wish I Had Known on the First Day
North of Comporta is the Troia Peninsula, a stretch of land that has succumbed to development and should be avoided, unless you are catching a boat, which would require a visit. Speaking of boats, unless you have never seen a dolphin, spotting one is like finding a needle in a haystack. Don’t take a boat ride just to see dolphins; hop in a boat to experience the area from a different vantage point and to see beaches and hamlets that only have sea access.
Check out the quaint coastal village of Porto Covo and have lunch outside on the square at Marques Cervejara e Marisqueira. (Note: It’s closed on Sundays.)
Drive a little further afield to Praia de Odeceixe, a beautiful sliver of a beach backed by a river.
Stop for lunch on the steep descent at Bar da Praia, a hidden gem of a tiny restaurant with a bird’s eye view of the river.
Spend the day away from the beach in rural Alentejo.
Explore the hill town of Evora, with a stop at Almendres Cromlech, a megalithic complex of stones found in a field in 1966, dating to the 6th millennium BC.
Plan Your Trip
It is really hard to explore this part of Portugal without a car. If you fly into Lisbon, the northern reaches of the Alentejo are an hour away. While Google Maps is reliable in this area, be sure to stick to the main roads. A wrong turn led us through someone’s backyard and up and over a mountain via a dried river bed. We made it home, but I wouldn’t have wanted to inspect the undercarriage of our car. Proceed with caution!