Most of us would agree that the booking of summer holidays is an anxiety inducing situation. Yes its an incredibly privileged irony to find trip planning stressful, but these days there just isn't the margin to get it wrong: Holidays cost a fortune and no-one wants to splurge on something that falls short of the utopia of full family enjoyment. Not to mention that we are all so time poor that many of us leave it too late and panic search, trying to find Six Senses for the cost of Holiday Inn, weeks before travelling.
So- it's with trepidation that I approach this Summer holiday: trying to tick multiple and varied family member requirement boxes for less that the cost of a medium sized house extension. One of the ticks (for me): going somewhere a bit unchartered. And a name keeps popping up again and again: Comporta in Portugal. Wild white beaches, rice paddy fields, masses of nature, and a creative buzz, an hour south of Lisbon, made up of several romantic sounding small villages: Comporta, Carvalhal, Melides, Pego, Carrasqueira. It sounds like heaven, even before I read of an atmosphere a little like Ibiza thirty years ago and some impressive devotees (hello Madonna and Philippe Starck). Plus we already love Portugal - see my Porto blog. We take the plunge and book, with a weekend in Lisbon to start ( I will write about our Lisbon city break another day)
So: an hours drive from Lisbon and a thirty minute car ferry (35 euro each way) across the Sado estuary, with dolphin spotting on the menu, to reach the Troia peninsula that sits at the top of Comporta. As we approach, the long strip of deserted white sand looks a lot like paradise. Short story: we leave IN LOVE. And yes there's part of me that wants to keep Comporta a secret, but hey ho. Here’s what we do and how we do it.
The recommended way to explore the Comporta area is by staying in a traditional house. I'm generally all about the airbnb, but with children in and approaching teen-dom, the family criteria has shifted slightly. (Also be warned, a local house in Comporta with a good pool requires extreme forward planning which we are not in possession of.) So, instead we give the Pestana Troia a whirl: an eco resort of wooden villas set in a conservation area of pine forest, sand dunes and white beach, with private plunge pools and access to facilities like gym, tennis court and football pitch. It's a baby step towards the all inclusive of the kids dreams, but still very much in tune with nature, gorgeously quiet and aesthetically pleasing. Success all round. A car is essential as it’s ten minutes north of the 'official' Comporta area. (we use Green Motion car hire). If it’s a hotel in Comporta proper you're after there are some gorgeous ones, from budget busting (Spatia Comporta, Sublime Comporta, Quinta da Comporta and the newly opened Christian Louboutin hotel Vermelho) to boutique at Almalusa. And for local houses along with Airbnb there is Comporta Homepage.
Where to begin. Like nothing I’ve seen in Europe is a starter. There are many online comparisons, but for me the wide white beaches serve Indonesia/Cambodia vibes, particularly with the flat green paddy fields all around. The Pestana has sole use of the pure white beach within the nature reserve: which is immaculate with sea as calm as a lake - each morning we have an early morning swim ( the beach is minutes from our cabin accessed over wooden walkways- instant happiness). The shoreline is peppered with shells the size of my youngest's hand, and the odd meditating resort guest. It is such perfection it feels a little like the final scene in the Truman show. Travelling along the coast south towards Melides the visuals get wilder and the waves bigger- Praia do Carvalhal and Praia do Pego have surf hire and beach clubs, and the kids love wave jumping. Praia da Gale is accessed over spectacular rocky cliffs, and could be used as a Star Wars location. Praia de Melides is huge and beautiful. And everywhere, no crowds and no litter. Plus did I mention that the whole Comporta coast faces the sunset. Again- so good it's almost like a film set. The sea brings us back down to earth: this is the Atlantic and the clear water is Wim Hoff worthy, but it feels good. Exhilarating is the word of the week.
If it’s laid back beach clubs with dj's and Ibiza vibes you fancy, Comporta delivers. We try the new Sublime Comporta beach club (an off shoot of the hotel) at Carvalhal with its Elle Deco worthy rattan interior and 360 degree views. Comporta Cafe on the beach at Comporta is equally pretty, with excellent seafood and sushi, with a classical serenade at sunset, and we eat fish tacos at JNcQUOI beach cabana club on the sand at Pego beach. For authentic Portuguese we eat fresh fish at the no frills O Melindense in Melides. And for the kids we try huge pizza's ( with adult pisco sours) in Pizza Pisco , and excellent piadinas at the tucked away Zanotta bar with it's house party vibe. Comporta produces its own ice cream at the stylish Gulato a few minutes drive out of Comporta town. And cost wise? With five to feed each night its still possible to come in under 100 euros. Everywhere is relaxed, effortless and fabulous. And there is absolutely no dress code, in Comporta you roll in whatever you fancy.
It's entirely possible to have the holiday of dreams here simply exploring the beaches, pottering the towns, and eating with sand between your toes. But we rouse ourselves in the afternoons to explore what else Comporta has to offer. Horse riding on the beach is a big thing in the area so I give it a solo whirl at Passeios a Cavalo in Melides. It's glorious, a slow meander across dunes and beach, suitable for any level of experience (none in my case) and although I dismount barely able to walk it's worth it. We stop one afternoon at the brilliant Carrasqueira port on stilts, built in the 1950's by fisherman, and now considered a work of art. We also explore the Sado estuary on an electric boat with Sunrice Tours: The area is a haven for wildlife. Highlight: A flying flock of pink flamingos. The boat tour also allows us to stop off at the town of Alcacer do sal twenty minutes out of Comporta Town: Think winding streets and a gorgeous hilltop church of traditional blue Portuguese tiles. Husband's church fixation sated.
Comporta is seriously chic and full of high end resort and interiors goodness presented in an understated, squint and you'll miss it sort of way; it's easy to pass by the Assouline coffee table books, Lisa Marie Fernandez swimwear and Zimmerman kaftans thinking they are just the usual holiday fare. Literally every shop is divine (bad news for accompanying family) but I love the Casa da Cultura Portuguese store in Comporta Town , and Vida Dura, that mixes flowers with high end interiors in Melides. While some things are wildly pricey, the jewellery is surprisingly competitive- I buy a turquoise necklace at The Spot pop up market for less than 15 euros that i havent taken off since. The only area that isn't covered in Comporta is the more tourist geared souvenir, of which I am unashamedly a fan. For that the streets of Alcacar do sal fit the bill. I almost jump up and down at the discovery of a water jug in the shape of a Portuguese neckerchiefed man, complete with removable hat. Niche, but it makes me very happy. We can't be seriously chic all the time after all.
Comporta is a total discovery: a little Ibiza, a little south of France, with a chilled out creative vibe that’s all it's own. The pace is slow, activity is optional and the holiday feels like 6 months of therapy condensed into one week of endless beach and sunshine. It's the sort of place to discover more of each time, and for a hardened 'only visit once' traveller, I’m already looking at houses for a 2024 return trip.
Thank you for reading! And a big thank you to everyone who tipped me off on places to visit in Comporta. Please do let me know if there are places I haven't covered for next visit.
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