Lay of the Land
Located on Portugal’s Troia Peninsula, Herdade da Comporta refers to the 30,000-acre swath of land sandwiched between the Atlantic Ocean and the Sado river estuary. Much of it is a protected nature reserve, which explains its vast and glorious underdevelopment. It comprises seven sleepy seaside villages, one of which is called Comporta; the others are Pego, Carvalhal, Brejos, Torre, Possanco, and Carrasqueira.
The beaches to know are Comporta Beach, a favorite for day-trippers from Lisbon; exclusive Pego Beach, home to the area’s unofficial clubhouse, Restaurante Sal; and Carvalhal beach, popular with surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers. In the summer, it’s not uncommon for the beaches to be livened up with a DJ…but the vibe remains astonishingly low-key.
The Alentejo region, which comprises about a third of Portugal’s entire landmass, stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border. Inland Alentejo is marked by, farmland, vineyards and vast, rolling hills punctuated by cork oaks and olive trees. Historic cities, as well as imposing fortresses and abandoned castles, dot the rural region, as a reminder of its past as part of the Roman, Moorish and Visigoth empires. Medieval Évora in the north is the region’s largest city and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with a preserved Roman temple and walled city center. Beja, situated on a hilltop in the southern part of Alentejo, is known for its expansive castle and Visigothic museum. Bearing resemblance to Tuscany, inland Alantejo also has a burgeoning wine industry and offers a relaxed countryside escape. While the underdevelopment keeps the region charming and authentic, it also contributes to a lack of upscale accommodations and amenities.
Beginning in Porto and extending over 500 miles inland to the Spanish border, the Douro river valley is known as Portugal’s premiere wine region. Green mountains descend to the serpentine Douro River and the mountains’ faces are etched with tiers of vineyards and thick forests. The picturesque valley is home to several quaint towns and villages, as well as many renowned wineries.
Getting There & Around
The most direct way to arrive to Comporta are by flying into Lisbon, and then driving a short hour south. Those with some time on their hands may wish to take the scenic route, which means driving from Lisbon to Setubal and boarding the car ferry boat to Troia. The 30-minute crossing of the Sado river offers beautiful views and potential dolphin sightings.
Due to the lack of taxis and spread-out nature of the region’s attractions and beaches (there are about 37 miles of unspoiled coastline), a rental car is essential to making the most out of a Comporta vacation.
For those going to destinations in the northern part of inland Alentejo, like the stunning medieval town of Évora, it is best to fly into Lisbon and then drive an hour and a half. For areas in the Southern Alentejo, fly direct to Faro (from many European cities like Lisbon, Paris and London) and then drive up to towns like Beja (about 2 hours). Renting a car is the easiest way to travel around Alentejo.
The best way to get to the heart of the Douro Valley is to fly into Francisco Sa Carneiro airport in Porto from Lisbon or many other European capitals (such as Madrid, Paris, London) and drive an hour and 15 minutes. Otherwise, the valley is a 4-hour drive from Lisbon. It is imperative to have a car in the Douro Valley if you want to visit multiple vineyards and towns.
Who Should Go
While Comporta is growing as a buzzy destination, often likened to St. Tropez in the ‘70s and present-day Jose Ignacio, the tourism industry is just barely emerging and the infrastructure is quite basic. As such, service is slow at hotels and restaurants. Options for dining out and shopping are still quite limited, and businesses operate on their own schedule and may decide to close at any given moment. The pace of life is deliberately lackadaisical and leisure-centric, with days consisting of long lunches and sun-soaked afternoons at the beach. Those seeking five-star service and/or requiring options for activities to fill their time should book elsewhere.
Indagare Tip: Comporta is home to the biggest rice fields in Portugal. Given its landscape criss-crossed with irrigation canals and bordered by the Sado river estuary, mosquitos are prevalent at dusk. But it’s not as bad as it sounds—do as the locals do and enjoy your aperitif indoors. After the sun sets, it’s safe to head back outside for dinner al fresco.
With few luxury properties and a laidback feel, Alentejo is best for those looking for an authentic and rural Portuguese experience. Those in search of beautiful landscapes and culture will like discovering the picturesque castles and quaint towns that dot the countryside region. Those who want nonstop activities and a buzzy scene will not be happy here, as the region is very sleepy and quiet.
Oenophiles will be delighted by this gorgeous and peaceful wine region and travellers will rejoice at the standout Six Senses Douro Valley. Commanding an incredible position with views of the mountains and river, the luxury resort will keep both parents and children happy with lots of amenities.
When to Go
Comporta’s season is surprisingly short. While the summer season technically runs May to September, the best time to visit is during July and August; even in the high season, the beaches are large enough to avoid feeling overcrowded. While the weather is lovely in June and September, and the beaches blissfully empty, the villages can feel like a ghost town and most of the restaurants and shops are already shuttered or operating on reduced schedules. In a region with already limited places to eat and shop, it’s best to visit during prime time.
The summers can be extremely hot and dry, especially the further south you go, and the winters mild, but rainy. The best time of year is late spring or early fall.
The weather throughout the year is fairly temperate, but May and June are ideal because there is little rain, warm weather and no crowds. July and August can be very hot. Harvest season in September is especially vibrant and busy with lots of events.