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Sesimbra – That sweetest little fishing village in Portugal charms its visitors time and time again, and I don’t wonder why. Located in the Setúbal district, just over half an hour by train from the center of Lisbon, this old and idyllic gem hides inside it the atmosphere of the old town, the cozy hustle and bustle of the seafront promenade, history, nature and stunning beaches. Be enchanted by the spectacular views from Sesimbra Castle, treat yourself to local food and set out on an adventure to one of the most beautiful beaches in Arrábida Natural Park – Or take on the challenge and hike to the clear sea views of Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo’s secret beach cove!
WHAT TO DO IN SESIMBRA?
The center of Sesimbra is full of the atmosphere of the old town and the fishing village, with winding little streets, boutiques and colorful buildings, cozy little restaurants and cafes, as well as interesting details for photography enthusiasts. The center descends to the sunny wide Praia do California beach and its relaxed promenade, with a great variety of restaurants, cafes and bars to suit all tastes and needs.
Next to the town center rises a high mountainside up to the gray Moorish castle of Sesimbra, Castelo dos Mouros. The castle was classified as the National Monument of Portugal in 1910 and the panoramic views of this strategically well placed castle are well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee to the castle and inside its walls you will also find the old cemetery and the church of Santa Maria do Castelo, whose interior walls are decorated with beautiful blue and white azulejos.
In addition to the Moorish castle, it is also worth visiting the beachfront fortress of Sesimbra, the Fort of Santiago, which now also serves as a maritime museum and to which local fishermen have also donated old artifacts.
PADDLE BOARDING AT LAGOA DA ALBUFEIRA
Are you interested in paddle boarding, but the waves of the Atlantic scare you?
For the first time, we went to experiment paddle boarding with Johanna M., one of the writers of the blog Muu maa Mandariini, in the lagoon of Albufeira, where you can paddle board in peace without too much waves. The lagoon is a good spot for testing your own skills in various water activities, such as windsurfing and sup, as the lagoon has good equipment rentals and guides. This bluishly beautiful lagoon is wonderful to land on the sandbanks in the middle of it to watch crabs, but you should watch your toes, as the crabs may appear surprisingly close!
At the end of the activities, you can relax on the beach either on the shore of the lagoon, or head to the seaside to jump in the waves and enjoy the views of the Atlantic Ocean.
HISTORIC CABO ESPICHEL
The famous Cabo Espichel is located on the westernmost tip of the Setúbal district, about a 15km drive from the center of Sesimbra. Here, the steep rock walls meet the swarming waves and the magnificent coastal landscape still stays in the mind long after the visit.
The Santuario de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel, in English the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel, has been a popular destination among both pilgrims and scientists. The story goes that this 17th-century site has attracted pilgrims because the Virgin Mary has been seen riding a giant mule along the cliffs in the area. A short distance from the church also rises the lighthouse of Cabo Espichel, which is still in operation and also receives visitors.
Behind the church is the white chapel of Ermida da Memória, created to mark the place where, according to the story of the Virgin Mary, she appeared. According to the story, the Virgin Mary has ridden this giant mule along a steep rock wall and disappeared just after reaching up, leaving only the large footprints of the mule. Scientists and paleontologists, on the other hand, say the traces are traces of dinosaurs.
PEDRA DA MUA AND THE DINOSAUR TRACKS
Pedra da Mua is right next to the church area of Cabo Espichel and if you are interested in prehistoric dinosaurs, this is a must see place. Pedra da Mua is famous for its cliffs where dinosaur footprints have been found. Some of these depressions are very easy to detect, some require slightly more accurate zooming. The traces are believed to be from the late Jurassic period and about 145-200 million years old. The rocks have been covered with water until later emerged and traces revealed from them have been found. I myself am fascinated by these traces of dinosaurs and it was really fun to get to see these, and totally for free.
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PRAIA DO RIBEIRO DO CAVALO
Praia do Ribeiro do Cavalo is definitely one of my own favorite beaches near Lisbon. The beach has remained as fairly secret until the very few years and for a long time only the locals knew about this magnificent natural beach and the hiking trail leading there. However, with the help of social media and bush radio, the word about this beautiful beach cove slowly began to spread more widely and today the place is also known to many tourists, backpackers and locals alike. This beach is truly a bucket list destination for tourists in the Lisbon region, as long as you remember to respect its naturalness and also take with you everything you bring.
The route to the beach is quite challenging and already requires some good condition, as the trail is really steep to climb in places and at this point the four limbs are not too much at all. Good footwear is an absolute must, flip flops are not even worth bothering. There are no services on the beach, as it is a natural beach bathed in its own beauty, so your own lunch and water are recommended. In hindsight, I wouldn’t have wanted to go the route alone, especially because of my fear of hights, but luckily I managed to do the hike down untouched and the beach below really rewards you at the end. Luckily I had Johanna with me as a guide and a laughing buddy!
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<3: Tiina Johanna
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Arrábida is definitely the most magnificent Natural Park in Portugal and its beaches are so stunning. The Arrábida Natural Park is located in Setúbal, south of Lisbon’s famous bridge Ponte 25 de Abril, where you can enjoy the bohemian coastal atmosphere, pretty countryside and relaxed way of life right after crossing the bridge.
The journey to Setúbal and Arrábida is easily reached by train from the train stations in central Lisbon in less than an hour, after which you can explore Setúbal’s cozy old town and then grab a bus or an Uber to the Natural Park. You can get to know the local buses in more detail through the Moovit App, and in addition to the Uber, I definitely recommend downloading a similar but much cheaper Bolt app as well.
The distance from Setúbal to the beautiful beaches of Arrábida is about 10 kilometers, so many people like to use the bus or other transportation, but some have also hiked the journey, walking through the wonderful seaside sceneries. The walk from Setúbal is mostly uphill, but on the way back is of course more downhill. With the Uber/Bolt you can also go directly to the starting points of the beaches you want and back, but there is still some walking towards the beach from the road. Good footwear is recommended and no flip-flops, as the routes from the road to the beaches are in places rocky, steep and difficult paths, some more than others.
ARRÁBIDA NATURAL PARK – PROTECTED GREEN NATURE PARK
Serra da Arrábida is a beautiful and green protected Natural Park full of forest and mountain scenery, spectacular viewpoints, a wide range of different fauna and flora and untouched nature, as well as the most delightful beaches, some more touristic and some more natural and have even remained quite secret until the few previous years. The nature park is a perfect experience for both active walkers and hikers as well as those who love stunning natural beaches and water activities. Friends of the vineyards will also find new tasty experiences here, as there are vineyards in the area of the nature park that make local well-known Muscatel wine made from nutmeg. Do not miss this experience when visiting the Setúbal region!
THE ENCHANTING BEACHES OF ARRÁBIDA
The coastline of Arrábida is filled with the most attractive white sand beaches, which are perfect for swimming in the clear turquoise sea water. These beaches are not very windy and they aren’t a good choice if you love to surf the waves of Portugal, as the beaches are quite sheltered from the big waves of the Atlantic. As I mentioned earlier, the beaches are very different from each other and everyone is sure to find a place to spend a beach day that suits their own wishes and needs.
PRAIA DA FIGUEIRINHA
Praia da Figueirinha is a popular full-service, long-lined, white-sand beach with a lot to do. There is a large car park next to the beach and a bus stop. On the beach you will find a restaurant, toilets, parasols, water activities and everything in between. Where the beach is beautiful empty at the end of the day after people leave, I would never go on this beach during the daytime myself because of its popularity and crowds. I like peace and naturalness more, but for families with children, for example, this works well because of its many services. The beach is also easily accessible directly from the road.
PRAIA DOS GALAPOS
Praia dos Galapos is located on the coast a bit further from Figueirinha and this is also a popular beach. There is a small terrace and a restaurant with toilets, as well as opportunities for water activities, but Galapos is much calmer than Figueirinha and at least in my opinion also more beautiful because of the surrounding nature. The Galapos is also easily accessible on foot from the road.
PRAIA DOS GALAPINHOS
Praia dos Galapinhos has for long been my personal favorite and it is located right next to the Galapos, behind a large stone pile. Between these two beaches, at low tide, you can easily walk along the beach sand and while the high tide is still shallow, you can also walk through the shallow water from one beach to another. At high tide, I don’t know about the depth and the challenges, but at least it’s not without getting wet and it’s not a good idea to swim too close to the rocks because of the waves. You can walk on top of the stone pile, but here you should be careful with your steps. Having tested this route myself, I can still say that it can be done. The most common route to the clear waters of Galapinhos is from the top down from the road, which is moderately easy, but I still recommend paying attention to your steps when coming down.
Galapinhos is a good choice if you want to find your private place between the rocks and feel at your own peace. There are also good snorkelling opportunities here and it is easy to swim and watch the fish from the surface. In the middle of the beach there are also kayak and paddleboard rentals and sun chairs with shades for rent. Galapinhos is a beautiful natural beach with just a few amenities and it is a great beach to enjoy your own peace by thea clear turquoise ocean.
PRAIA DOS COELHOS
Praia dos Coelhos is currently my latest discovery and my current favorite. Here, the route goes a little further up the same big road of the nature park,and the path is a bit hidden in the middle of a small parking area. You should find out the path in advance so that you are sure to find just the right route, as you may easily find yourself again on the path to Galapinhos. A good tip is to turn right rather than left. 😉 The Coelhos path is a bit longer, requires good footwear due to its rockiness and gives even a little adventure to its walker. However, the challenge of the route is at an appropriate level and totally doable.
When I finally arrive at the end of the path leading to Coelhos, a wonderful sandy beach, still quiet in the morning mist, opens from between the trees, it feels as if one has stepped into another world. At the time of our first visit in the early morning, the beach was empty and foggy, the air warm but not hot yet and only a few couples camping on the edge of the beach were there besides me and my friend. Out of the fog, we could barely see a paddleboarder paddling in the water, but he soon disappeared back behind the fog. We settled behind the rocks ourselves in our own little private spot on the beach and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of the morning, with a refreshing morning swim of course. This moment is the magical moment I always love on these natural beaches of Arrábida. Just me and the sea.
After a while, the sun began to rise and the fog slowly disappeared. The air heats up suddenly and slowly the beach starts to attract more people. Praia dos Coelhos is a natural beach, so there are no services here. The rule is that you take everything you bring with you when you leave so that the beach stays tidy and the ecosystem does not suffer from the trash. The same rule, of course, applies to all beaches. As the day progresses, there are more people and especially on the weekends, but the coziness of the beach is still present. The beach may no longer be as secret as it used to be before Instagram, but hopefully it would still remain just as it is, without services and without large crowds of tourists.
CHOICES FOR EVERYONE
There are also other beaches in the Arrábida Natural Park, such as Praia do Creiro and the beach in the adorable fishing village of Portinho da Arrábida, as well as Praia da Saúde at the end of downtown Setúbal, just a short drive from Setúbal. I’ll tell you about Setúbal in later articles to come, so stay tuned.
Arrábida’s hiking trails and paths to the beaches can be easily found via the Open Street Map.
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<3: Tiina Johanna