Sanctuary and Solitude

One of Portugal’s best-kept secrets used to be its southwestern corner, where deserted beaches and cliffs are protected by Natural Park status. But a new ecotourism project—a 345-km (215-mile) hiking trail called the Rota Vicentina (—has sparked a sustainable-tourism boom. More ecolodges and facilities are popping up, but beaches remain pristine, and the fish and shellfish served at local restaurants are among the freshest and best to be found anywhere in the country. This area also boasts some of the country’s best surfing spots.

Day 1: Arrábida and Setúbal

If you’re starting out from Lisbon, don’t miss the Serra de Arrábida, with its deep-green pine forests. The sheltered beaches on its southern flanks are bathed by warmer waters than those on the west coast of the peninsula. Overnight in the lovely seaside town of Sesimbra, where calm waters invite swimmers from April through November, and the cobbled streets of the historic center are lined with simple restaurants serving some of the best seafood in Portugal (the town's symbol is a swordfish, and it's motto is Sesimbra é Peixe, meaning "Sesimbra is Fish"). Half an hour away, the small city of Setúbal offers Gothic architecture, colorful street art, and dolphin-watching boat trips.

Day 2: Alcácer do Sal

This ancient town is famed for its salt-making tradition, castle, and profusion of storks. The nearby Reserva Natural do Sado offers opportunities for walkers, or you could head for the beach at Comporta, which also has several excellent restaurants.

Day 3: Vila Nova de Milfontes

Just to the south of the port city of Sines, the real wilderness begins: the Parque Natural do Sudeoeste Alentejao e Costa Vicentina. Vila Nova de Milfontes is among the few towns along this bit of coast, which has stunning beaches at places such as Zambujeira do Mar.

Day 4: Vila do Bispo

As you cross the border into the Algarve, smaller local roads continue to lead off the highway to an amazing variety of beaches, such as Arrifana. They lack fancy hotels and restaurants but are popular with water-sports enthusiasts. End your day at Vila do Bispo, a handy local base.

Day 5: Sagres

Even nonsurfers will find plenty to enthuse at Portugal’s southwestern corner. The views from the hilltop fort at Sagres and the lighthouse on Cape Saint Vincent are truly spectacular. From here you can head east for a spell at noisier, more sociable resorts such as Albufeira, or head north from there up the motorway to Lisbon.

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