An early departure from Portugal’s effervescent capital, over 25 de Abril bridge. Our day-bags are packed - bathing suits are essential, perhaps a straw hat, sunscreen, and a healthy appetite. Prepare yourself to be left breathless as you take in views of the river Tagus. Luisa Sobral’s “Maria do Mar” is stretching her wings and ready to soar through the radio. We have our playlist ready as Lisbon disappears in our review mirror: Zambujo, Jobim, Mariza, Bethânia and the ever-iconic Amalia Rodrigues. Join us on this journey from Lisbon to the bohemian chic villages of Comporta and Melides, and then on to the vineyards and olive groves of Montemor-o-Novo. A road trip of a lifetime where the journey is almost as beautiful as the destinations themselves. This is a triangle we’d choose to get lost in.
Lisbon has been the leading lady in Portugal for many seasons. Not only is the capital city steeped in history and charm, but it has had a re-awakening of sorts in recent years. The renovation of historically significant buildings, re-imagining of abandoned spaces, and mass exodus to the old city centers, has given Lisbon an intangibly cool edge that appeals to all - from digital nomads to retirees from around the world. Luiz Felipe Maia, Maia International Properties founder, has been a believer in Lisbon’s magic for several years now. He has added an impressive roster of apartments, penthouses, and villas to his portfolio. Much of Lisbon’s magic lies in this ideal combination of modernity and tradition. As well as the seven rolling hills, resplendent views over rooftops, sailboats gliding along the Tagus River, historically significant museums, theatres, ‘Calçada Portuguesa’ cobbled streets, street art, and colorful tiles that adorn the exteriors of buildings. Let us not forget the cuisine. Lisbon is fast making a name for itself in international food circles.
The world has discovered Lisbon in all its glory, but where do locals and foreigners in-the-know go to escape? One hour south of Lisbon lie the beach villages of Comporta and Melides. This is where sustainable, slow-living is finding its footing. Far from being sleepy rural villages, their quiet sophistication has long attracted renowned artists, designers and a-listers. Even Christian Louboutin has chosen Melides as a place to kick off his heels. The French designer has recently launched a hotel named Vermelho (red) inspired by his signature red-soled shoes.
Comporta and Melides are located on the West Coast of Alentejo and form part of the Sado Estuary, a nature reserve and protected area. One can spot over 200 bird species in the estuary. Rice-paddies, pine forests, rolling dunes, salt marshes, wildflowers and olive trees surround the collection of villages that make up the Comporta region. The self-proclaimed epicenter being Comporta Village. This is a place where the traditional farmer’s and fishermen’s huts are celebrated. Thatch, wood, reeds, neutral palettes with splashes of colour.
Perhaps the most appealing thing about this region is the anonymity it affords even the most famous celebrities. Salty hair and sandy feet are encouraged, that being said, there is nothing plain about the region’s gastronomy and boutiques. Sal, Cavalariça and JNcQUOI are firm favourites with locals and foreigners alike. For interior design, homeware, clothes and lined baskets, Rice and Lavanda are inspired choices. However, the beaches are the most fragrant of cinnamons on top of this delicious “pastel de nata”. Untouched coastline as far as the eye can see. Europe’s largest stretch of beach, and the third largest in the world. Dolphin-spotting is a must, as is horse-riding with Cavalos na Areia. If heaven is a place on earth, this could be it.
Luiz has a profound understanding of the region and what it is that makes something prestigious. He has cherry-picked several Villas for consideration. Several of them located in a high-end resort named Spatia (space or room in Latin). Developments in the area are very carefully planned to preserve this feeling of serenity and seclusion. The architecture at Spatia is contemporary with a nod to Comporta style. Patio living, large pools, open-plan entertainment areas, always with large windows and high ceilings that invite nature in at every turn. The five-star services and amenities allow one to erase maintenance headaches out of the country homeownership equation. The only logistics to consider are how best to relax. Nowhere else in Europe does coastline development feel so private, all a short buggy ride to an immaculate beach.
Our favourite stretch of road in Portugal is the drive from Comporta into rural Alentejo. Antonio Zambujo, the Alentejo native, might be a good choice of soundtrack for this section of the roadtrip. Meander in smooth zigzag motion – ethereal beauty at every turn - an ancient cork tree, the sun running its fingers through the grass, wildflowers’ choreographed dance in the breeze. This feels like a humbler place, one for those who love to be alone with their thoughts.
The third location in our timeless trinity is Montemor-o-Novo. We’ve arrived in wine country. Vineyards, as far as the eye can see, grow on a tranquil south-facing valley with the medieval castle of Montemor on the horizon. Montemor region is well-known for its full-bodied red wines. Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah varieties of grape all thrive here. Alentejo is the best-preserved region of Europe, an extensive nature reserve, dotted with cathedrals, museums, UNESCO world heritage sites, menhirs and dolmens - some dating back to Upper Palaeolithic times. The Romans and Moors have lived here. Farmers and royalty. This is the true heart of Portugal.
Amongst the olive groves and orange orchards lies an exclusive retreat, with residential units, and a five-star hotel very close to Luiz’s heart - L’AND Vineyards. The design concept is ‘Mediterranean Patio-Living’ - patios that feel like private oases and represent the core of the home. “Introverted” yet unfurling into the surrounding countryside. The awe-inspiring developments encourage stargazing and residents can even produce their own wines with the help of skilled enologists.
One might feel a world away, but Montemor is only 45 mins to Lisbon Airport. Short trips within the region are greatly encouraged. Evora, Alqueva Dam, Monsaraz, and Estremoz are all worth visiting. Alentejo’s cuisine is comforting and hearty. Our favourites are O Fialho, and Botequim da Mouraria. For Portuguese fusion Viajante is a must. Wine tours are recommended for connoisseurs and amateaur wine drinkers. Adega Cartuxa, Monte da Ravasqueira, and Quinta do Quetzal rank highly on our list. How about ending the day with a hot air balloon ride?
We have come to the end of our journey. Blue skies turn orange, purple, and pink. We are heading back towards Lisbon and her famous red bridge that welcomes us with open arms. Cristo Rei Statue mirroring this gesture time and time again. "Lisboa, menina e moça" it is always a treat seeing your twinkling lights. A galaxy of nighttime reflections in the river below. We might have arrived back in time for dinner and drinks in Principe Real, or perhaps a late Fado show in Alfama.