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      our holidays > Walking Holidays > Portugal & its Islands > From Cape to Castle

From Cape to Castle

Portugal's Arrábida Natural Park
Starting point

Your holiday begins in the small seaside town of Sesimbra with two nights at the SANA Sesimbra hotel.

Day 1
Circular route around Cabo do Espichel: 11km, 3.5hrs; ascent 230m/descent 240m

Famed for its fresh fish and seafood, Sesimbra's air is filled with the scent of sardines crisping on charcoal-fired barbecues in the restaurants that line the promenade and the narrow streets behind, far below the battlements of its impressively preserved, 12th-century Moorish castle. A short bus ride takes you to the fascinating Espichel Cape where the once-celebrated Santuário de Nossa Senhora do Cabo Espichel stands on the western precipice of Portugal. Following a coastal walk with far-reaching views over the peninsula to the River Tagus, Lisbon and the hills of Sintra beyond, you pass a viewing platform overlooking 133-million-year-old dinosaur footprints before continuing your route to the ruins of a 17th-century fort set into the cliffside.

Day 2
Sesimbra to Azeitão: 14.5km, 5hrs; ascent 290m/descent 300m

A short taxi transfer takes you inland so that you can begin your journey through the unspoiled beauty of the Arrábida Natural Park. Your route winds through woodland and farms, alongside orderly vineyards and a small lake, to the string of rural hamlets that lie at the heart of the park, and the picture-postcard village of Nogueira do Azeitão, home to Setúbal's celebrated wine producers, exquisite Azulejos tiles and one of Portugal's best-loved cheeses. Your base for the next three nights is the Club d'Azeitão.

Days 3 & 4
Explore Azeitão

On your two full days here we provide a menu of options including two superb walks and visits to some of the area's most compelling attractions.

Azeitão to Portinho (return by taxi): 15.5km, 5hrs; ascent 350m/descent 220m

Follow a winding route that passes initially through smallholdings and family vineyards belonging to local villagers before morphing into red-earthed tracks through stone pine woodland. Following the contours of the mountain ranges with views over the coast, your path emerges alongside the scattered buildings and cave chapels of the stunning 16th-century Convento da Arrábida, before descending to the charming coastal village of Portinho, nestling in its picturesque bay alongside one of Arrábida's best beaches. Visit the maritime museum, housed in a small fort at the edge of the hamlet; enjoy a traditional choco frito  (fried cuttlefish) lunch in one of the restaurants whose dining rooms expand out over the ocean on stilts; and relax on the idyllic beach before returning to Azeitão by taxi (pay locally).

Circular route via Palacio Comenda: 18km, 6hrs (15km, 5hrs if taking bus); ascent/descent 600m

Either walk from your hotel or jump on a local bus to the neighbouring village of Aldeia Grande, where you join a gentle path through Mediterranean-like grasslands, open meadows and dense woodland, to the mouth of the Sado estuary where the ruined 18th-century Palacio Comenda, a former home of European royalty, sits looking out over the estuary to the Tróia Peninsula. Here, a picturesque picnic area by the estuary makes an ideal spot to enjoy a packed lunch before returning along a stream-side path to reach the grounds of the 15th-century former manor house, Solar do Morgado – now the Quinta de Alcube – where you can pause for a tasting before returning to Club d'Azeitão.

Speaking of wine... Azeitão is home to two award-winning wineries – each offering tours and tastings. Set in the heart of the village, the Azulejos-tiled frontage of José Maria Fonseca has been producing wine for almost two centuries, including the region's famed Moscatel, some of whose root stock dates back more than a century. On the outskirts of the village, the extensive grounds and vineyards of the Bacalhôa winery are landmarked by a woad-blue terracotta army and Japanese gardens.

While you’re here, you can also visit the fascinating 15th-century Bacalhôa Palace, which began life as a royal residence and is now considered one of Portugal's finest estates with its beautiful gardens. Admirers of Azulejos tiles will enjoy calling in at the small factory across the road from your hotel – it’s possible to watch the tiles being made by hand, and to pick up souvenirs direct from the workshop.

Day 5
Azeitão to Palmela: 11km, 3.5hrs; ascent 350m/descent 220m

Today you step out from the hotel door to follow a superb route, ascending gently though flower-filled meadows to reach the ridge of Serra de São Francisco – from where views open up across vineyards and the River Tagus to Lisbon in the north, and over the Serra de São Luís in the east. Crossing to another sierra, where views become even more expansive, you follow a ridge-top trail of sentinel windmills leading to the historic hill town of Palmela, ascending through terraced gardens to the medieval castle, within whose walls lies the splendid Pousada Castelo de Palmela.

Day 6
Circular route via Vale de Berris: 14km, 4.5hrs; ascent/descent 480m

On your last full day, walk into the Arrábida Natural Park to the delightful Vale de Berris and Serra de São Luís, both offering very different perspectives on the area. Descending from the castle to a quiet country lane, you pass vineyards whose grapes produce the aromatic Moscatel, intense Syrah and chocolatey Castelão wines which carry the Vale de Berris label, to reach the foothills of the Serra de São Luís in the heart of this fertile, agricultural valley. Your return route takes you along a ridge that follows the southern flank of the valley where views open up across the Sado estuary to the white-sand-fringed peninsula of Tróia – yet more abundant beauty in this, as yet unsung, paradise.

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 Grade 1-2 Walk
Local Map
On the wine trail
Andy Montgomery pays a visit to some of Arrábida’s many adegas (wine cellars)...
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