Arrabida coast: the jewel of Portugal

by Katie Samuel

Stunning views, fabulous food and total relaxation - we found them all in Setubal on Portugal's west coast, where we based ourselves at a rustic B&B and explored the breathtaking Arrabida coast

Sitting on the terrace of our wooden cabin, sipping port in the sunshine and overlooking Setubal bay, it seemed life couldn't get any better.

If you’re looking for a relaxing trip away from the hustle and bustle, with guaranteed sunshine and great food, Setubal’s Ha Mar Ao Luar is just the place to base yourself.  It's a B&B with different quirky self-catering places to stay, such as in an old windmill, the cabin or the main house, and each is set in a perfect secluded spot on the complex. We opted to stay in the wooden cabin, which had rustic charm and wonderful views of the sea. Given that it was virtually just a straight road from Lisbon airport, taking just 45 minutes, the journey was stress-free so we found ourselves relaxing within minutes. Each morning, fresh bread was hung on our door and our fridge was filled daily with cheese, ham, butter, milk and juice. 

The pool is a good size, with more fabulous views of the peninsula and the perfect beaches of Troia. When they start to look too tempting, head into the town and get a ferry across the river, which takes about 20 minutes. Troia is an up-and-coming resort with hotels, a marina and stunning beaches, where we listened to the sound of waves crashing on the shore and watched the colony of dolphins that live in the Sado river jumping about. With casinos and large hotels beign built, it's likely to be a popular noisy resort in a few years time but for now make the most of the quiet and the endless golden beaches.

A five-minute walk away is the Pousada Sao Filipe, based in the town’s castle. Pousadas are luxury hotels, many of them housed in historical monuments. This is a perfect place to stay for a romantic break, or just to have dinner or a drink while admiring the stunning views of the River Sado estuary.

A 20-minute walk down the hill is Setubal, Portugal’s third largest city, a working port and a fish-lover’s heaven. Choose from the dozens of restaurants lining the Luisa Todi avenue or the seafront, most of them with barbecues at the front where they cook the fresh fish. If, like me, you’re not the biggest fan of fish, the traditional pork dishes are delicious but the dish of the city seems to be 'choco frito' which is fried cuttlefish. Try Casa Santiago ( (Avenida Luisa Todi, 92, Setubal 2900-450 tel: + 351 265221688)for one of the more upmarket restaurants where its Portuguese and fish dishes range from about £10 to £25 depending on what type and size of fish you choose or Fernando where £10 will get you a huge plate of fresh fish caught just metres away from your seat. Just one word of warning - if you're trying to save your pennies, don't touch the breads, cheeses, olive and dipping sauces brought to your table at every restaurant. They aren't complimentary so if you even have one nibble, they'll be added to your bill. It's easy to get a taxi home at the end of the night but it's safe to walk if you've over-indulged at dinner time.

If you’re not energetic enough to walk up and down a hill, stay at the Novotel Setubal in town. Although it’s not a touristy town, there are plenty of shops to keep you busy and the Church of São Julião to visit. For those wanting more distractions in the evening, there is a string of bars parallel with the seafront that are open until the early hours but easily missed during the day. Or relax at the trendy Cup of Joe bar and enjoy a cocktail. There's also a stage set up alongside the main road where bands come to play or groups perform. We arrived at the time of a folk dancing festival and whiled away some time watching different groups dance different routines local to their communities in their vibrant costumes

Setubal’s not known for its beauty or being a big tourist destination, but the food is fantastic, it’s a chance to live like a local, and the real advantage is its location. From here, you can take a drive along the Arrabida coast and take in the breathtaking views and beautiful beaches, head out on the River Sado on a dolphin-watching trip, or visit one of the many vineyards nearby that produce Setubal’s famous Moscadet dessert wine.

If you fancy a day trip, a visit to Lisbon is simple; it's just a half-hour car journey away or an hour on the train, saving you from worrying about car parking. The double-decker trains are comfortable and speedy, unlike the ones we were used to in the UK. Once you're there, if you're pushed for time, it's worth starting with an open-top bus tour to get an overview of the city. You can hop on or off to visit momuments, art galleries and shops. And most people don't realise that Lisbon is not only home to a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge but also a Christ the Redeemer statue similar but smaller than that of Rio De Janeiro and both well worth a photograph opportunity.

Or take a drive to the picturesque town of Sintra, which Byron raved about and which houses the Palácio Nacional de Sintra, the summer home of the Portuguese royals. Take a horse and cart ride and dodge the hundreds of other tourists who come to visit on day trips. But despite the business and the tourist shops selling your usual memorabilia, it's a charming spot to wander around and if you've got sensible shoes on, take a walk up to the old castle and take in the spectacular views. I warn you though, it's a long way just to the entrance.

When we got tired of visiting places, we headed back to the peacefulness of our cabin, where we just took in the views and relaxed. There’s definitely more to Portugal than the Algarve but I recommend that you find that out for yourselves.