Comporta: Portugal's best secret beach spot

A summer scene is ramping up on Portugal's West Coast, as artists, a-listers and surfers revel in the beach-shack vibe of Comporta
Beach holidays in Comporta Portugal
Alamy

Sandy fields bulge with organic courgettes and broccoli and pumpkins as sweet as pudding. In high summer, makeshift stalls pepper the side of the road, piled with watermelons, artichokes, tomatoes that taste of sunshine. Knobbly lemons the size of grapefruit hang heavy from the trees. The ground pours forth flowers and vegetables and fruit. It's hard to think of anywhere else so fertile, so abundant. Here is a rustic, fuss-free way of life. And it seems unperturbed by the nascent fair-weather visitors.

Comporta is a village on the west coast of Portugal, about an hour's drive from Lisbon. But when people talk about Comporta, what they really mean is the region around it. The Herdade da Comporta is a swoop of coast between the Sado Estuary and the sea, 12,500 hectares comprising seven hamlets: Pego, Carvalhal, Brejos, Torre, Possanco, Carrasqueira and Comporta, too.

The area is well looked after, not only because much of it is a highly protected nature reserve (look out for huge nesting storks and flamingoes in the river), but because it is owned and managed by the Espírito Santo, the country's leading banking group. These two factors have kept this slice of the Alentejo astonishingly preserved and pristine.

3 Bicas villa in ComportaNelson Garrido

From Easter onwards, people descend from the rest of Europe in quiet droves to stay in the traditional but vamped-up, candy-striped village huts. The smartest families have rooted themselves in Brejos, where the Espírito Santo clan has a cluster of houses. Interior designer Vera Iachia is part of that dynasty and her collection of cabanas, with their polished-concrete floors, wood beams and cushioned day-beds, has set the tone. There are no gates, no tarmac, no high walls. Instead, sandy tracks lead from one unassuming cottage to the next. Their neighbours are savvy, connected Lisboans, Parisians, Brazilians. French designer Jacques Grange, German artist Anselm Kiefer and model Farida Khelfa (Schiaparelli's new muse) all have houses here. Kiefer has two. The Casiraghis drop by in July and August to stay with Charlotte's godmother, Albina du Boisrouvray, and Sarkozy and Carla have been spotted further down the coast near Muda. Everyone pootles around in beat-up golf buggies or Mini Mokes, or on sit-up-and-beg bicycles.

The best hotels in Comporta

SublimeNelson Garrido

Sublime Comporta

The original, and arguably still the best. Sublime is synonymous with tranquillity, and rarely has a hotel managed to achieve what many others find impossible; absolute peace and quiet, in a beautiful setting with exemplary service. And while Comporta is undoubtedly a beach destination, Sublime is a hotel that shifts with the seasons. In the July heat, it’s a place to take a dip (the hotel has three pools, plus private ones for some villas) and sit under the shade of the pine and cork trees. In winter, when the rain comes, the cabins make for cosy places to sit and feel surrounded by nature, and the restaurants and spa are warm and inviting. Everything has been considered here, so you don’t need to leave the property if you don’t want to. Having said that, we highly recommend a trip to Sublime’s beach club, on Praia do Carvalhal, where fresh seafood paella is served piping hot alongside fresh bread and Algarve butter, and where the sunset is one that will stay fresh in your memory for years to come. By Abigail Malbon

Address: EN 261-1, Muda, CCI 3954, 7570-337 Grândola
Price: From about £220 a night

Spatia ComportaFrancisco Nogueira

Spatia Comporta

Spatia lives up to its name – acres of land make up the 20 guest rooms, each with its terrace. This is a property that doesn’t cram people in to get as many rooms as possible; instead, rooms have 200m² of space, and it almost feels as though you’ve got the place to yourself. Macrame wall hangings, high wooden ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows make this a typically Comporta place to stay, but refreshing and tranquil all the same.

Coming to Spatia means relaxing. The pool is bigger than most, and you can comfortably do laps if you wish – a rare thing, even in Comporta, a place almost made for swimming. The property’s restaurant, Nesto, is small, but has a strong offering of Portuguese meat and fish dishes (vegetarians might feel limited); the black pork cheeks with bread dumplings are particularly wonderful, and the wine offering (mostly Portuguese, of course) is particularly good. By Abigail Malbon

Address: N261-1, Estrada das Bicas, Marco da Saibreira, Bicas, 7570-337 Grândola
Price: From about £190 a night

AlmaLusa

AlmaLusa Comporta

As the first hotel to open within the town of Comporta, there were high expectations for AlmaLusa from the start. Luckily, the 2022 opening more than lives up to expectations, with 22 rooms and 31 suites on-site. A stone’s throw away from all that the town of Comporta has to offer – from restaurants to shops – plus just 15 minutes walk from the beach, AlmaLusa really is in a privileged spot.

Most need a car to get around the area, but even the most freewheeling travellers can access Comporta via AlmaLusa, which offers transport for guests to and from rail and ferry terminals. Plus, single rooms are available for those visiting solo, which is a refreshing change from many of the couple-orientated hotels nearby. The suites have small kitchenettes, which make the property particularly family-friendly. By Abigail Malbon

Address: R. Pedro Nunes 3, 7580-652 Comporta, Portugal
Price: Doubles from £138 a night and suites from £215 per night, with breakfast included

Read our full review of AlmaLusa Comporta.

Campo De Arroz, Comporta

Campo de Arroz

This wild stretch of Atlantic coast, an hour and a half south of Lisbon, spent generations unnoticed before being snapped up by Portugal’s most powerful banking clan, which ensured strict rules for anyone intending to build a house here. These days, a select band of architects are finding inspiration in the area’s unusual scenery – storks nest on every other telephone pylon – and the homespun vernacular of whitewashed fishermen’s huts and horizontal-striped, woven-reed exteriors topped with palm-frond roofs. Regulars will tell you that the best way to experience Comporta is to rent a house. And this one, a family-friendly project that sleeps 10, makes the most of its views over rice fields that flick from water-logged to luminous green as the seasons change. From the stripped-down main bedroom, which has poured-concrete floors, wooden ladders and shaggy, palm-fibre lampshades, there’s a view of the sunrise over the fields, punctuated only by the orange trees in the garden. Outside is a huge barbecue with a pergola-sheltered table, and a swimming pool to leap into. The other way, the dense forest backdrop is filled with umbrella pines and gnarled cork trees. Without this place’s sandy, wooden decking, it would be easy to forget it’s so close to the beach. But just behind the treeline are miles of unspoilt caster-sugar dunes. From Carvalhal it’s walking distance to Pego for lunch at Restaurante Sal, where locals pull on their Sunday best to feast on grilled fish, octopus-ink rice and endless rosé. This is a great spot to go off-grid in the same way the savvy crowd have been doing for decades. By Tabitha Joyce.

Address: Campo de Arroz, Rua Do Conde 52 4 DTO. 1200-637 Lisboa Portugal
Price: From about £390 per night.

Quinta da Comporta

Until recently, there’s really only ever been one hotel worth considering in this region of drowsy fishing villages and surf shacks, and that’s a place called Sublime. Now to rival is this spot, created by Portuguese architect-designer Miguel Câncio Martins (Buddha-Bar in Paris). Paths wind through the sandy landscape, passing white, barn-like buildings – many of them former grain stores – that overlook the patchwork paddy fields and slim swimming pool. Their interiors match the landscape and are purposefully neutral, dominated by huge, reclaimed beams that were shipped over from Canada, and complemented with low-hanging, rope-tied Balinese lampshades that fill the double-height spaces. Bedrooms have a beach-house feel, with rattan rugs, more of those lampshades and lots of wood and wicker. The rooftop bedroom has two terraces, one that catches the morning rays, the other with views of burnt-orange sunsets over the fields. Portugal’s rustic Alentejo may seem an unlikely area for a full-blown spa, but the one here has ambitious plans to use rice much in the same way that French-based Caudalie has done with grapes. The ingredient is infused into treatments such as the lavender foot bath, and the hotel is creating its own products, enriched with rice-bran oil, which is very good for skin and hair. There are plenty of grains on the restaurant menu, too, including its own-brand Black Pig gin – try it in a cocktail made with passionfruit and honeycomb – and puffed crackers flavoured and coloured with squid ink, saffron and beetroot. And an organic garden will soon be adding to the kitchen’s harvest. This is a next-level arrival that never loses sight of Comporta’s breezy, sand-in-its-hair spirit. By Tabitha Joyce.

Address: Quinta da Comporta, Rua Alto de Pina, 2, 7570-779 Carvalhal
Price: Doubles from about £225

The best villas in Comporta

The other way to really get under the skin in Comporta is to rent a villa. Founder of interiors store Homes in Heaven, Miguel Pires de Lima, has a spectacular party house, Possanco (from about £420 per night), made up of thatched cabanas centred around a sunny deck.

Comporta Concierge looks after a stunning whitewashed charmer near Carrasqueira: one-bed Casa do Guisado (about £1,010 per week) which is beautifully remote and charming.

Nearer the river, there's the often-photographed Casas Na Areia (from about £425 per night), owned by TAP pilot João Rodrigues. He enlisted architect Manuel Aires Mateus, shortlisted for the Mies van der Rohe Award, to breathe life into four traditional masonry buildings. The result is a thing of beauty: a clever mix of the old and the new, with muslin drapes, a deep Gervasoni sofa, anglepoise lights craning over the beds and tree stumps as side tables. Huge glass doors open onto a little slice of nature reserve. A pool, slim, sleek and narrow, with pale, pale water, is framed by thick-mattressed, charcoal-coloured sunbeds. The sitting room has a floor of sand. In the summer, the mini indoor dunes are perfectly cool underfoot.

Still few and far between are the highly designed modern numbers so prevalent elsewhere in Europe. The Herdade da Comporta has rigorous planning restrictions on what can and can't be built within its jurisdiction. In Muda, about 10km south of Comporta village, the constraints are relaxed and the architects have run with it.

3 Bicas villaNelson Garrido

Enormous villa 3 Bicas (about £6,830 per week) makes the punchiest statement - about as far removed from a simple fishermen's hut as possible, with towering glass walls, sharp edges and Eames furniture.

And, of course, there are Airbnbs aplenty to enjoy in the area. This eco chalet option in Carvalhal is intimate and cosy; ideal for couples looking to immerse themselves in the area. For larger groups, this house which sleeps eight has its own pool and garden, so you can celebrate late summer evenings at home, with a glass of wine in-hand. For uninterrupted views of the rice fields, Casa Alfazema ticks all boxes.

The best restaurants in Comporta

There are a handful of restaurants along this glorious stretch, wooden creations on stilts, clinging to the top of the dunes. At Praia da Comporta, Comporta Café and Restaurante Ilha do Arroz stand guard. Lunch at Ilha do Arroz, under a cherry-red parasol, is a long, laid-back affair, starting at two or three o'clock and kicking off with an iced jug of white sangria, fizzing and bright with espumante and sweet strawberries. Local cheeses are followed by calamari, tomato-and-sweet-onion salad, clams in garlicky parsley and white wine, steaming pots of coriander-scented rice (predictably, there is a lot of rice on the menu) to mop up cataplana stews.

CavalaricaFrancisco Nogueira

In the town of Comporta, ALMO café is a must-visit. A brunch favourite, but with a wonderfully unusual menu including freshly-baked choux dough filled with duck, local cheese and orange gel, wonderfully moreish caldo verde (green kale) soup and some of the best octopus you’ll find in Portugal, it’s a real treat. For dinner, Cavalariça is much-loved by visitors, with good reason. The menu uses local produce as much as possible, with everything from sauces to syrups made from scratch by the chefs. The flavoursome steak tartare, smoked carrots with roasted almond cream and chicken with fermented red pepper paste and lemon shouldn’t be missed.

If you’re looking for very traditional Alentejo cuisine (which you should be, it’s delicious) then book into Gomes, where pork cheeks are served alongside migas – a classic dish, almost bread pudding-like, and always delicious. Ask for recommendations on wine options; it’s a sin to visit Comporta and not indulge in some locally-produced Alentejo wines.

The best beaches in Comporta

Days here are unhurried. It's an easy, breezy existence. The focus is the beach. And what a beach: 12 km of uninterrupted sand the colour of a pastel de nata, a deep, mellow yellow, fine and powdery as icing sugar that includes Praia da Comporta, Praia da Torre, Praia do Carvalhal and Praia do Pego.

All stretches of sand are similar, with their own charming beachside restaurants. Praia do Pego has the funkiest lunchtime pitstop, Sal, with a cool bar and an even cooler boutique. At Carvalhal beach, there's the unassuming O Dinis Bar do Pescadores (+351 967 977 193). Owned by a fisherman, it's the best spot for catch-of-the-day, grilled, with a squeeze of lemon. The fish here (especially the sea bass), not just in these restaurants but here in Portugal, is outrageously good - something to do with the chilly depths of the Atlantic. It can be a little choppy, but you can see why surfers, windsurfers and kitesurfers flock here at the beginning and end of the season.

The beach in ComportaAlamy

In the afternoon kids gather at Gervásio in Brejos, a café with a football table that is the social hub for anyone under 16. Grown-ups crash out for a siesta. Or dip into one of the boutiques on Comporta's Largo de São Jão such as Loja do Museu do Arroz, Lavanda and Coté Sud for Lenny bikinis, beach tunics and Madeline Weinrib ikat cushions. But when dusk is imminent, everyone dashes home. This is the witching hour, when the mosquitos come out. For 30 minutes either side of sunset, they rise from the paddy fields in a humming cloud. But if this sounds like a dealbreaker, it isn't. All the houses have insect screens and are stocked with huge vats of citronella.

Later at night, there's a better kind of buzz, and phenomenal seafood, at Dona Bia or in Comporta village at Museu do Arroz, sister restaurant to the one on the beach, owned by Isabel and Tó Zé Carvalho. These two are Comporta old hands. Some even say that Isabelinha, as she's known, kicked off the scene here 20 years ago, bringing down movers and shakers from Lisbon for the weekend. The restaurant stays open late, as late as she deems fit. When Mario Testino and Patrick Cox were here, it stayed open all night.

This feature first appeared in Condé Nast Traveller July 2013.