The district of Setúbal is a great base for your holiday in the Lisbon region, where the beauty of the Tagus and Sado estuaries can be enjoyed to the full. Boasting the stunning scenery of the Arrábida mountain range and its surrounding vineyards, these estuaries are home to a rich diversity of water birds and to the Sado’s rare, bottlenose dolphins.
Situated 20 miles (32 kilometres) south west of Lisbon, the capital city of Setúbal is located within easy reach of the most picturesque towns in the district such as Palmela, Sesimbra, Alcácer do Sal and Grândola.
Setúbal used to be a bustling fishing port during Roman occupation and continued to prosper greatly after the conquest of the Moors in 1217 and the establishment of the Order of Santiago in the district. The town became an important economic centre, with thriving ceramics and fishing industries and a popular retreat for aristocrats in the 15th Century. The city of Setúbal is commonly linked to the memory of the 18th Century poet and writer Manuel Maria Barbosa do Bocage (1765–1805) and to the house in which he was born – now a museum. The acclaimed 18th Century opera singer, Luísa Todi is also one of the district’s most famous personalities.
There are plenty of sites and attractions to visit in the city of Setúbal. These include the impressive 16th Century Santa Maria da Graça Cathedral and its exquisite 18th Century tiles, the Gothic church of the Jesus Monastery and its Manueline columns, an archeological museum containing intriguing vestiges of Roman occupation and the 16th Century São Filipe Castle – built by order of King Philip II of Spain in 1595.
The district of Setúbal is also home to a variety of picturesque fishing ports and unspoilt nature reserves.
Exploring the natural parks of the Tagus and Sado estuaries is a favourite with peace-seeking travellers. The town of Palmela is especially famous for its wine and is home to a colossal castle that stands on a hilltop commanding magnificent views of the Arrábida mountain range.
Stop at the little town of Azeitão during your drive to Arrábida’s mountain range (on the N249 road) and savour some of the delicious, sweet wines and muscatels this district is so famous for. Most of the local producers in the area own wine cellars and shops which are open to the public.
Located south from the district’s capital city, the picturesque fishing town of Sesimbra is the perfect example of a charming destination and definitely worth a visit for its beach, excellent seafood restaurants and lovely views of the brightly coloured boats that moor along its harbour. Regarded as a popular summer resort, this town is located in the foothills of the Arrábida mountain range and its nature reserve, where you can appreciate a wide variety of plant and wildlife. Views of the crystal-clear sea can be enjoyed from the range’s southern slopes.
More breathtaking views can be had from the huge cliffs that surround Cabo Espichel – a secluded cape located west of Sesimbra. Whenever heading south, pass by Alcácer do Sal and visit its splendid Moorish castle. Also be sure to stop by Sines – a pretty destination surrounded by beaches and picturesque villages, believed to have been the hometown of the legendary Portuguese explorer, Vasco da Gama.
Tróia is a paradise for water sports and a magnificent resort to visit during your holiday. Offering visitors a wonderful selection of long, sandy beaches and transparent waters, a variety of restaurants serving superb seafood specialities, peaceful ferry trips to the city of Setúbal, many tennis courts and a beautiful golf course, this peninsular city will inspire you with its surrounding landscape formed by the Arrábida mountain range,Sado estuary and miles of lovely, natural dunes.
Places to See
Igreja de Santa Maria do Castelo (St. Mary of the Castle Church)
Located in Sesimbra, this church was founded by the Order of Santiago in the 12th Century and is one of the best examples of late-Romanesque architecture in the country. This elegant religious monument contains one nave, a rectangular chancel and is decorated with colourful, 18th Century tiles.
Igreja de Santiago (Saint James Church)
This church is situated in the city of Alcácer do Sal and possesses typical 18th Century architecture. A large nave, exuberant wooden details, paintings and a sequence of blue-and-white tiles depicting the life of Saint James, the Virgin Mary, the Apostles, the Four Evangelists and the Holy Bishops are some of the most noteworthy features that embellish its interior.
Castelo de Palmela (Palmela Castle)
The town of Palmela is primarily visited for its castle, an impressive structure facing the Arrábida mountain range, as well as for the Sado and Tagus estuaries. Towards the evening, the castle lights up, becoming an especially dazzling sight to admire. Originally occupied by the Moors, the castle was eventually conquered by the Portuguese under the rule of D. Sancho I in the 12th Century. It was destroyed and rebuilt several times throughout history and now houses one of Portugal’s most luxurious ‘pousadas’ (exclusive historic hotels).
Anta de São Fausto (St. Faustus Dolmen)
Lying just a short distance from the road that leads to the town of Alcáçovas, the São Fausto Dolmen is a megalithic monument named after an old chapel located nearby. Known to be the only megalithic vestige to remain intact in Alcácer do Sal, the monument is composed of a small chamber, pillars and a large, horizontal stone.
Castelo de Sesimbra (Sesimbra Castle)
This majestic castle is linked to some of Portugal’s most important historical events. It was taken by the Moors in 1190, re-conquered by the Portuguese in the 13th Century and then donated to the Order of Santiago.
Museu de Arqueologia de Sesimbra (Sesimbra’s Archeological Museum)
This archeological museum opened in 1960 and is located in the Luís de Camões Square in Sesimbra. Various examples of Palaeolithic, Iron Age and Roman relics found in the district are all exhibited in this museum.
Serra da Arrábida (Arrábida Natural Park)
These picturesque hills stretch along the coast from Sesimbra to Setúbal and form part of the Arrábida Natural Park. Although relatively small, there is an amazing diversity of flora and fauna in this park, including rare eagles, falcons, wild cats, badgers, cypress trees and pines. The best way to visit this lush paradise is by taking the N379 route – a road affording magnificent views of Tróia’s peninsula while leading you down to the Sado Estuary and lovely Arrábida Convent.
Boat trip in the Sado estuary
From the port of Setúbal, you can set off on a delightful two-hour boat trip around the beautiful Sado estuary to see its impressive variety of water birds. And be sure to take your binoculars – you never know when you might spot a pod of the Sado’s shy, estuary dolphins. Nevertheless, the stunning scenery of the surrounding Arrábida mountain range will be enough to make your boat trip truly priceless.
Cabo Espichel (Cape Espichel)
This magnificent cape is located near Sesimbra and captivates every visitor with its breathtaking cliffs and sea views. For many years, the English named Portugal’s shores the ‘dark shores’ due to the lack of light signals placed along the coast. Today, the country’s coastline is renowned for its lighthouses – the beautiful Cape Espichel having been the first location to receive one in 1790.