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Editor Lauren Holmes shares her insights into beach life south of Lisbon


Is this the Ibiza of the 60’s?

Editor Lauren Holmes shares her insights into beach life south of Lisbon

This week in Lisbon, I suddenly find myself on holiday. It’s one of the things that makes this city such a great base.  Jump in the car for 30 minutes and you are a world away from capital city life.

An old school friend turned New York restaurateur is in town with his wife, the coolest of supermodels, and their new born baby.  They rent a white-stone cottage converted by designer Monica Penaguiao and wrapped in a secluded valley of cork groves peppered with lavender, lemon and fig trees close to the Arrábida national park, 30 minutes south of Lisbon’s 25 de Abril bridge.

‘This is like Ibiza…the old Ibiza, the Ibiza of the 60’s, before everyone else arrived,”he exclaims as we grill fresh fish from Setúbal’s fantastic local market alongside giant tiger prawns and courgettes muddled with farm-fresh ricotta.  We feast under the fig trees with friends who founded one of Tulum’s first hotels, one that many credit with being the fire starter of the spirit-chic scene that engulfs it today.  Sound musicians and visionaries, they now live 45 minutes across the bridge in Sintra, a microclimate of magical castles, foggy forests and surfer’s beaches.

We all agree that being together like this is a dream, and one we want to last.

“It’s northern Ibiza I tell you, just without the hype.  Imagine those abandoned warehouses down by Setúbal’s port, they could be the super clubs!

Mmm,”, I tease him, “I think the problem (or the blessing) is the Portuguese, especially in this quiet coastal town of Setúbal, aren’t really the type for Ibizan super-clubs, but you never know…”.

But, there’s more than a ring of truth in what he says, so I cancel my tentative plans to go to Ibiza the following week and decide to stay on holiday, at home.  30 minutes from my city apartment.  The next day I take them to explore Comporta, which everyone is talking about now it’s on the front cover of Conde Nast Traveller.  Really, the hype is rooted in the 60 kilometres of deserted golden sands that extend down from Troia and feel more like Uruguay’s Punta del Este than Europe. We start the adventure with a ferry across the bay to Troia and then a 20 minute drive past expansive golden dunes to lunch at chic-beach restaurant Sal’s, where both the prices and the outfits of the clientele had upped in stakes since last year, kaftan-wearing Americans flashing white wine and diamond rings alongside the more traditional Portuguese families who’ve been coming for years – and know to book a few weeks in advance come high season. 

After lunch we drive in-land to a mini-festival that friends are hosting on a private estate, inviting a mainly local crowd of creative lisboetas to camp for the weekend in cork groves and dance to DJs overlooking a lake.  The vibe is perfect: intimate yet electric. By midnight the dance floor is pulsing, with the fire-pit roaring and open grills still serving pocket pittas devised by executive chef Vitor Adrão from Lisbon’s leading restaurant 100 Maneiras (which Monocle listed as the best in the world in 2017).  “How did you get here?”, the curly-haired King of the dance floor asks as he shares out pure mezcal, ‘this is not normally where foreign people end up”.

So while this gorgeous stretch of coast south of Lisbon is still far from the Ibiza we know today, the party scene is here, just in pockets, under the radar. Further down south towards Melides, a music curator friend is planning weekend performances at a semi-private art park called Melides Art, drawing Lisbon’s electric and eclectic musicians down to jam through-out the summer. The talk is of the hotels and projects to come, but right now, it’s still just the land. A coastline drawn up in developers’ plots. Much will change in the coming decade. Luckily, planning permission is tough, very tough and much of the land, especially along the dunes, remains protected. But let’s just hope it goes slow enough for the charm and the simplicity not to get lost along the way.

My tip? I’m about ready to start searching for a little hillside cottage to convert somewhere on the Setúbal Peninsula, around the Arrábida national park and the villages of Mecca, Sesimbra, Palmela and Setúbal.  It’s a plan for Future Living, to be surrounded by white sand beaches, mountain hiking, seclusion and natural beauty yet close enough to be in Lisbon’s business district in under an hour. Unlike Cascais, the coastal town set 30 minutes north of Lisbon, which takes the brunt of the Atlantic breeze, Setúbal is sheltered on the southern tip of the Costa Caparica.  It feels much more like the Mediterranean here, and this is enough to keep more tropical-blooded tribes very happy.