Once Portugal's best-kept secret, Comporta is making a name for itself as a discreet beach escape.
Once Portugal's best-kept secret, Comporta is making a name for itself as a discreet beach escape.
Legend has it that every summer hot spot is born hippie, grows into hype, then falls dead in the water. This was true for Ibiza, Mykonos, Saint-Tropez, and, well, Capri.
On this vital (and fatal) cycle, Comporta is now glorying in her dazzling coming of age, welcoming a happy mix of locals and out-of-towners who, season after season, hit this coastal G spot just 80 minutes out of Lisbon. And what a delight it is to reach Paradise by a direct and secure route and not the usual obstacle course that isolates and shelters other areas of erogenous tourism favoured by the party crowd that got tired of the party.
Head over the iconic Vasco Da Gama bridge, one of Portugal’s many monumental odes to architectural artistry that curves for 12 kilometres across the River Tagus, and you’ll find yourself on an empty highway. Here, tolls mean that even in the height of summer, it feels like the open-road. Keep going, and it won’t be long before the surrounding scenery turns to bleached-blond terrain peppered with pine trees and low-hung sunlit groves of wrinkled cork trees, bark scraped back in patches.
“It reminds me of Big Sur”, says one friend as we marvel at the scenery, “the remoteness…the peace… the stillness of nature”. From the road, only a handful of traditional whitewashed houses flash by in the distance.
Last summer, who was it that arrived on the scene to ask “Where’s the party?” but the one and only, Madonna, now newly Portuguese, if you please, choosing Portugal as her new digs forever and until the next tour. For those who still haven’t heard, she picked up and moved to good old Portugal. And, since then, Comporta has been having unusual days that are revolutionizing its peaceful routine at the edge of a cold and turquoise Atlantic that laps kilometre after kilometre of sand dunes that shift their shape with the wind.
Amongst the reasons why the Portuguese beach town of Comporta is so special is the nature that envelops it, still so remarkably untouched and under-developed for an area that sits a mere hour-long drive from a major European capital. “For me, it feels more like stumbling across the European equivalent of Uruguay’s Rocha”, muses another even more well-travelled friend. Located in Southern Uruguay, Rocha is an idyllic rural region where cowboys still roam and giant swathes of land are broken only by the occasional finca, and where the jet-set beach village of Jose Ignacio sits tucked away behind voluptuous blond dunes. It’s a magical place, yet at 15 hours and counting from Europe and 13 from the US, a little far for those who love it to make regular trips, which is why Comporta feels like such a find.
Comporta and Jose Ignacio. The pair share more than a few highlights; that air of under-the-radar exclusivity, delicious beach days that linger late in the evening, exceptional houses so hidden away in nature that you often struggle to find them, the softest, whitest sand and a smattering of world-class fish restaurants. But unlike Jose Ignacio, Comporta is yet to hit serious global hype. So while you’ll find a handful of boho-chic homeware shops and a juice bar serving greek yoghurt and granola under a lemon tree in the simple village, Comporta feels like it’s just beginning. And rather than ten-a-penny, the A-listers have only just begun to cotton on to Comporta’s charms. While interior designer Jacques Grange has been here for decades, Christian Louboutin has renovated a handful of houses around nearby beach-town Melides and Madonna is rumoured to be on the hunt. Forbes may have recently heralded Comporta as the Hamptons of the 70s, but stroll its sleepy streets and it still feels like the secret isn’t well and truly out.
Part of the reason why Comporta and its surroundings have remained so preserved is that up until relatively recently, the majority of the land belonged to a single estate, the Herdade de Comporta. Owned by the Espirito Santo, one of Portugal’s oldest and most influential banking families, they protected the area and its natural beauty, allowing very few houses to be built. Those that conformed to exceptionally high design standards. Then in 2014, the banking dynasty experienced a spectacular fall due to detrimental international debt and had to be bailed out by the government. The estate in Comporta passed predominantly to the hands of the bail-out banks, opening up the area for the first time. “In some ways, it’s a positive step”, shares Brazilian fashion creative Juliana Cavalcanti, who has been coming to Comporta for long lunches and weekend escapes since she first moved to Lisbon 10 years ago. “It will allow new properties to be built and more people to come, but there is the concern that it could jeopardise Comporta’s charm. There are 3 golf courses planned for the coming years, and what we definitely don’t want is for Comporta to become like another Algarve”. With strict environmental codes in place that protect much of Portugal’s coastline, most predict the change to be careful and considered.
In truth, comparisons like Big Sur and Jose Ignacio do Comporta a disservice. It’s still laid-back, local and un-showy, and there is no use asking for almond milk here. For first-timers lured by the promise of Portugal’s chicest beach town, the town itself can feel remarkably underwhelming. Yet give it some time, and it’s one of those places that begin to unravel its secrets.
“Just last week I went for a picnic with friends to a secret beach that felt so wild and remote, there were only 4 or 5 other people. It was in Brejos da Carregueira, an upmarket residential area, and we had to walk through rice fields to get there, which was so beautiful. Only local residents have access to this beach and the sea here felt even bluer, and the sand even whiter. Even after going for 10 years, you can discover these secrets that only the locals know.”
For renowned Portuguese architect Miguel Cancio Martins, Comporta’s remoteness is what inspired him to open the area’s first high-end hotel, Quinta do Comporta, come Spring 2018.
“I’ve been coming here since I was a kid, and what drew me to Comporta is that it still feels so untouched. You come down here, and aside from Sublime, there isn’t really anywhere to stay. You see all these incredibly designed houses styled by the likes of Jacques Grange featured in magazines, but they are very difficult to access. So our idea is to give the lifestyle of Comporta that you see in the magazines, but open it up for others to experience. I invited Jacques Grange, who is a friend, to do the interiors with me, and we are using Madison Cox for the gardens. This is a project I have been dreaming to do for 12 years, and finally, now, it feels like it’s the right time, that the market is ready”.
Of the 68 rooms, Quinta do Comporta includes a series of townhouses and a handful of private villas that owners can leave to the hotel to rent and manage while they are away.
Down the road, Comporta Retreat is also creating a new residential community with intimacy at the forefront. Plots range from 2,500 to 6,440 sqm with buildable areas of 385 to 565 sqm. With the option to choose a property package where you can select one of three building styles, owners will allow architects, project managers and construction firms to manage and oversee the building work, while still putting their own personal stamp on their property. Part of a growing global hospitality trend, this format of mixed-use high-end hospitality developments is becoming increasingly popular in Portugal, and particularly in Comporta, where limited land availability makes new developments few and far between.
As Comporta continues to earn something of an international name for itself, the careful development of a handful of areas means tracking down quality property is set to become increasingly competitive. While most residential properties are clustered into pockets between Comporta and 7 neighbouring towns, it pays to hunt a little further afield, as far down as the Portuguese holiday towns of Sines and Porto Covo and up north towards Melides. British-dutch couple the Dalhuisens were amongst the first to move to Melides 20 years ago, building a spectacular low-key beach-chic pad in the hills.
“When we first arrived, there wasn’t even electricity,” shares Mrs Dalhuisen. Now, head down to Melides beach and you likely to find Christian Louboutin sipping a cafe pingado on the pier. “It’s a great time to invest in property in the area,” confirms Miguel, ‘I’ve been telling my friends for years and now, finally, they are starting to listen. You can’t build much here, so property will always be quite limited. Yet even on the busiest day of the year, you can go to the beach after lunch and you’ll still find a spot to sit. For 20 kilometres of beach, there are still only 2 access points, so there is real scope for much more to happen here.”
It’s still too soon to say whether all of the surrounding areas, still beautifully deserted, will be divided by the pre-Madonna and post-Madonna eras, but better get there soon, in time to experience what is so special in the semi-virgin landscape. There are few (and fantastic) hotels and restaurants, making the“skyline” unique and popular – Sal, for example, was elected the world’s best beach bar by the Condé Nast Traveler, last year. There’s plenty of space for the future to arrive, we only hope that progress doesn’t show up in tour buses.
And, with so much sand to expand in, real estate ventures are sprouting up on the horizon, ready to transform the serene-looking landscape, though for now all that is just a mirage for anybody showing up in search of tranquillity. Its developers promise to maintain the beachside spirit that made Comporta one of the best-kept secrets of the northern seas, even though everyone knows that pop doesn’t stop once it starts. Madonna, when you come, come quietly.
If Jose Ignacio is famed for award-winning beach restaurant La Huella, then Comporta has Sal’s. Expect exceptional seafood, the freshest of fish, charming staff and tables set overlooking the beach. Make sure to book a week ahead during high season, it’s the ultimate spot for long lazy lunches with friends. Across the sand, its laid-back beach bar offers snacks, cocktails and regular djs playing sunset sessions.
Praia do Pêgo 7570-783, Carvalhal
+351 265 490 129
Something of a local secret, Dona Bia is the place to go for lunch on the beach when Sals is too busy, or when your wallet is ready for a brief respite. Here, the speciality is the malandrino rice served to tables are set in the sand.
E. N. 261, Torre – Comporta, Grândola
+351 265 497 557
Bare-foot chic beach hotel with fabulous food, cosy cabanas and private villas set amongst the wildflowers.
CCI 3954, 7570-337 Grândola
+351 269 449 376
Museu do Arroz
Set overlooking the rice fields and owned by one of Lisbon’s hippest social butterflies, this chic restaurant is one of the only places in town to have something of a scene after-dark, with regular djs during the summer season.
Estrada Nacional 261 Km 0, 7580-612
+351 265 497 555
Comporta Yoga Shala
Back-to-nature yoga shala set overlooking the rice fields and a stone’s through from Cavalos na Areia riding stables. During summer, classes run throughout the week, with guest teachers coming down from Lisbon and even further afield for weekend workshops, satsangs and sound healings.
Estrada Nacional nº 261, Km 6 – Torre – Comporta, 7580-681
+351 913 257 610