Most people know of the Algarve, a region of gorgeous sandy beaches and coves backed by golden cliffs. The azure waters and a climate and culture are similar to that of the Costa del Sol. But a little further north, not far from Lisbon, there is a secret natural paradise that lies undiscovered.


Getting Back to Basics

Do you remember when Marbella was small, intimate and the private domain of local residents and international jet-set visitors? Probably not, for it was a while ago. Don’t worry, the same loss of virginal authenticity and exclusivity is common in other beauty spots across the globe.

Places which have long since lost the fight against mass-tourism and large-scale development. This makes it all the more exciting to discover an untouched natural paradise. Not in some distant and exotic land, but close to Europe’s summer playgrounds.

The name of this virginal coastline backed by wooded groves and little country villages is Comporta, Portugal’s best-kept secret. Though there is a village at its heart, Comporta encompasses a natural and rural zone of some 150km2. The pristine shoreline is an extension of the equally untouched Alentejo coast.

Extending north of the Algarve for over 100 kilometres, much of it part of a protected national park. This almost vertical northward succession of bays, coves, long sandy beaches and pine forests meets the estuary of the Sado River. Just beyond the old fishing village of Comporta, a quaint settlement of 1,500 souls surrounded by nature and endless views.

Comporta; Pure Nature

There are no high-rise buildings here, no hotels or property developments. Comporta is a shabby chic village in an idyllic setting surrounded by the ocean, pine forest and dunes. Just to the north, the wetlands of the Sado estuary are also part of a natural reserve. Its sandbanks and natural water canals glisten in the sunlight, a region rich in wildlife and aquatic birds.

From Comporta, a long sand bank of beaches and dunes stretches out to the city of Setubal in the north. Touching the point where the estuary meets the Atlantic Ocean. The historic city offers services, sites and famous seafood. But beyond it lies the Costa de Arrabida, a different but equally beautiful shoreline where cliffs plunge into aquamarine waters.

Lisbon is some 45 minutes away, and this is where most of Comporta’s high society visitors have traditionally come from. It has been a secret paradise for a lucky few and so protected from mass-development. Mainly thanks to the fact that most of the land here belonged to the Espirito Santo family. Prominent Portuguese bankers whose Banco Espirito Santo fell onto hard times during the financial crisis.

This, in turn, has led to the opening up of Comporta, where zonal planning is however extremely strict. The intention is to allow development, but control it by excluding high-rise structures or clustering of buildings. This includes a few small, ultra-exclusive boutique hotels, but no major road building or big complexes.

A High-Society Destination

Instead, only allowing the building of cottage bungalows and villas. Each respects a ratio of land to construction space that ensures ample green space in between. Gardens can be laid, yet the emphasis is on natural materials and sustainable building. Their architectural style must blend in with nature and be in keeping with the setting. The result is a gradually growing collection of low-rise homes.

Each one enveloped by gardens and pine trees that usually blend modern architecture and a very natural, rustic-chic feel. A perfect embodiment of this, are the contemporary homes being carefully curated by Comporta–Signature. As a result, Comporta is the embodiment of shabby chic extending to the charming eateries and shops in the nearby village.

Not surprisingly, the area has become the new darling of European and international high society. First discovered by Spanish and French visitors, and now by discerning people from across Europe and North America. All keen to get away from the congestion, crowding, pollution and at times anti-social environment of mass tourist destinations.

The names of those who visit and own properties here are impressive. Richard Branson, Philippe Starck, and also French, Spanish and American actors. Even royals and business tycoons. Each adding to the mystery and standing of this coastal area. Not so long ago it hadn’t been heard of by most people, let alone seen or visited.

Authentic Pleasures

For many who come to it now, this is exactly how they would like to keep it. For in a world of overdevelopment, Comporta offers a natural utopia with simple, authentic pleasures that is a rarity. At one hour from Lisbon’s international airport, it is a gem that is free of heavy flows of traffic, crowded beaches and noisy throngs of tourists.

Yet even so the village can become a little congested at the height of summer. In a process that stretches back to the 1950s, the locals must be bemused by all the fuss. For those fortunate to grow up in a natural coastal paradise, where pine groves merge into dunes, which bend into beaches, where the ocean and sky open up before you, this is more special than ever.

It offers nature, space, big skies, simple but delicious seafood and a diversity of natural scenery. Also, the coming together of a gentrified class of visitor gives Comporta an air that is hard to find in Europe. In essence, it represents a precious opportunity to rekindle memories of a more natural, gentle and innocent existence.


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