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A packed day out on the other side of the Tagus

A packed day out on the other side of the Tagus
The beautiful landscapes of the Serra da Arrábida and the beaches around the Sado river estuary provide an excellent backdrop to this scenic tour to the south of Lisbon.

Do not get confused, there are two "Azeitão". Start in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão. At the foot of the Serra da Arrábida (a Natural Park), this town is home to a rich historic and artistic heritage, particularly from the 16th and 18th centuries, including the renaissance Dukes of Aveiro Palace, the Church of S. Lourenço (St. Laurence) and the baroque Pasmados fountain.

Then continue to Vila Fresca de Azeitão. The church of São Simão (St Simon) features a fine 16th century example of Nossa Senhora da Saúde (Our Lady of Health). In the Quinta das Torres (Farm of the Towers), there is now a country hotel located in the 16th century mansion with the gardens being of particular beauty. A visit should also be paid to the Palácio da Quinta da Bacalhoa (Palace of Bacalhoa Farm). Dating from the final quarter of the 15th century, it is one of the finest examples of renaissance architecture in Portugal.

Continue towards Palmela. There, the Maria I fountain points the way to the Castle built on an abutment jutting out from the Serra da Arrábida, and now home to an attractive pousada-manor hotel. Donated by Afonso Henriques to the Military Order of Santiago de Espada, and recently restored. The view from its walls is truly magnificent. Inside, there is the tiled Convent and Church of Santiago.

On arrival in Setúbal, follow the course of the city´s Roman remains. On the Travessa de Frei Gaspar, take a look at the set of tanks for the fish processing industry and used throughout the 1st to 5th centuries. An essential point of interest is the Fortaleza de São Filipe (Fort of St Philip), which has been turned into a most comfortable pousada-manor hotel complete with views over the city, the Sado river and the sandy extent of the Tróia Peninsula. In the Praça de Bocage (Bocage Square) there is a statue to the poet after whom the square was named in the 17th century. In the Largo de Jesus, there is the city´s most striking monument: the Convent and Church of Jesus (15th century). Turn up around lunchtime and succumb to the temptations of the grilled fish at the restaurants along the riverside.

Reaching Portinho da Arrábida, take a wander along the beach, located between the highest point of Serra da Arrábida and the sea. The Pedra da Anixa, a small rocky island just off the sand is a choice spot for underwater spear fishing. Restaurants along the beach specialise in fish caldeirada (a stew-like dish) and the famous Setúbal red mullet. A little further along, there is the Lapa de Santa Margarida, where the oldest examples of man´s presence in the region were found (Lower Palaeolithic).

Back on the road taking you over the top of the Serra, sat on a bend in the road there is the Convent of Arrábida (visits require prior booking) founded by Franciscan friars in 1542, right in the middle of this range of hills. Back on the road, proceed down to Sesimbra which as far back as the 15th and 16th centuries was an important naval and fishing centre. On the inside of the town´s castle, there are a series of ruins and the Church of Stª Maria do Castelo (Saint Mary of the Castle), constructed in the second half of the 18th century. Another distinctive place is the Fortaleza de Santiago (Santiago Fort) where the view out over the beach and sea tempt all down into the waters.

Then, move onto Cabo Espichel, one of the most beautiful capes in all Portugal and the site of the Nossa Senhora do Cabo (Our Lady of the Cape) sanctuary. By the cliff edge, the 15th century Chapel of Memória (Memory) is also well worth a look. On the Lagosteiros beach, look around to find fossilised dinosaur footprints and tails in the rocks.

Finish your trip on the endless beaches of Caparica perusing Arriba Fóssil, the impressive formations nature has etched into the cliff face. On top of the cliff, there is the Capuchos Convent with its wonderful vantage point for views out over the ocean.


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