Azeitão and Sesimbra: wine tasting tours, delicious cheese, and silk-sand beaches await you on this day trip.
These two towns are part of the Setúbal region, located 48 kilometres south from Lisbon. The city itself was once an important fishing centre, and while the sardine factories have shut down, the privileged setting connecting the Sado estuary with the Atlantic still makes this one of the most sought-out areas for fresh grilled fish.
Setúbal peninsula is also home to the Arrábida mountains, a natural park set along the coast that offers pristine beaches, as well as hiking and cycling trails across the hills.
On the border of Arrábida, you’ll find Azeitão, a small town famous for its cheese and wine production. Sesimbra, on the other hand, is a seaside town abound with maritime life. When you visit, don’t miss the chance to go dolphin spotting or join a kayak tour and explore the stunning sea caves.
Most people come to Azeitão for one of two things — cheese or wine. The first thing you’ll notice as you approach this town is the landscape of vineyards and the old estates attached to them.
Like Sintra, Azeitão was a summer residence for the aristocrats, who built many exquisite houses in the area. With time, some of them turned into wine estates, such as José Maria da Fonseca and Quinta da Bacalhôa. The region is famous for producing Moscatel wine, a sweet fortified drink, often paired with dessert. Its creamy cheese is also an award-winning delicacy, and you can’t leave Azeitão without trying it.
Read our morning tour below, and we’ll show you all the things to do in Azeitão.
Pretty much every town in Portugal has its own sweet. In Lisbon, I had the pastéis de nata, in Sintra, I tried the travesseiros, and so, when I arrived in Azeitão, I had to sample their local pastries—Tortas de Azeitão. These sweet rolls are stuffed with a delicious egg yolk paste and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon. There are many pastry shops where you can try these pastries, but I picked Pastelaria Regional Cego. If you don’t like a sweet breakfast, you can always come back after lunch for an afternoon treat.
To learn more about Azeitão cheese, I headed to the Museu do Queijo de Azeitão. Established in the 20th century, this museum/factory produces a buttery cheese that is renowned all over the country. During my tour, I had a chance to see the process of making Azeitão cheese and learn about the history of the factory. In the end, I got to taste a little bit of the cheese as well. While you can sample Azeitão cheese in most local restaurants, I was happy to have it straight from the source.
One of the things I couldn’t miss in Azeitão was the wineries. First, I visited José Maria da Fonseca. Established in the 19th century, it's the oldest table wine company in Portugal.
My tour included a visit to the ancient wine cellars, like the Adega dos Teares Velhos, which holds the barrels of the old moscatel. Some of these barrels have been resting here for over 100 years! I was then able to sample a few wines, including white, red, and moscatel. They also have a wine shop in case you decide to take a bottle back home.
From here, I drove to Palácio da Bacalhôa for another wine tour.
The history of this estate begins much earlier, as it used to belong to the Royal Portuguese family in the 15th century. Over the years, the palace had many owners who kept adding their own touch to the property, but the Renaissance style and the hand-painted tiles remained.
You can choose to visit just the wine cellars or add a visit to the palace to admire the private art collection inside.
Only a few minutes away from the wineries, I stumbled upon Azulejos de Azeitão. The workshop reproduces tiles with antique designs from European, Islamic and Chinese references. If you want to learn how to make tiles, this is the place to go. You can buy a finished piece to take home or if you want, contact them in advance and experience painting your own tile.
For lunch, I went to Casa Nobre d'Azeitão, a typical Portuguese restaurant that specializes in both meat and fish dishes. There are also several cafés in the area where you can have a lighter meal. Pastelaria Regional do Cego, for example, offers sandwiches and toasts that come with Azeitão cheese.
Golden sand beaches and fresh grilled seafood lure visitors to Sesimbra every summer.
Aside from swimming and eating, there are a lot of things to do in Sesimbra. You can hike through the Arrábida mountains, or join a boat tour along the coastline to capture the local dolphins. The coast of Sesimbra is also regarded as one of the best diving spots in Portugal, thanks to its unique maritime environment.
If you’re travelling to Sesimbra by car, we suggest following Estrada da Escarpa for the best sea views.
We spent an afternoon in Sesimbra, but there are enough activities here to keep you busy for a whole day!
Serra da Arrábida is one of Portugal's most stunning natural parks. The best way to explore the park is to take a hike or cycle across the hills. There are many hiking trails in Arrábida. If you want a short walk, you can start at Portinho da Arrábida, a white sandy beach on the foothills of the mountain, then continue along the sand to Praia do Creiro. From there, you can take a trail through the woods towards Praia dos Coelhos and enjoy the secluded surroundings. For a privileged view of the beaches, make sure to stop by the Miradouro Portinho da Arrábida as well.
(see Trilho das Praias da Arrábida in this article)
Before heading to the centre of Sesimbra, I made a quick stop by the castle. Set 230 metres above the village, the castle offers a panoramic view of the coastline below. There is no entrance fee, so you can take your time to walk around. At the centre of the castle, you'll find a small Baroque church. It seems modest from the outside, but step inside, and you'll be amazed by the blue and white tiles adorning the walls.
The coast of Sesimbra is famous for its glorious beaches. The most popular ones in the area are Praia da Califórnia, and Praia do Ouro, both within walking distance from the town.
I spent some time at Praia da Califórnia enjoying the calm sea waters, and then headed to Ribeira do Cavalo. There are several ways to reach this hidden beach, but the easiest one is to take a boat from the Sesimbra port. Within 10 minutes, you’ll find yourself in a paradisiacal setting, away from the crowds. If you want, you can also take a boat trip through the sea caves or join a kayak tour to get an even closer look!
Another beach near Sesimbra worth visiting is the Lagoa de Albufeira. It takes 30 minutes to get there from the centre of Sesimbra, but it’s worth the drive. The beach stands between the Atlantic and a big lagoon, which is part of an Ecological Reserve. It’s a good spot for birdwatching, but also to practice water activities such as kitesurf and windsurf. Another 30 min drive from Lagoa de Albufeira and you are at the stunning Costa da Caparica a modern resort town very popular with the Portuguese and not so well known by foreigners.
On the edge of Sesimbra, there’s a rocky headland known as Cabo de Espichel. As recommended by the Iberian Escapes team, I went there to see the sunset. As you arrive, you can’t help but admire the natural beauty around you, from the crystal clear waters to the golden cliffs.
There are a few attractions in the area, including the Church of Nossa Senhora do Cabo, a small chapel, and the lighthouse. Take a walk around the cliffs, and you’ll be able to see two sets of dinosaur footprints: Pedra da Mua and the Lagosteiros.