Comporta – Between the river and the sea

on Apr 1, 2014 in Now Boarding | No Comments

We took actress and presenter Adelaide de Sousa to Comporta on the Tróia Peninsular, a beautiful region where nature tourism thrives between the river and the sea.

Adelaide de Sousa

Located within the National Reserve of the Sado Estuary (one of the few Portuguese rivers which flows from south to north), Comporta is a kind of natural paradise situated little over an hour from Lisbon by car. It lies in a region rich in fauna and flora, whose landscape changes with the passing of the seasons. The seemingly endless rice fields are one of its most defining features, with agriculture unsurprisingly the mainstay of the local economy. Also symbolic of Comporta are its broad beaches whose sands are bathed by the Atlantic Ocean.

The last time Adelaide de Sousa visited the area she was pregnant. Now she wants to return with her son, Kyle, who’s five and accompanies his parents on all their trips. Married to American photographer Tracy Richardson, she loves showing Portugal to her family. “This opportunity to leave our cocoons and let other social and cultural realities mix with our own is a necessary and welcome exercise. We’re a very gregarious family, we like to be together and the idea of leaving Kyle behind so we can spend a romantic weekend away somewhere, doesn’t make sense to us. It’s as if we’d only enjoy things by half, because he is part of our happiness as a couple.”

We’re staying at the Pousada D. Afonso II, situated within the walls of the Alcácer do Sal castle. The latter was commissioned by an Arab caliph in 1191, taken by the Christians in 1127 during the reign of the monarch who gives his name to the Pousada (inn). Built over the ruins of an old convent of Poor Clare nuns, it still maintains an air of austerity, despite the contemporary feel of the decoration and the comfort afforded to guests. Adelaide and family take a suite overlooking the river. “Such a serene landscape really does invite rest and relaxation”.

Supervisor Paulo Ramos Pinto escorts us on a museological tour of the property. We make our way down to the underground crypt which houses archaeological spoils which date back to the Neolithic period and the first signs of human habitation. The excavations also revealed a complex network of Roman, Moorish, medieval and modern structures, indicating an unbroken chain of human activity. The collection consists mainly of everyday objects. Adelaide scrutinises detailed artifacts of historic and artistic importance. Later on they will be the topic of conversation over dinner at the Sala das Colunas restaurant. “It’s incredible to think that we have a genuine archaeological treasure trove right here beneath our feet!”

The road that takes us to Comporta the next morning is flanked by green rice-fields. Although this region has also invested heavily in the production of sweet potatoes and wine, rice continues to rule supreme. Along the way, we spot stork nests. Adelaide points out the birds to Kyle who searches for the “babies”. We stop in the centre of this picturesque village and head to the Museu do Arroz (Rice Museum) shop, which sells art, design objects, clothes and accessories. Further along we call in at Carvalhal (a neighbouring village) so Adelaide can go to Galpão. This open-air antique shop is run by Júlio Luis and has caught the eye of passers-by for the last 18 years.

Adelaide de Sousa

Arriving at Pego Beach, the call of the sea proves irresistible. While João Hipólito gets lunch preparations underway at the O Sal restaurant, we take the opportunity to go for a dip. “The quality of the sea and the cleanliness of the beaches are the advantages of Comporta. It’s worth coming here just to bathe in the sea! It’s an untouched area, making it easy to get around” comments Adelaide, referring to the 12 kilometres of inviting white sand. Still dripping wet, we sit down to eat on the restaurant terrace, enjoying the sun and the invitation of the host: “We have the philosophy of receiving people as if they were at home, in a friendly atmosphere”.

At the end of the afternoon, we go for a drink and watch the sunset at the pleasant Comporta Café, a venue of lively parties. Adelaide stretches out on a hammock, the sky reflected in her eyes. Wherever she goes, she’s recognized thanks to her long television career. The star is also the face of several humanitarian campaigns, but prefers to keep a low profile. She’s beautiful, friendly and very professional, which is noticeable at our next port of call: the Fábrica de Descasque museum. Dedicated to the cultivation and production of rice, the most significant cultural emblem of the region, we are shown around by Maria João Cavaco. Intensely proud of the local people, she tells us that the museum is about “history, but first and foremost of people”.

Adelaide is immediately interested by the lives of the workers of the old factory (situated between the floodplain and marshland), asking the guide innumerous questions.

Museu do Arroz

This private museum aims to play a part in revealing the local culture and social memory, viewing history from a human, environmental and technological standpoint. It’s located in the Herdade da Comporta, one of the biggest agricultural estates in the country. Stretching over 12,500 hectares along the Alentejo coast, it’s an invaluable slice of environmental and ecological heritage. With a diverse range of properties which remain true to the architectural principles of the region and blend into the surrounding landscape, the Herdade da Comporta is amongst the elite for holidays and weekends getaways.

In the same building (more precisely in the storehouse of the old rice factory) is the famed restaurant Museu do Arroz which, the owner claims, “helped put Comporta on the map”. Isabel Carvalho is an emblematic figure and so sharing a dinner table with her was a lively experience of gastronomic conviviality.

Dancing with Dolphins

Awaiting us on the next day was, in the words of Kyle, “a great adventure”. Accompanied by Maria João Fonseca, of nature tour company Vertigem Azul, we went on a boat trip along the Sado Estuary, the only place in Portugal where a community of bottlenose dolphins can be found- about 25 in total. The biologist recognises each one of them by the shape of their tale-fins, by which they are classified and baptized. “They all have names. For us who observe them almost everyday, they’re like family”. Kyle laughs heartily when he sees the dolphins leaping out of the water right next to our boats, catching fish in their mouths. We learn that they also eat octopus and cuttlefish and use sound to communicate amongst themselves the location of their prey. A wonderful experience!

Golfinhos Sado

Adelaide and Tracey were delighted to give their son such joy. “It’s a privilege to have contact with these special creatures…We chose not to go to shows where the animals are imprisoned while people take their picture. This was a blessed day where Kyle could appreciate the natural beauty which surrounded him without making any animal suffer. He liked it so much that he drew a lovely picture, with the boat, the sea, the dolphins fishing and even the jellyfish that we saw floating on the water”, says Adelaide.

The trip helps us build up an appetite for lunch and it’s time to visit the A Escola (The School) restaurant. Its premises housed the former primary school building of Cachopos between 1951 and 1983. This was followed by a period of abandonment until the current owner, Henrique Lopes, presented an application for its renovation. The project maintained the building’s characteristic features and the restaurant (which offers typical regional food) opened its doors in 1996 with elements of its decoration harking back to its former educational role. We loved our good old-fashioned meal.

Palafitas

We end our trip at Carrasqueira, a fisherman’s village on the banks of the Sado. Guide Jorge Pina, of the company Rotas Do Sal, leads us to the port built on stilts. Our route takes us through an intricate maze of zigzagging footbridges, built to allow the fishermen’s access to the sea and to shelter them when they return from their toils with fresh fish. Tracy photographs the quayside incessantly. Adelaide is enchanted: “What an amazing place! Almost surreal! It’s like something you’d see in a film. Or just a recreation of a scene from a hundred years ago…the most incredible thing is that it’s still perfectly functional, serving the community as it did in the last century”. The actress says farewell in a happy frame of mind. “We tend to look abroad, but in Portugal there are such unique places that it’s worth getting to know it better. Comporta is, without doubt, one of the most interesting for its beauty, history, cuisine and atmosphere. A small slice of paradise, almost on the doorstep of the capital”.

text Moema Silva photos António Gamito

Arquivos

Bio

Adelaide de Sousa, 44, born in Mozambique, daughter of Portuguese parents. She came to Portugal while still a child, where she studied and worked as a model, make-up artist and flight attendant until 1994 when she debuted on television as a quiz show assistant. In 1999 she began acting in the series Jornalistas (SIC), soon becoming one of the foremost actors of her generation. In 2000, she moved to New York, where she studied at the prestigious Lee Strasberg Theatre Institute for three years. During this period she returned to Portugal on several occasions to perform in films and plays. She also went back to her country of birth, where for four months she recorded the soap opera Joia de África (TVI). In 2004, by now married, she returned permanently to Portugal, performing in several soaps. Since 2006 she’s dedicated herself to presenting TV programmes. In 2007, her first talk-show Mundo das Mulheres (SIC Mulher) was aired, debating a range of themes. Between 2009 and 2013, she fronted a programme featuring personalized interviews: Entre Nós. The intimate tone employed by Adelaide allows her to chat informally with people like Eunice Muñoz or Tommy Hilfiger. At the same time, she also lends her support to several social causes. With her husband, the photographer Tracy Richardson, she launched the “Guerreiras” project, dedicated to women fighting breast cancer.


www.centralmodels.pt

Eating

Sala das Colunas Restaurant

Situated in a spacious hall of the pousada, this restaurant enjoys views of the interior gardens. Our meal, prepared by cook Rosa Vaquinhas, began with a starter of Alentejo cheese, carrots in a vinaigrette and marinated mussels. This was followed by a clam broth; goat’s cheese, roasted pepper, honey and pine-seed crunchies; fried strips of cuttlefish with bean rice and tenderloin of Alentejo pork with sweet potato and sautéed rapini. The dessert buffet featured traditional egg-based sweets such as sericaia and farófias amongst other delicacies. Our food was accompanied with Herdade da Comporta wines.

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O Sal Restaurants

A typical beach restaurant, with customary decor, since 2012 it’s been owned by four friends with links to the Música na Comporta festival. In the summer, the kitchen is open non-stop from 1-11 pm, under the eye of Dulce Castelo. The specialities are grilled fish, cuttlefish rice with alioli and prawns, as well as a range of petiscos (Portuguse-style tapas) whose recipes customers are always keen to find out. After our starters of broad bean and octopus salad, marinated mackerel and meia-desfeita (pieces of cod with garlic, onion, parsley and olive oil), we move on to fresh bass with lemon rice cooked in a fish broth. We wash it all down with Sangria and finished off with a variety of desserts: the egg-based doce de ovos with pine seeds, condensed milk tart, profiteroles and lemon pie.

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Museu do Arroz Restaurant

We tried the starters while we were waiting for our table: fried rice balls and potato skins. Once seated we followed the suggestions of chef Guerreiro: Algarve-style squid, scrambled eggs with farinheira (a traditional sausage made with pork, flour, white wine and paprika) and grilled mushrooms with balsamic vinegar. After dessert, we tried the pennyroyal liquor. With a special atmosphere, this 20-year-old restaurant is decorated with family furniture and gifts from friends and consists of several versatile rooms (it can be transformed into a bar, a disco or open-air lounge area). Its sister restaurant Ilha do Arroz on Comporta beach offers lighter and more economical cuisine during the summer and is open from midday till sunset in the winter.

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A Escola Restaurant

With one foot in the kitchen and the other in the dining-room, our host Henrique Lopes welcomes us saying that, despite all the culinary awards he’s won, he’s never taken a single lesson. “I cook using recipes from the time of my grandmother, I make the food that I used to eat when I was little”. We’re served starters of peppers, cod meia-desfeita and carrots in a vinaigrette. The mains are cuttlefish rice with shrimp, white grouper and rabbit pie with pine-seed rice. Each dish has a story which Henrique masterfully recounts to us, while he fills our glasses with wine from the Herdade da Monteira (Setúbal Peninsular). Desserts: the speciality is crushed pine seeds with doce de ovos and cinnamon, but we also tried the sericaia, pine-seed tart (soaked in pomegranate) and sweet potato with cinnamon and sugar. We finish with an acorn liqueur.

Sleeping

Pousada D. Afonso II



This imposing hostelry, housed within a historic monument, is part of the network of inns known as Pousadas de Portugal, run by the Pestana group. Originally a convent for Poor Clare nuns, it was founded by Dom Sancho I. The convent and the Our Lady of Ararceli church had their heyday in the 16th and 17th centuries. With the abolition of religious orders in 1834, they began their descent into disrepair. In the 1990s, the ruins of this medieval structure were adapted into a pousada (inn). With 33 rooms and 2 suites, it was transformed into a luxury hotel privileged with a beautiful panoramic view over the river Sado.

Activities

Vertigem Azul

This nature tourism company specialises in boat trips on the Sado Estuary, departing from Setúbal and Tróia.  It offers several different options: dolphin and bird spotting, catamaran rides, jeep tours and group activities.

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Rotas do Sal

Setúbal bay and the Arrábida mountain range are the main backdrops for the activities organised by this company. The dolphin tours include a stop for diving in the sea, while the picturesque trip through the mountains offers the chance to visit a wine cellar to try the Moscatel de Setúbal wine.

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