Places and History from Alentejo and Algarve - Vicentina Coast
Vila Nova de Milfontes
The modern town of Vila Nova de Milfontes was founded in 1486 by a royal charter granted by King João II. With the creation of a “new town” at the estuary of the Mira River, the crown wanted to encourage the increase in population and organize the administration, in order to have control over this peripheral territory. At that time, the Mira River estuary was the anchorage of boats that carried out coastal trading between Odemira and other ports of the Portuguese coast. However, the town had a slow and problematic development due to the action of sea pirates. In 1582 it was attacked by Algerian pirates, who cause great damage, followed by a period of continuous pirate attacks. For that reason, a fortress was built between 1599 and 1602, by the Italian engineer Alexandre Massai.
The fortress is now called the castle and the village no longer attracts pirates but tourists. Mainly in the summer, visitors come to enjoy the beaches and the delicious cuisine based on fresh fish and seafood. Caldeirada (fish stew), arroz de marisco (a kind of seafood risotto) or any grilled fish will satisfy the palate of any gourmet.
In front of the Castle entrance there is a monument erected to commemorate a big achievement of Portuguese aviation, the first flight from Portugal to Macau. On 7th of April 1924, the locally born Brito Paes together with Sarmento Beires took off from Milfontes bearing East.
The church was built at the end of the XV Century, and belonged to the Order of Santiago. Notice its cross above the front door.
Locally, the River Mira is proudly renowned as the least polluted in Europe, and certainly is one of them. Navigable to Odemira, it used to be crucial in the development of the region, connecting villages and shipping cereals and goods.
Along the river, water mills took advantage of tides, right up to Odemira, to mill the grain. Unfortunately none of them is in use anymore, but some mill buildings still can be seen by the riverside.
Banks and river bottom are rich, marshy and muddy, feeding a high diversity of fauna, including oyster banks and big colonies of waders such as sanderlings, dunlins and whimbrels, being also a favourite spot for grey herons and white storks.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 19 km
The Alentejo coast is shaped by high cliffs alternating with beautiful coves of fine sand. Porto Covo was founded on top of these cliffs, in 1780, with only four houses.
Its foundation comes together with the origin of the first Earl of Porto Covo, Jacinto Fernandes Bandeira, who sponsored the creation of the village foreseeing the advantages of its bay and the natural harbour at Pessegueiro Island.
Contempory of the Marques of Pombal, the Earl was inspired by his urban ideas when planning the village layout. There were two squares, one of them by the sea front, and between them the hospital and the church. The new village was rationally designed: housing, a erain store, a coal store, the inn, the fishing installations, the village council, and a wall to protect the village and prevent people from falling down the cliff. The geometrical pattern of the streets and the main square with the church and gardens is what remains from his initial idea.
The population traditionally dedicated to exploit both the land and the sea. During the winter, men and women worked the land, growing cereals such as wheat, corn or barley, and vegetables such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, beans and pumpkins. During the summer months fishing was the main activity. Sea bass, sea bream, octopus, squid and lobster were always plentiful. Seaweed harvest sometimes involved the whole population.
Nowadays these activities are complementary to the main occupation of tourism.
Porto Côvo’s beauty is source of inspiration for singers and artists and for many tourists bewitched by its enchanting coves and village life.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 15 km
Ilha do Pessegueiro is a consolidated dune, measuring 355 metres long and 235 metres wide, only 250 metres distant from the tidal line of the coast. The channel that separates it from land represented one of the main factors for human occupation of the island, due to the excellent conditions for natural anchorage. First used by the Cartages (218-202 a.C.), the Romans also saw its value as a natural harbour in such a rough coast and used it for fishing and built a fish salting factory whose ruined tanks remain, and even for shipping metal from their mining in Cercal. Ever since its first inhabitants there has always been a fort on the island.
The building of the two forts started around 1588 but only finished in 1690. One on the island, Forte de Santo Alberto and the other on the coast opposite, Forte de Nossa Senhora da Queimada, they were built to protect the coast against pirates, and held troops until 1844.
The 1755 earthquake severely damage the forts, and besides being classified as a national monument in 1957, they are nowadays abandoned.
Famous as a pirate refuge, there is a local legend telling how northern Africa pirates arrived to the island to find a hermit who decided to protect the little chapel with his life. They killed him and ransacked the chapel throwing the figure of the Virgin Mary to the burning brambles. People from the village of Porto Côvo came to the island to rescue and search for the Virgin. Finding her intact, they placed the statue in another chapel by the beach, and this was then known as the Capela da Nossa Senhora Queimada, meaning the burned Madonna.
Lapa das Pombas, small-scale fishing harbour.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 14 km
It is the smallest fishing harbour along this coast before Carrapateira. It has been modernized recently and it boasts a fleet of 5 coastal fishing boats crewed by 12 men. They go to sea as often as weather permits, mostly during the summer months. The fish can be tasted in one of the friendly restaurants in the village.
Just as you walk uphill and turn left you will see lots of quite small, sticky grayish plants growing in the sand on both sides of the path. It is an endemic Yellow Toadflax (Linaria ficalhoana).
It is interesting to look at the various prints on the sand as you are walking along the path. You can often spot Snake, Mongoose and even Otter prints. Look out for Kestrels!
Cabo Sardão, Lighthouse
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 20 km
Was built at the beginning of the twentieth century. Beforehand Cabo Sardao used to be a fearful "rock" sticking out of the dark coastline! The lighthouse is the only Portuguese public building that by mistake was inverted 180 degrees when it was built. A visit to the lighthouse can be arranged in advance with the lighthouse keeper. There used to be an old small fishing port in the natural harbour on the right of the lighthouse but it was dangerous and only line fishing was possible.
The cliffs here are very high and the metamorphic characteristics of the rocks are obvious. The folds in the dark grey schist are fantastic!
This area boasts various species of Rockroses including the rare and protected Cistus palhinhae with its sticky heavily aromatic dark green leaves and big white flowers. Sea Lavender (Limonium sp.), Sea Pink, 3 different species of Heather, and various Gorse species are also others worth mentioning.
Good chance to see a White Storks nest almost under your nose. If the nest is occupied please move slowly and quietly. There are various nests on that rock outcrop, also choughs, seagulls and crows.
Zambujeira do Mar
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 30 km
The Parish of Zambujeira do Mar was created in 1989. Small in area, it occupies 41 km of coastal heath, and it owes its notoriousness to the ocean. The tiny old fishing port of Entrada da Barca has been used since ancient times. Zambujeira do Mar, like the whole coast of the District, is still one of the Portuguese coast paradises.
The name Zambujeira, quite common in this region, means wild olive tree. Zambujeira do Mar, like the whole coast in the Municipality, is still one of Portugal's coastal paradises. Its population growth is recent and is due to tourism although other persistent factors like agriculture and fishing, and episodic ones like the construction works of irrigation canals have also contributed to this growth.
For many years the village of Zambujeira was sought by the inhabitants of Odemira and even more distant villages to take salt baths during the summer. The traditional "saint baths" were quite remarkable. St.John's day is when villagers went down to the beach and took their cattle! The ”bath of the 29th" gave origin to the annual fair in August and a day of local festivities.
A big pleasure here is to sit outside one of the many restaurants taking in the glorious sea views and eating grilled sole, sea bream or sea bass. Try a bottle of cold sparkling vinho verde with the fish. Local crabs and crayfish are also a must as are local seafood dishes like "arroz de marisco" and "caldeirada de marisco".
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 26 km
At the end of the navigable stretch of the Mira River, fortified on a commanding spot overlooking the sea-river port, the town of Odemira controlled navigation since ancient times. It represents a model, where a town is located on the interior, connected to the coast through a river channel that it economically controls together with its’ neighboring area, in this case, grosso modo, the Mira River basin.
It’s name – Odemira – reveals that intimate and old relationship with the river and the successive rule of different peoples. The element ode means “river” in Arabic, the same occurring perhaps with the element mira, an even more ancient word. The ideas of “river”, repeated in several languages, eventually become a name.
Its first charter dates back to 1256, shortly after the Christian “reconquest” and identified its boundaries. Initially formed by two big Parishes – Santa Maria and Salvador -, only late 16th century did the Parish network increase with its division and the creation of new Pariches.
In the 19th century, due to a liberal reorganization, the great medieval district extended with the inclusion of other surrounding Parishes and it now forms the largest district in the country
Odemira is the district capital. The first charter identifying its boundaries dates back to 1256, shortly after the Christian “re-conquest”.
As you approach the village, from the bridge on your right you can see a tiny white structure sited in the middle of a field, like a bell tower, and after you have crossed, you will find a similar one at the other end. These are the structures that clutch the ropes used to hold the ferry boat in the old times. The boat went forward and backwards always tied by ropes, immune to the current.
Belonging to the institution of Albergaria da Barca, it was probably the legacy of a rich and wealthy widower who paid for the crossing system in exchange for divine mercy.
One pretty chapel on one side of the river and two on the other side, the council elegant building, the working windmill, the new library on top of the hill (where you can get wired to the internet if needed), white houses, narrow streets, shaded squares, fountains and orange trees, the town certainly is fascinating and worth some attention.
Take an evening walk, before dark, by the river promenade, sit on a platform over the water, quiet and silent, and you might be rewarded by the sight of an otter swimming. The walk takes you under the bridge where the levels of the last worst floods are written on the pillars. A bit further find the structure for the ferry crossing and up the steps, on the road to the cemetery, have a glimpse at a massive night roost of white egrets on the waterside trees.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 15 km
Cercal is a town founded in 1274. Some say that its name comes from the Latin word "quercalu", which means oak tree, which were very numerous in the area in past times. Some archaeological sites can be found in the neighbourhood, from pre-historical to Roman, who inhabited the region to exploit copper and iron mining. Nevertheless it is a typical Alentejo town and well worth a considered visit. Behind the busy roundabout there is an interesting old town centre with tiny streets. Lots of little farms, called “cercas”, surround the village, and there is also a possibility that this is where the name comes from. On the roundabout you will find many cafes, restaurants and the gorgeous bakery Pastelaria Baú Doce, and following the directions to Sines, there is Sr. Godinhos leather shop. Take your time to have a look inside it, is full of leather goods and his workshop is opposite.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 17 km
The Parish of S. Luis was created in the late 16th century, in the context of the movement to form new Parishes in the district of Odemira. The movement certainly derived from the intention to improve and the organization and efficiency of the church, as contained In the Council of Trent.
Is a charming little village that no longer holds the importance of past times, when the main road from Lisbon to the Algarve went through and made of it a prosperous village with an inn, shops and restaurants.
Located in a low plain, east side of the mountains, the village took advantage of the good agricultural conditions, through a network of small intensive farms: the cercas. The mining wealth of the mountains has been an object of periodic exploration since ancient times.
There is a Legend that says that on top of the Serra de S. Domingos, SW from the village, once a chapel was built to S. Domingos by a family of seven children. Every one of the children built a chapel on a similar peak in such a way that all could be seen by the others.
One day, a shepherd took his best lamb to pay homage to the saint (protector of animals) and tied it to the image. At one point the lamb was scared and ran downhill with the saint attached to it. Only the head could be saved and was used to make a new saint: S. Luís, that stayed in the village church and is also known as a guardian of animals.
Distance from Vila Nova de Milfontes: 42 km
River Seixe is the boundary between Alentejo and Algarve. An attractive village with narrow streets and cosy piazzas, where you can sit outside to have a well earned rest and enjoy a drink at the end of your days walk.
Take some time to visit the village church, a very simple but interesting building dating from late 19th century, which also belonged to the Order of Santiago, or the Winery-Museum (Adega-Museu) that recreates the wine production atmosphere as in old times.
On top of the hill, the wind mill is still functional and it is possible to watch how the miller checks the wind direction and manages the traditional milling process. From here the views are superb, especially at the sunset where you might also witness the massive night roost of little egrets on the bamboo of the river banks.
The hills at both sides are perfectly covered by aromatic scrub, which in spring turns into a multicolour tapestry, white rockroses (Cistus ladanifer and C. monspeliensis), purple French lavender and the more conspicuous white lavender (Lavandula viridis), pink heather and the extremely prickly yellow gorse.