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Comporta foodie guide: where to eat and drink

For a weekend of local wines, fresh seafood and earthy rice dishes head an hour south of Lisbon to the wild sand-fringed coastline, pine forests and stylish beach retreats of Comporta, in Portugal

Thinking of a Comporta holiday? Want to know the best places to stay in Comporta? Read our guide to Comporta restaurants, bars and villas in Comporta including sublime Comporta

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If you want to enjoy Comporta at its rustic, back-to-nature best go now. The fashion crowd may already have discovered this picture-perfect village and the beaches and towns that surround it (Christian Louboutin and Philippe Starck have houses there) but the striking modern holiday homes they have built are low-rise and discreet, hidden behind umbrella pines, cork oaks and immaculately staged coastal gardens. Likewise the few beach bars and fish restaurants that have sprung up on the area’s fine, flaxen sand are, for now, carefully managed and heavily restricted. With whispers of larger hotel companies moving in, however, this beautifully wild-edged enclave of barefoot luxury may not remain that way for long.

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Sleek cabana villas sit among umbrella pines and cork trees at Sublime Comporta

Only 90 minutes’ drive south of Lisbon (read our guide to the best places to eat and drink in Lisbon here), the area has long been protected by its status as a natural reserve (at its northern end is the Sado estuary, home to bottlenose dolphins, flamingos and storks, whose giant nests can be spotted balancing on the top of the telegraph poles that run alongside the region’s roads). Add a handful of hippie-chic shops and galleries into the mix, local vineyards, upmarket horse riding and kayaking operators, a smattering of rustic rice and seafood restaurants – plus a couple of more elegant options for craft cocktails and finer Portuguese dining – and you have a recipe for the perfect summer weekend away.


Where to eat and drink in Comporta village

Comporta itself is a small, pretty village lined with cobbled streets, blue and white-painted rice barns, shuttered, low-rise buildings and stately, sweet-scented Indian neem trees. A stroll around the village won’t take longer than half an hour but there’s plenty to distract you along the way…

  • Eucalyptus bakery – to pick up gooey, flaky pasteis de nata (@eucalyptuspastelaria)
  • Colmo Bar – a hip little juice and cocktail bar that opens summer-only (lavandacomporta.com)
  • Casa da Cultura Comporta – a gallery, shop and wine bar (casaculturacomporta.pt)
  • Mercearia Gomes – a grocery store with floor-to-ceiling shelves tightly packed with rice, wine, cheese, sardines, local fruit and veg, oils and soaps (@merceariagomescomporta)
  • Cavalarica – a beautifully elegant restaurant and cocktail joint set in an old stables right in the centre of town (cavalaricacomporta.com)
Colmo bar
Order a fresh juice or a glass of local wine at Colmo bar in Comporta village

Cegonha

Join the locals at Cegonha (“stork” – a nod to the region’s most emblematic birds), a simple roadside restaurant specialising in grilled meat and fish cooked over coals, and served in huge portions. It has the feel of a social club, with staff and locals smoking, chatting and watching TV, but it’s welcoming and friendly. We tried the porc Alentejano – pork with clams – huge hunks of creamy, paprika- and bay-laced pork, scattered with sweet little clams (Rua do Comercio; 00 351 265 497 658).

Whatever you do, drive out of town at sunset to gaze over the Sado Estuary, stopping off at the little fishing village of Carrasqueira to admire its sun-drenched tangle of boardwalks and stilted fishermen’s shacks.

A flaky, caramel pastel de nada from Eucalyptus Pastelaria
A flaky, caramel pastel de nada from Eucalyptus Pastelaria

Dona Bia

It’s easy to miss workaday roadside restaurant Dona Bia as you drive south out of town but make sure you don’t. There’s nothing showy about its comforting, homely recipes (grandmother-style traditional regional dishes are the name of the game) but the cooking – and the pricing – is excellent and its light, bright tables get understandably busy. Rumours are that this is where local chefs go to eat after work and we believe them.

If you want to try the region’s rich, earthy rice dishes, or staples like coriander clams, Alentejan pork or steak with homemade chips, this is where to find them at their rustic best. The restaurant is especially known for its fish, however, and often serves seabags (check out our best sea bass recipes here), turbot and razor clams. We plump for grilled sardines, their plump flesh and scorched skin hinting at a wood-fired oven. Served with waxy little boiled potatoes and a simple but perfectly dressed salad it proves the point that sometimes simple is best.

EN 261, Comporta; 00 351 265 497 557

Freshly grilled sardines at roadside restaurant Dona Bia
Freshly grilled sardines at roadside restaurant Dona Bia

The best beach restaurants near Comporta

Sal Restaurante at Pego Beach

Home to one of Comporta’s best stretches of pale gold sand, Praia do Pego draws visitors for another reason, too; walk to the beach from the car park and the first thing you see is Sal Restaurante, a cute little beach bar at the top of the dunes, overlooking the sand.

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It is now comfortably on the beaten tourist trail but don’t let that put you off. Inside is a cute mishmash of casual, fisherman-chic beach style (white-painted wooden tables, a ceiling strung with buoys, anchors and other flotsam), ideal for a casual lunch. Or, bag a table on its terrace in the early evening and while away that heat-drunk hour or so, when the sun starts to drop and people start to billow off the sand, with a glass of local white and something to stave off hunger pangs until later in the evening; try the octopus salad, the soft octopus spiked with tiny cubes of crunchy red onion, chopped parsley and peppery olive oil.

If you happen to be staying at Sublime Comporta let the team know; guests get preferential access to the best sun loungers and (with 24 hours notice) otherwise impossible table reservations.

restaurantesal.pt

Pego beach - food at Sal restaurant
Octopus salad and a glass of local white at Sal restaurant on Pego beach

O Dinis Restaurante dos Pescadores at Carvalhal Beach

On another beautiful, wide open stretch of beach, O Dinis Restaurante dos Pescadores is more rustic but less casual than Restaurante Sal (tables are simple wooden affairs but eating here feels like more of an occasion). It’s owned by a fisherman and specialises, as the name suggests, in fish; the grilled fish of the day is worth the visit alone.

o dinis food (carvalhal section)

If you’re not a fan of whole fish, order the clams (best clam recipes here) with garlic and coriander: they’re sweet and plump, laced with garlic and coriander and a salty, lemony broth to dip (good) bread in. One word of warning: accompanying salads and sides are more ordinary (our lettuce tasted ever-so-slightly of soap). But that can almost be forgiven when the fish is as good as it is.

Praia do Carvalhal; 00 351 967 977 193

Prawn Caldine Curry Recipe

Comporta Café at Comporta Beach

The closest beach to Comporta village would be dreamy anywhere else but is slightly outshone in the region by gorgeous Pego and Carvalhal. If you’re staying in town and have no wheels it’s well worth hanging out on, however. At the end of the day head to the Comporta Café to swing in one of its hammocks, or sit back on one of its Adirondack chairs with a Negroni or a jug of sangria to share. It’s not as chichi or friendly as Sal, or as authentic as O Dinis, but it’s a popular spot on a busy beach and hits that beach bar spot.

comporta cafe (comporta beach section)

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Where to stay in Comporta – Sublime Comporta

This 17-acre estate – its rooms, suites and cabana villas peppered among umbrella pines, cork trees, frangipane flowers and olives – is a blueprint for low impact hotel design in the region, stylish and subtle rather than dominating the surrounding landscape. First opened in 2014 it is currently going through an expansion, imminently adding more rooms to its current stable of 34.

Under architect Jose Alberto Charrua most of the hotel’s rooms and suites are set within ultra modern villas (a gorgeously tactile, contemporary take on the region’s distinctive traditional thatched cabanas). Inside all is minimal and white, with the odd pop of polished concrete or warm wood (so minimal, in fact, that it took us a while to get the hang of the handle-less, push-clasp wardrobe doors).

Some are larger two or three-bedroom suites, with private dining areas, fireplaces and plunge pools. Others are one-bedroom (some cabanas can be split so you can just take one room) but still have show-stopping bathrooms, with sculptural white baths and generous stocks of Claus Porto toiletries.

We loved the simple welcome gifts – bowls of cashews and fruit, plus a bottle of chilled rosé from the neighbouring vineyard. If, like us, you are lost without a cup of tea in bed first thing, however, we recommend packing a travel kettle and some teabags; coffee machines are provided but not kettles and it will cost you dearly (€15) to order a cuppa on room service.

swimming pool

Though not directly on the beach (the closest is a five-minute drive away), the vibe is that of a grown-up, romantic, beach retreat. There’s also a dedicated spa, using organic Amala products for its range of soothing treatments, and a yoga pavilion. Perhaps surprisingly, given the serene atmosphere, families are welcome, too. A children’s pool – separate to the main rim-flow pool (pictured above) – is open all year round and there’s also a children’s playroom.

Really it’s all about gentle indulgence, however. The hotel’s lobby bar is one of the most successful we’ve seen, a glamorous, high ceiling’d space that invites you to wallow with a drink or a book. If you’re keen to delve deeper into the hotel’s drinks list, it offers a premium wine-tasting experience in its wine cellar; there’s a focus on wines from across Portugal but, in particular, on those from the Setubal DOC.

sem porta restaurant

Sem Porta restaurant at Sublime Comporta

Food is another highlight of the hotel. Sem Porta (“without doors”) is the hotel’s airy main restaurant (see picture above), its mid-century furnishings (tan leather banquettes, cantilevered chairs…) and floor-to-ceiling windows divided from the lobby bar by breezy gauze curtains (Food Circle, a kind of rustic chef’s table dining experience set within the organic kitchen garden and cooking only over fire, also runs throughout the summer and on Friday and Saturday evenings in the shoulder season).

Under Tiago Santos (previously head chef at Bar Douro, read our restaurant review of Bar Douro here) in London and, before that, at various stellar Portuguese restaurants), both settings make much of seasonal and regional ingredients and influences, with exquisite rice dishes and ingredients sourced from local fishermen and wineries (look out for wines and olive oils from the neighbouring winery, Quinta do Brejinho da Costa on the menu and in the hotel’s shop). The kitchen garden, in front of Sem Porta, also supplies the chefs and there are plans to expand this side of things further; one of Portugal’s leading permaculture experts, Graca Saraiva, has been working with the hotel to encourage biodiversity on site, and to establish a dedicated seed bank.

Breakfast ticks (almost) all the right boxes. Sem Porta’s long wooden serving tables are almost invisible, screened by platters of gorgeous fresh sheep’s cheeses, finely sliced fruit, cereals, tiny pastel de nata pastries and deliciously creamy homemade yogurt. We’re not generally fans of bacon and eggs kept warm but, here, the hot breakfast basics are kept warm in Le Creuset casseroles balanced over giant clay hot pots and we were impressed (omelettes are, thankfully, made to order). The only other surprise was that none of the servers had heard of – or were able to deliver – a flat white.

Check out our step-by-step guide to making the perfect Portuguese custard tarts here

Portuguese custard tarts on a cooling rack

The main event, however, is lunch or dinner at Sem Porta. It’s a lovely space to eat in, its cavernous proportions designed to mimic the area’s ancient blue- and white-painted rice storage buildings. In this case the colours have been left muted and natural, with great use of wood, glass and foliage, and the large space gives each table plenty of privacy, without feeling clinical. Speckled crockery in a range of earthy colours, produced for the hotel by the local pottery, are another great example of the attention to detail here.

Our meal gets off to an impressive start with water bread, light goats milk butter and beautifully grassy olive oil, served with a glass of toasty sparkling Soalheiro wine, made with green Alvarinho grapes. After a tiny taster of oyster vichyssoise (this is one of Portugal’s largest oyster-producing regions) topped with a sliver of crispy fish skin (a relevation – it tastes just like a posh potato crisp), we move on to soft cuttlefish with crispy tapioca pearls (not rice, of course, but a clever play on the combination) and perfectly paired sharp-sweet passionfruit gel, a dot of much needed colour and zing in an otherwise understated dish. The highlight, however, was a dish of tender guinea fowl served over cabidela-style rice (like a rich, nutty risotto this was made with blood, vinegar, red wine gravy and a hint of garden mint) and paired with a light but liquorice-y and leathery Douro red, a 2009 Piorro.

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Tender guinea fowl with Bordalesa rice at Sem Porta

For dessert, we choose grilled pear matchsticks with pear toffee baba cake, topped by a gorgeously boozy cloud of Ferreirinha-laced (brandy) cream, a small scoop of pear sorbet and a shower of cornflower petals straight from the garden. It’s a heady, indulgent mix that leaves a surprisingly light footprint, rather like the hotel itself.

sublimecomporta.pt

Breakfast at Sublime Comporta
Breakfast at Sublime Comporta

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Words and images by Rhiannon Batten