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Arrábida travel guide for food lovers

water next to the rock

 

Arrábida Natural Park, often known in Portuguese simply as Serra da Arrábida, is a protected area which ranges from mountains to the Atlantic ocean, roughly between the city of Setúbal and the fishing town of Sesimbra. Being located in the Peninsula of Setúbal, just 45 km from Lisbon, Arrábida makes for a great day trip from Lisbon, particularly for lovers of the great outdoors.

Arrábida is not only an ideal spot to do activities in nature, it is quite honestly one of the best nature destinations in Portugal. The special combination between mountain ranges with unique vegetation, the imposing cliffs and the many picture perfect beaches you’ll find in this corner of the district of Setúbal (which actually is contained within the municipalities of Palmela, Sesimbra and Setúbal), certainly makes Arrábida stand out.

 

an island in the middle of a body of water

 

Active travelers have enough reasons to be happy in Arrábida, as this corner of the country has incredible hiking trails, but there are many other adventure activities which can keep you entertained around here, such as canoeing, swimming and snorkeling. And because the coastline is rugged and topographically diverse, you can also do coasteering, which combines several modalities such as hiking, swimming, sliding and more.

a man swimming in the water

 

You can get active when you visit Arrábida, hiking past old monasteries like the Convent of Our Lady of Arrábida (pictured here), and even archeological remains from two millennia ago, from the days the Roman Empire reached the Iberian Peninsula, and they used to prepare a pungent fermented fish sauce called garum, in huge outdoor tanks you can still observe here today.

But strenuous activities are certainly not compulsory to enjoy the natural park. You could just as well visit one of the several beaches, relaxing as you mix sunbathing and actual swimming in the ocean.

Keep in mind that accessing some of Arrábida’s beaches isn’t always that straightforward. Because this is a natural protected area, during the summer, traffic is heavily restricted to some parts of the park, and so there are free shuttles departing from Setúbal (you can find more information and schedules here) which can really come in handy to get to some of the most popular locations, including Portinho da Arrábida, Galapinhos beach, Praia da Figueirinha and even the way less busy Praia do Creio. But, to get to the more off the beaten track unspoiled beaches, such as Praia dos Coelhos or Praia do Porto da Baleeira, you’d need to walk down relatively short trails which, may not be too long, but can include sharp and slippery inclines and that can be tiring for some, no just because of their fitness level, but also because hot days with no shade can make the hike feel impossibly long. Of course striking a deal with a local boat and going to your preferred beach via the water itself is also an option – a rather movie-like one, might we say. One thing is for sure and that is that you will find truly pristine beaches in Arrábida. They are so untouched that they have the potential to make you feel like you are not that close to a capital city anymore.

 

a body of water with a mountain in the background

 

Once again, because this is a natural area with heavy restrictions on construction and general urbanization (and we’re so glad it is that way), when you come to Arrábida there aren’t that many facilities or places to go eat out at. The few existing options that are there within the protected natural park itself, concentrate around the bay of Portinho da Arrábida and a few of the most popular beaches. So, for a wider range of shops, cafes and restaurants, travelers often head to nearby cities and towns, namely Setúbal, Palmela, Azeitão and Sesimbra – this is also where you may want to stock up for supplies if you’re planning to hike and eat on the go.

If you are on the move and want to explore the general area, you could combine several of these places for an amazing day trip filled with nature, regional cuisine and extraordinary wines. For example, you could easily combine a morning hike which culminates in a refreshing dip in the ocean at one of Portinho da Arrábida’s beaches, followed by a rich seafood lunch in Sesimbra. Or you could also head to Setúbal from Lisbon by train (it takes a little less than one hour, departing from Roma-Areeiro, Sete Rios or Campolide, aboard the Fertagus train) and, from here, take advantage of the free shuttle buses to the beaches. If hiking is not your cup of tea, you could grab lunch by the beach itself and, why not, get a cab and head or hop on bus to nearby Palmela, where you could in the afternoon visit one of the many vineyards and do a wine tasting to learn more about the nectars of the Península de Setúbal wine region.

There may not be many options within Arrábida itself, but the cuisine of this region of Portugal is immensely rich. Many of us, Lisbon locals, are known to travel to Setúbal or Sesimbra for the sake of indulging in fresh seafood and regional wines, so we would encourage you to do so too when you are traveling around Arrábida.

Do not miss the super popular choco frito from Setúbal, consisting of chunky strips of cuttlefish with a light batter which is deep-fried until golden and customarily eaten with fries and a little side salad. Choco frito is such a big deal in this city that there is even a statue of a giant but friendly looking cephalopod out in the street, which tourists often click their photo with. Assorted seafood platters or mariscadas, as they are known in Portugal, are obviously common too, as is charcoal grilled fish which depends on the season and catch of the day, but that is always as fresh as it gets.

 

a close up of a plate of food

 

Other relevant regional products from around Arrábida include oysters from the Sado river, sharp and buttery raw sheep milk ​​Azeitão cheese, and Tortas de Azeitão, which feature thin sponge cake rolled with luscious egg jam in between.

a cup of coffee

 

When in Arrábida, make it a point to drink local wine. Moscatel de Setúbal, one of Portugal’s fortified wines, is of course great to end your meal with, but there are also beautiful options of table wines from the Peninsula of Setúbal wine region which will pair beautifully with your seafood or meat based dishes.

 

a close up of a bottle and a glass of wine

 

As we mentioned above, restaurant options within Arrábida National Park itself are limited so if you want a larger range of places to choose from, you may want to pop over to Sesimbra or Setúbal to enjoy a typical meal. Otherwise, stick with us as we are about to share with you the best places to go eat out in Serra da Arrábida, focusing on restaurants by the beach.

 

Restaurants in Portinho da Arrábida

 

D’u Portinho

a boat is docked next to a body of water

Portinho da Arrábida beach has been voted as one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal and D’u Portinho certainly stands out too as one of the very best restaurants in the region.

As Portinho da Arrábida is a fishing village with deeply rooted sea traditions, you can be rest assured that the seafood that lands on your plate here is the uttermost fresh and of great quality too. This might not be the most affordable restaurant around but, between being located in one of the most beautiful bays of Portugal, and serving well executed seafood based dishes, we think it’s worth it on a special day out in Arrábida. D’u Portinho has a terrace built on stilts over the water, giving you the feeling that you’re almost out at sea while enjoying your meal outdoors. Here you can delight yourself with a variety of straightforward fish dishes. We recommend looking for species you won’t easily come across elsewhere, sometimes not even in Lisbon. We’re talking for example about red mullet (salmonete), blackbelly rosefish (also known as bluemouth rockfish or, in Portuguese, cantaril), red porgy (pargo), white seabeam (sargo), turbot (pregado), or sole fish (linguado), amongst others that come and go seasonally. Note that fish is sold by weight, denoting that this is wildly captured fish and not a product of aquaculture. Ask how much a piece of fish might weigh before your order, so that you have a clear idea of how much you’ll end up spending.

📍Rua do Portinho da Arrábida, 2925-378 Portinho da Arrábida

www.instagram.com/restauranteduportinho

 

Restaurante Farol Arrábida

a plate of food and a cup of water

Also located in Portinho da Arrábida (which translates as Arrábida’s little port), we find Farol, a restaurant just by the edge where the port area ends and the actual beach begins. This is another restaurant to visit with time. You do not want to come here to rush things. Instead, take it slow, order some great seafood, and enjoy it mindfully while admiring the expansive views of the turquoise waters the Atlantic has as it kisses Arrábida’s shore. During the summer, sitting outdoors is obviously our go-to option but, even during colder days, you can still enjoy the views as the restaurant walls are mostly glass, not blocking the panorama you have certainly come here to soak in too.

Open since ​​1985, Farol offers Portuguese seafood classics, from small dishes to main meals. Get started with some juicy clams in Bulhão Pato sauce, garlic prawns, chilled octopus salad or tuna muxama, that is delectable dry tuna which is to the fish the equivalent that cured ham would be to pork. Farol also serves great fresh seafood, such as crabs and prawns and, of course, more complex hot dishes like grilled fish, seafood rices and pasta based dishes. Massadas, in Portuguese, have nothing to do with Italian pasta. They mix macaroni which is stewed past the point of being al dente, in a tomato rich broth infused with fresh herbs, and chunks of fish and other seafood. Try Farol’s massa de garoupa e gambas (pasta stew with grouper and prawns) or their massa de cantaril (pasta stew with blackbelly rosefish). If despite being by the beach you prefer meat based dishes, we’d recommend their grilled Barrosã beef with DPO (denomination of protected origin) status, or carne de porco à alentejana, a typical dish from the Alentejo region with paprika marinated cubes of fried pork served with clams and fried potatoes. To top things up beautifully, Farol has great home-made desserts and an extensive wine selection to match their top-notch food.

📍Rua do Portinho da Arrábida, 2925-378 São Lourenço

www.farolarrabida.pt

 

Galeão

a bridge over a body of water

Galeão is a great spot to come for lunch during a day out at the beach or, if you’ve been exploring the hills of Arrábida, to come down to for an early dinner overlooking the ocean. Because this restaurant is within the park’s natural protected area, you can’t really drive here during the day, but you can bring your own car after 7PM. Until then, take advantage of the free shuttle buses and, on the way back, the restaurant also offers a shuttle service back to the main road… because they very well know one too many folks are bound to feel a little heavy after indulging at Galeão!

Just like it happens at the other restaurants in Portinho da Arrábida and the greater area as a whole, the quintessential products used at Galeão are fresh fish and seafood. The restaurant has a refrigerated counter up front, where the different species are on display, so you can browse around and select the very piece of fish you’d like for them to grill, without simply having to rely on names on a printed menu. The food is uncomplicated but good, really good.

📍São Lourenço, 2925-025 Portinho da Arrábida

www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100057097764145

 

Cervejaria Mafalda Bar

a group of people sitting at a beach umbrella in the water

Mafalda is a straightforward snack bar, perfect to satisfy your hunger when you don’t want to have a big meal or spend a lot of money in the pricier establishments in the area.

Come here for a cold draft beer, order a tosta mista, which is the Portuguese ubiquitous grilled ham and cheese sandwich, and recharge your batteries to keep exploring Arrábida’s beaches or trails. Mafalda Bar is not right by the beach, but a little higher on the cliff, by the roadside, with lovely outdoor sitting.

As with most places in Arrábida, the views from Mafalda are great, even though the place is as simple as they come. Honestly, we think it’s great that not every establishment in the area is about seafood or assumedly beach club vibes.

 

📍Rua Serra Mãe 26, 2925-378 Portinho da Arrábida

www.facebook.com/BardaArrabida

 

Where to eat in Praia do Creiro

 

O Zeca

First you come to O Zeca for the cocktails. And then you end up staying because of the great food and even better vibes. O Zeca is housed in a pretty building that blends in beautifully with the natural surroundings. It’s the kind of place where you just know (or at least hope) a nice breeze will ease out the sun which by now, after spending some time exploring Arrábida and its beaches, would have already penetrated under your skin.

Just like its fellow restaurants along the coast of Arrábida, O Zeca serves the freshest fish you will probably taste in your life. If you’re super hungry and can’t wait for your main meal to arrive at the table, we suggest starting with a few petiscos, such as chilled octopus salad (salada de polvo). If you’re just passing by, like for example on a hike, and don’t care to have a whole sit-down meal, O Zeca also serves uncomplicated quick foods, such as burgers and sandwiches. But, once again, you may still want to ask for a cocktail – c’mon, look at the photo, this place is just asking for it, wouldn’t you say?

📍Portinho da Arrábida, 2925-378 Vila Nogueira de Azeitão

www.facebook.com/OZecaRestauranteBar

 

Where to eat in Praia da Figueirinha

 

Bar Mar & Figueirinha Beach Lounge

a dining table

This is the place to go for a meal at Praia da Figueirinha. Bar Mar serves the usual fare we have come to expect at many coastal restaurants across Portugal, putting the spotlight on simply grilled fresh fish, enhanced with little more than coarse salt and the smoky powers of charcoal.

For something that might feel a bit more elaborate, and also slightly pricier, try their seafood rice (arroz de marisco), monkfish rice (arroz de tamboril), or caldeirada. Caldeirada is a typical fisherman stew with chunks of fish which keep varying according to the catch of the day.

Figueirinha Beach Lounge is also a cool spot to simply sit down for a drink and, if you get peckish while at it, try their range of petiscos, including deep-fried cuttlefish strips (choco frito), one of the quintessential foods from the region of Setúbal.

 

📍Praia da Figueirinha Arrábida, 2900-727 Setúbal

www.restaurantebarmar.com

 

Restaurants in Praia dos Galapos

 

Ondagalapos

a boat sitting on top of a table

During the 2017 European Best Destinations awards, Galapinhos Beach was highlighted as “the most beautiful beach in Europe”. Right beside the now even more popular Praia dos Galapinhos, we find Galapos, which is literally adjacent to Galapinhos. To get to Galapinhos you’d actually have to walk from Galapos by the shore, something to carefully do when the tide is low. If Galapinhos beach is more wild, Galapos is more easily accessible and has support facilities and places to go for a bite or a drink, such as Ondagalapos restaurant.

Ondagalapos is the perfect kind of place to go for a few rounds of drinks to cool off after a day at the beach, but you can do more than drinking around here. Paulo Ribeiro has been running Ondagalapos for over 30 years, during which he has built a loyal clientele, which come here not only on summer days, but also during the winter, when the indoor dining room with glass doors still allows you to enjoy the stunning surroundings.

Their menu covers many of the classics one would expect in this region, from choco frito to grilled fish over charcoal, BBQ meats and festive dishes like seafood and cataplana, a preparation which is an inheritance from the Moorish days in the south of Portugal. Cataplana, which is the name of the dish as well as the clamshell looking vessel it is cooked inside, can be prepared with assorted seafood, or a mix of fish and pork meat. Here at Ondagalapos, the cataplana de tamboril, featuring monkfish, is nothing short of divine.

📍Praia de Galapos, Serra da Arrábida, 2900-000 Setúbal

www.instagram.com/ondagalapos

 

 

When you travel to Portugal, we hope you get the chance to go explore the natural wonders of Arrábida National Park and, because you will certainly burn many calories while at it, go replenish some energies at these recommended restaurants. Have fun and we look forward to seeing your Arrábida photos over at Instagram, where you can tag us @tasteoflisboa #tasteoflisboa.

 

Feed your curiosity on Portuguese food culture:

Colares travel guide for food lovers

​​Delicious ways to beat the summer heat in Lisbon

Best food festivals in Portugal

Day trips from Lisbon that we locals also enjoy

 

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