Setúbal is an insider tip at the gates of Lisbon

One of Portugal's most beautiful sandy beaches, a fish market with rarity value, prominent film history - the Setúbal peninsula just outside Lisbon has a lot to offer, but is hardly visited by tourists.

To be honest, that is very good for those who like silence.

The lighthouse at the wild Espichel Cape on the peninsula towers above the cliffs

Visitors' mouths water at the Mercado do Livramento in Setúbal.

At least, if they like fish. Here you can find fresh cod, squid, sole, sea bass, giltheads, sardines, also barnacles, oysters and the fearsome black scabbardfish.

Everything comes freshly caught from the bay of Setúbal, a saleswoman assures us.

You can't get better fish anywhere in Portugal. It is not difficult to believe her advertising. And she could do even more advertising for her place, for her peninsula at the gates of Lisbon, which has already attracted devout pilgrims as well as moneyed Hollywood producers, a film-worthy place full of stories and legends.

Setúbal was Portugal's most important fishing port until a few decades ago, and its well-stocked fish market is a rarity.

A feast for the senses is the Mercado do Livramento. The smells, the noise, the movement - the whole city seems to be here. Neighbouring women chat animatedly. A restaurant owner is loudly trying to bargain down the price. There is an exciting, fascinating confusion.

The fish stalls are followed by hundreds of metres of other stalls in the huge market hall between the harbour and the old town.

Meat, fruit and vegetables are also sold, as well as cheese, wine and honey of regional varieties.

Small cafés and restaurants line the sides.

The hall, built in 1930 in the Art Deco style, is decorated inside with the azulejo tile murals typical of Portugal.

Only a few tourists

For the newspapers, the Mercado do Livramento is one of the best markets in the world.

All the more surprising that not a single tourist wanders through the hall with his camera.

The market is the best example of the fact that even in a popular tourist destination like Portugal, there are still regions that can be described as a tourist insider tip.

It is even more surprising when this tip is located right at the gates of Lisbon.

Setúbal may still be a familiar name to football fans. It is the home of the world-famous coach José Mourinho.

But foreign holidaymakers are hardly aware of the Setúbal peninsula in the south of the Portuguese capital.

Yet you only need to cross the 17-kilometre-long Vasco da Gama Bridge over the Tagus(Tejo) River to reach it.

Setúbal's old town is not overrun by tourists.

The quiet harbour town of Setúbal on the other side of the peninsula is 50 kilometres from Lisbon.

An architectural and urban jewel:

* old town palaces, dreamy squares with stone fountains, narrow alleys. The tiles of the house facades glow in yellow, pink and blue.

The Franciscan monastery Convento de Jesus from 1492 is considered the first building in Portugal's Manueline style.

Today it houses the city museum and sacred art from the 15-th century onwards.

In the Casa da Baía, the House of the Bay, archaeological finds tell of the city's 2000-year-old history.

The mighty 16-th-century fortress of São Filipe towers high above the city.

From the imposing castle, the view sweeps over the Atlantic and the coastal mountains of the Serra da Arrábida, which drop steeply into the sea. The nature park is a dream for hikers and mountain bikers.

Traces from prehistoric times

"Unfortunately, most visitors to Lisbon don't know what they're missing here," says Fernanda Chagas, while Amandio steers the jeep through the rough terrain of the coastal mountains.

The couple knows the region very well.

For many years, they have been offering cultural and nature excursions to the Serra da Arrábida with their company Sesimbra Safari. Today Fernanda and Amandio take their guests to the extreme southwest of the peninsula - to Cape Espichel.

After a short hike, the group reaches the steep cliffs. The cliffs drop almost 170 metres into the sea. Fernanda kneels down and points out huge oval indentations in the limestone floor. "According to fishermen's legends, these are the tracks of the mule of the Holy Virgin Senhora do Cabo.

In fact, they are footprints left here by dinosaurs up to 30 metres tall some 150 million years ago," she explains.

The Ermida da Memória chapel above the cliffs.

Palaeontologists from the Portuguese Centre for Geo- and Prehistory (CPGP) found 614 more prints in the area - the largest number of Cretaceous dinosaur footprints in Portugal, according to the researchers.

Nearby is the distinctive lighthouse dating from 1790, the first lighthouse having been commissioned at this site as early as 1430. Long after the dinos.

In addition, King Peter II ordered the construction of the Baroque pilgrimage church Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Cabo with impressive perspective ceiling paintings in 1701.

Along with Fátima, the monastery ensemble is one of the most important places of pilgrimage in Portugal.

The numerous, but partly dilapidated pilgrims' lodgings bear witness to this.

And another sacred building:

next to the monastery church, the 15-th century Ermida da Memória is enthroned on the cliff edge.

Inside the small chapel with its onion-shaped roof, white and blue tile paintings tell the story of a virgin who is said to have once appeared to the fishermen here.

Popular as a film set

Capo Espichel is a special place full of legends and stories.

Hollywood fell in love with the wildly romantic headland with its spectacular church buildings perched on the precipice.

Bille August filmed Isabel Allende's 1982 debut novel "The Haunted House" here in the early nineties with Jeremy Irons, Glenn Close and Meryl Streep.

Moritz Bleibtreu and Cameron Diaz shot film scenes for "The Invisible Circus" (2001) at the Cape.

Wim Wenders immortalised the unique landscape in his "Lisbon Story" (1994).

Sesimbra is also movie-worthy, although no Hollywood films were shot here.

The town is not far from the Cape and is known for its long sandy beach and good fish restaurants.

Sesimbra's fishermen even supply Lisbon's star chefs.

Several factors play a role in the good quality, explains marine biologist Catarina Gómez:

"The water temperature influenced by the Gulf Stream, the good water quality, but above all the many nutrients that are washed into the waters off Sesimbra from the muddy mouth of the Sado River."

Sesimbra is still mainly a fishing village.

This makes the Bay of Setúbal so rich in fish that not only do orcas and other whales regularly pass by, but huge families of dolphins also stay here permanently.

You can even see them passing by Sesimbra's beach from time to time.

If you want to see the bottlenose dolphins up close, you are only a boat trip away.

"In 98% of all trips we see the dolphins.

At the moment there is a group of 28 dolphins with two cubs," reports marine biologist Gómez, who is present during excursions.

The boat trip through the bay alone is worth it.

The beaches are surrounded by the greenery of the Serra de Arrábida.

Praia dos Galapinhos was named the most beautiful natural beach in Europe in 2017.

On the Tróia peninsula opposite, one of the longest sandy beaches in Europe beckons behind the sea of dunes with pine trees - it measures 13 kilometres.

Sheep's cheese and oysters

The hinterland also has its culinary charms.

At the foot of the coastal mountains is the wine-growing region of Azeitão.

Here, traditional wineries produce the sweet dessert wine Moscatel and offer bodega tours with wine tastings.

The regional wine centre is located in the wine village of Palmela above the plain.

Here visitors can learn about the wine walking routes on the peninsula.

The Azeitão region is also known throughout the country for its regional cheese with the same name and designation of origin, Queijo de Azeitão, a semi-hard semi-hard cheese made from sheep's milk.

"The milk comes exclusively from Portuguese sheep breeds from the region, and the raw milk is not soaked in rennet after salting, but made thick with cardamom plants," explains master cheesemaker Rui Simões in his cheese dairy in Quinta do Anjo, who has already won several prizes for his products.

His cheeses taste slightly salty, spicy, a little like grass, herbs, sage and cardamom.

One of Setúbal's delicacies is oysters. They find good conditions in the nutrient-rich waters.

Not far away in the nature reserve of the Sado estuary, Célia Rodrigues breeds another regional delicacy: Oysters.

The migratory bird and flamingo colonies provide nutrient-rich waters that create ideal breeding conditions for the oysters.

In the Sado, the delicacies only need one and a half years to fully mature. Not four like in France.

The species known as the Portuguese oyster is popular. It is exported abroad and sold there at a high price.

There is another way: 

Célia's oysters are cheaper at the market in Setúbal.

Tips and information

Getting there Airlines such as TAP (flytap. com) and Lufthansa (lufthansa. com) fly to Lisbon daily from several German airports.

Continue to Setúbal by bus.

Current information on entry and the Corona situation can be found on the websites of your country's Foreign Office.

Information: visitportugal.com

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