Europe’s Next Luxe Beach Retreat—for the Budget Conscious

by  Christina Valhouli | Sep 20, 2018

Comporta, Portugal is often described as the Hamptons of Europe, but that comparison isn’t exactly true. About an hour south of Lisbon, the region attracts a stylish, well-heeled crowd from the capital and around Europe, but unlike the Hamptons, visitors won’t find velvet ropes, flashy cars, or Ralph Lauren boutiques.

What they will find is acres of scenic rice paddies—the cultivation of rice is still central to Comporta’s economy—and cork forests. The real draw, however, is its unspoiled coastline. Comporta comprises a handful of sleepy villages, where development has been kept at bay; all you’ll find at the beaches are a couple of restaurants and a hut selling fresh mojitos and espressos. Celebrities such as Madonna and Philippe Starck have been spotted here, no doubt drawn to its low-key (and low-profile) vibe, but quietude comes at a price.

Many visitors rent villas, like the highly Instagrammed sand-floor retreats designed by architect Manuel Aires Mateus (which will run you more than $400 a night—in low season). There are two hotel choices—one luxury, one budget—and if you stray from ordering staples, which include freshly caught mackerel or sardines, your restaurant bill can easily slide into the triple digits. Fortunately, you can enjoy Comporta on a budget, too. Here’s how to do this under-the-radar beach destination at both the high end and low end.

Where to Stay

Save: The location of the Comporta Residence cannot be beat; it’s in the heart of Comporta village and within walking distance to all the shops and restaurants. Rooms are simple and clean, featuring double beds and tiled floors. If you need a break from the beach, the lobby has comfortable couches and plenty of books, and there’s a small outdoor pool. Rooms start at $92 per night.

Splurge: The aptly named Sublime Comporta is located inland, in the village of Grândola. The 34 guest rooms are housed in simple A-frame structures that play off the clean lines of a rice barn. The surrounding landscape is dotted with olive trees, and guests can spend their days by the pool or practicing yoga in an outdoor pavilion. Book one of the 12 seats at the outdoor Food Circle, where everything is cooked on an open fire. Rooms start at $260 per night and go up to $2,503 for the larger villas.

What to See and Do

Take a three-hour cruise with Vertigem Azul on a catamaran to spot bottle nose dolphins (from $41 per person). Portugal recently made headlines for being home to the biggest wave in the world, but the surf at Carvalhal is ideal for beginners; take a group lesson with Surf in Comporta (from $46 per person). Drive to the tip of the Tróia peninsula to see the ancient ruins of what was once the largest fish-salting production site in the Roman world. The site contains Roman baths, holding tanks for the fish and a mausoleum. Free activities include swimming in the crystal clear Atlantic, long walks on the beach, or browsing the boutiques in Comporta. Pop by Vintage-Department to see retro furniture and Duna Comporta, which stocks caftans and gauzy Turkish towels. When walking around town, remember to look up: Nearly every light pole is topped with a stork nest.

Where to Eat

Start your day with an espresso and pastries at Vóninha - Pastelária Padaria Gelataria; the pastel de nata (egg custard tart) is a must. Make a reservation for an outdoor table at Restaurant o Denis located right on Carvalhal Beach. Avoid beef, which is priced per kilogram, and order fresh-caught grilled mackerel or sardines, which are about $9 a plate. Share a carafe of local vinho verde, a young wine that is almost green in color. For a quick bite, order a ham baguette and pastries at the beach hut on Comporta Beach (there’s only one, so you can’t miss it). Splurge at buzzy Comporta Cafe, which has a DJ during the high season and hammocks right on the beach. Seafood is the star of the menu, with fresh catches from octopus to flounder. Brave the mosquitos and sit on the outdoor terrace at Museu do Arroz, a restaurant in a former rice barn, overlooking the rice paddies. Start off with the fried rice balls, and try the cuttlefish cooked in black ink and served over, of course, rice.

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