A Stopover in Villa Nova de Milfontes
Last year we booked a spontaneous trip to Portugal. It was our second trip with our 9-month-old daughter, and we knew it would push us outside of our comfort zone a little bit. We planned to take it slow and spend 21 days exploring the coast from Lisbon to Faro. The first leg of our trip was from Lisbon to Lagos. We stopped at a few spots along the way, and planned to spend one night at the halfway point between the two cities. The town we stayed in is called Villa Nova de Milfontes. We knew nothing about this town ahead of time, but loved it so much we ended up staying a total of 5 days.
As we drove south from Lisbon we turned off the N120 and headed towards town, we could see the Atlantic Ocean in the distance and could feel we were getting closer to the coast. A friend living in Portugal at the time recommended a restaurant called Porto das Barcas, that happened to be on the outskirts of town. As we pulled up to the restaurant and got out of our car, I could feel the cool ocean breeze and smell the salt in the air. Since we arrived in Portugal this was the first time we got close to the ocean. The restaurant was perched at the top of a cliff overlooking the Alentejo coast, and a small fishing port below. The views and rugged beauty of the coastline were stunning.
After lunch, we continued down the narrow winding road into the center of town to our AirBnb. The cobblestone streets, lined with medieval buildings were barely wide enough for a single car to squeeze through. Passing local residents and tourists on the way, there was a sense of relaxation here and I could already feel I was going to love this place.
Originally founded in the 1400s the town sits at the mouth of the Mira river along the estuary where it meets the ocean. Its location allowed it to serve as a safe harbour in the region. Because of its proximity to the river and access to the sea, the town was frequently invaded by pirates in the 16th and 18th centuries. In the 16th century, a fort was built to protect the small fishing village from these attacks.
The old part of town is a collection of narrow cobblestone streets and alleyways weaving between historical houses. Most are stark white with blue, yellow, or red painted features. There are souvenir shops, galleries, and restaurants sprinkled throughout the town. At the southern point of town lies the castle overlooking the mouth of the river. A boardwalk starts at the base of the castle continuing up along the river. We loved taking walks here watching tiny fishing boats spin on their anchor and people getting ferried across the river to beaches on the other side.
A maritime police station and lookout marks the furthest point of land jutting out from the town and they entryway into the estuary. The long road that leads from the town to the lookout was one of our favourite walks. especially at sunset as the surrounding beaches and cliffs took on orange and golden hues from the setting sun.
The area is surrounded by beautiful beaches, each with its own character and features. Most are walkable from town and have their own unique characteristics.
Our favourite beach was across the river, which was a short drive or ferry ride from the base of the castle. This beach was absolutely massive and stretched for about two kilometres with towering cliffs above. It wasn’t busy and there were endless spots to explore and set up for the day. One of the most fascinating things was that the low tide would leave a large pool of water, big enough and deep enough to swim in that would warm up during the day, and then get completely flooded as the high time came in. It was a fun area to splash around especially since the Atlantic was still pretty cold in early May.
Our plan heading to Portugal was to do a mix of cooking and eating out. The food was too good to resist and we ended up doing very little cooking. We visited many restaurants over the 5 days we spent here but there were two that stood out the most, coincidentally both seafood restaurants.
Porto das Barcas was the restaurant we visited on our way into town. Based on our so far we knew the food would probably be good, but the atmosphere, scenery, and menu blew us away. We enjoyed sitting outside, looking out at the ocean, and eating the fresh seafood that was on offer that day. It was the perfect way to begin our stay here. There was a small fishing port a short walk from the restaurant that we spent some time exploring after lunch.
My other personal favourite was an unassuming secluded restaurant at the very end of the peninsula that juts out from the town, just below the police station, A Choupana. We walked here one night from our AirBnb, and even when we got to the end of the lookout, standing at the base of the station the restaurant still wasn’t visible. A column of smoke was rising from the end of a wooden boardwalk that takes you down towards the water to an unassuming wooden structure. As we approached we could smell the catch of the day grilling on the fire. The food was fresh, cooked right in front of us, but the absolute best thing about this place was the atmosphere. It felt secluded and peaceful, sitting at the edge of the world watching the sun set over the Atlantic.
Looking back on our time in Portugal, I am grateful we were able to enjoy this adventure as a family and make so many new memories. Every place we visited had something unique to offer, and if you’re ever planning to visit Portugal I’d consider a trip along the coast.