Photo: Carla Bruni and Comporta via Elle
Take in the late-summer surfer vibe of Montauk. Then bid adieu to Long Island and barefoot it on down to the beach in José Ignacio in Uruguay. Next, proceed to soak up the scene on a sun- and royalty-drenched stretch of sand in Morocco’s Oualidia. Stop along on the southernmost coast of Spain in Tarifa for a spot of sunbathing and Andalusian cuisine. Then sail over to Trancoso for a beautifully beachy – but spendy – sortie in Brazil’s Bahia, where, in the year 1500, Pedro Alvares Cabral first landed. Finally, head back to the Portuguese explorer’s native land, making a beeline for the west coast and the Sado River estuary about an hour south of Lisbon. Congrats! You’ve finally arrived at your final destination: the sugary-sand beaches of Comporta.
And those stops you made along the way to get here? Comporta is often compared to all of them and while it is like any one of them, somewhat, it isn’t. More like the best of each rolled into one sandy, laid-back parcel of paradise.
Photo: Casas na Areia
While the vibe is beach shack, it is of the upscale surfer-zen variety designed by high-profile architect Manuel Aires Mateus. His Casas na Areia guest houses may have sand floors, but the spare thatched-roof and reed cabins are elegant and modern. This striking juxtaposition of the humble and the elevated was chosen to represent Portugal at 2010’s Venice Biennale of Architecture. And look again at that happy woman strolling down the beach in caszh-chic but unremarkable attire. “Princess Caroline comes here every summer because her parents were friends with the family,” says longtime Comporta resident Mandy de Azevedo Coutinho, adding, “not that you would notice her in flip-flops and caftan.”
"A" marks the spot: Comporta
To be fair, the area did have humble beginnings with salt makers, fisherman and rice farmers, their web of lush green, water-filled canals behind the name Comporta, which means a lock or “gate that holds back water.” However, it was fish of the social sort that put the town on the map which not only includes Comporta, but the nearby villages Pego, Carvalhal, Torre, Possanco, Carrasqueira and Brejos. Brejos is where many members of the country’s prominent banking group, Espírito Santo, can be found, vacationing in their unassuming wood-beamed cabanas with polished concrete floors, their cottages connected not by gates, walls and paved surfaces, but simple sandy tracks. Their neighboring vacationers hail from places like Brazil, Paris and Lisbon – a similarly globetrotting blend of connected cosmopolitans. “The Casiraghis drop by in July and August to stay with Charlotte’s godmother, Albina du Boisrouvray,” reports Conde Nast Traveller, “and Sarkozy and Carla have been spotted further down the coast near Muda.” Shoe designer Christian Louboutin visits and artist Anselm Kiefer even built himself not one but two elegant beach hideaways. And Louis Benech, garden designer to his fellow French aristocrats and other celebrati, is rumored to tool around town generally barefoot. “Comporta,” as the saying goes, “is where rich people go to play at being poor.”
Where to Stay
Photo: Sublime Comporta
The Espírito Santo griup owns a “national agricultural property”, 30,000+ acres of forest, salt marshes, dunes, farmlands, rice fields and beaches. And right next to their Herdade da Comporta is one of the most buzzed-about new boutique hotels. The recently-opened Sublime Comporta Country House Retreat sits on 17 acres, its ten suites and four guest rooms decorated with eco-friendly furnishings and floor-to-ceiling glass filled with serene views of the organic garden; it is planted with organic herbs, fruit and veggies, many of which are featured on the restaurant’s locavore-centric Mediterranean menu. After a day spent luxuriating at the nearby beach, the fire pit is a particularly cozy touch, especially on cool evenings.
Photo: Oceania Island Living
To navigate like a local, ask at the front desk about renting a bike, a Mini Moke (Moke is an archaic word for donkey) or even a golf buggy (the more beat up, the better).
Hitting the Beach
Photo: Lunch at Sal Restaurante
Obviously the top reason to head to Comporta is a praia; the ones in Comporta, Pego and Carvalhal beaches are not only pristine and heavenly, but environmentally certified.
Dolphins off the coast of Portugal. Photo: Take Portugal
When you tire of lounging, why not head to the nearby Sado River Estuary? It’s home to a community of 30+ bottlenose dolphins, as well as nesting storks and flamingos. To go dolphin- and bird-spotting, take a catamaran ride, tour by jeep or visit the Estuary by boat, Vertigem Azul organizes nature and eco-tourism for groups both small and large. Rotas do Sal specializes in trips to the nearby Arrábida mountain range and Setúbal bay. They are more than happy to amend your itinerary to include a stop at a wine cellar for a glass (or three) of Moscatel de Setúbal. Both companies come highly recommended by the in-the-know locals who edit UP Magazine.
Eat & Drink
Photo: Fried Padron peppers at Restaurante Museu do Arroz via Conde Nast Traveler
Sea bass is a local speciality that isn’t to be missed. The low-key O Dinis Bar dos Pescadores on Carvalhal beach is even owned by a fisherman for guaranteed, this-morning’s-boat fresh fish. At Restaurante Sal at Pego Beach, the beachside view and vibe is as good as the food. For leisurely, sangria-soaked lunching (note: lunch here starts no earlier than 2 pm), head to Restaurante Ilha do Arroz. Follow a pitcher of fizzy, strawberry-laced deliciousness with cheese made locally, salad with tomatoes and sweet onions, calamari, clams cooked in white wine with garlic and parsley, rice scented with coriander and the portuguese fish stew named for the domed, copper dish of Moorish design it was originally cooked in. Cataplana is traditionally made from a base of onions, tomatoes, herbs and wines, but other ingredients vary by region (and cook), and can include peppers, potatoes, local shellfish and whitefish. When Patrick Cox and Mario Testino dined at Museu do Arroz, the dinner and post-dinner fun lasted all night. Tó Zé Carvalho and his wife, Isabel (known locally as Isabelinha), own this local landmark, and are credited by Conde Nast Traveler with first attracting A-list Lisboners down to Comporta over two decades ago.
No trip is complete without at least one session of beautiful-people-watching.The word from fellow travelers is that the food at the Comporta Café in Troia is less than stellar but the location is superb, both for taking in the sunset as well as the local, two-legged scenery.
In an era of being able to order anything from everywhere 24/7 with a single click of the mouse, it’s fun to browse in an actual brick-and-mortar boutique, especially one decorated with antique dressers, handmade crockery and woven hats on the wall. The Loja do Museu do Arroz store is also a good place to stock up on sexy sundresses, funky Panama hats, straw bags and all things beaded.
What to Pack
Isharya Deco Mirror Jewelry
You can travel light for this trip. Bring enough swimsuits and bikinis so you don’t get bored, plus flipflops for the beach and a chic metallic sandal for apres beach. Loose boyfriend-shorts and a tee are perfect for daytime; simply layer on summer-weight sweater at night. And don’t forget giant Jackie O sunglasses, hat and sunscreen, plus a shorter coverup to take you to and from the beach. A glam caftan will take a girl out to dinner. Especially with the right jewelry. Pieces from our Deco Mirror collection weigh next to nothing and add heavyweight style to your look, especially the hoop earring, statement ring, statement necklace and bold mirror cuff.
Be sure to tell us how you beach-bunny in style with the hashtag #IsharyaJetSet