Where people who love good food come to holiday: Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

Where people who love good food come to holiday: Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal

Coastal and river beaches coalesce beside the Alentejo’s Vila Nova de Milfontes, a lyrical name meaning “new town of a thousand springs”. This resort at the mouth of the Mira River is a magnet for Portuguese families in high summer but largely unknown to British visitors, despite its glorious beaches, great food and fine walking.

At this spot in the upper half of the 100km-long Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina, the main beaches are found at the ria, where the river meets the sea. Across the ria from town is Praia das Furnas, a long beach, which is reached by car or ferry, with sandbars at low tide that make playing in the crashing waves fun. Nearer town are Praia da Franquia, Praia de Vila Nova Milfontes and Praia de Farol (Lighthouse Beach), with its sloping sands.

Out on the Atlantic coast, Malhão has a wild beauty, and while there are no signs to Aivados beach, locals will point the way. Kayaks and paddleboards can be hired here but, as with all wild Atlantic beaches, great care should be taken in the water. There are several good beach bars and restaurants, including Ocean Drive 7 on Furnas beach and Choupana on Farol beach, a fish shack that is the perfect place to watch the sunset.

Vila Nova de Milfontes is full of whitewashed houses with windows and doors picked out in bright colours, and crowned by Fort São Clemente, built in 1602 to defend the town from Barbary pirates. The fort is closed to the public, but it’s fun to walk around its perimeter, enjoying views across the ria.

This is a place where people who love good food come to holiday. Cooking in the Alentejo is simple and rustic. Imagination turned stale bread into the Portuguese soupy bread dish açorda, which is dressed with olive oil and coriander and sometimes topped with an egg or a scattering of seafood. Lamb and pork feature heavily, but so do fish and seafood.

Fort São Clemente, in the Alentejo’s Vila Nova de Milfontes, provides great views of the Mira River and its estuary. Photograph: Manfred Gottschalk/Getty Images

The town’s Tasca do Celso is renowned for prawns cooked with garlic and rice richly flavoured with the juice of sweet clams. Owner José Ramos Cardoso will be found inspecting the fish over a charcoal grill or describing some of the gems on his vast wine list to customers.

Mabi Croissanterie & Gelateria is the place to come for ice-cream (a good local flavour is carapinhão – cream, caramel and pine nut), cakes, pastries and a good selection of homemade savoury snacks called salgados, which include prawn patties, meat croquettes and small chicken pies.

Idália Costa José welcomes guests into her exquisitely old-school 17th-century house, Casa do Adro da Igreja (Churchyard House), right in the centre of town and a short walk from the beach. Inside it is just like a family home, with antique furniture, photographs and knick-knacks all around. Here, Idália will probably serve a slice of her bolo de chocolate cake with an aperitif or cup of tea. She says the intention is to make guests feel pampered, as by a favourite Portuguese tia (aunt).

There’s a small guest kitchen that has complimentary fruit, beer and wine – and two terraces to enjoy them on. There are seven double bedrooms, some of them with balconies.
Vila Nova de Milfontes is a two-hour drive south from Lisbon. Doubles at Casa do Adro da Igreja from €105 B&B in April

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