Vila Nova de Milfontes: The Real Portugal
Atlantic waves smash into rugged coastline and cliffs, wind thrashes trees back and forth, and the sun beats down on you as it all unfolds. Not unfamiliar weather for Portugal’s west coast, although standing at the tip of the Vila Nova de Milfontes headland, such wild weather seems incongruous with the peaceful white-walled houses, calm waters of the estuary, and the tranquil, unspoiled feel of the village itself.
Translated to English, Vila Nova de Milfontes, means New Village of a Thousand Fountains and springs. The village is situated in the Alentejo region of Portugal, 190km south of Lisbon and 150km north of Faro, and is one of Portugal’s tourist gems.
“This is one of the last remaining areas that the Portuguese still come to enjoy their holidays, away from other overrun and often culturally unrecognisable tourist destinations” said one of Villa Novas Tourist Information Centre’s staff.
The village is filled with restaurants, bars, shops, cafés, and a positive friendly atmosphere, infectious to any visitor.
Founded in 1468 by King D. Joao II, the area was colorfully populated by pirates, slaves, and the like, so it’s fascinating to walk the streets with such origins in mind and you see first-hand the evidence of centuries of culture.
Every alley, pathway, and road offers beautiful murals or some other historical maker, Saint Clemont’s Castle, which sits right on the estuary’s edge and was built in 1602 to help protect the village from pirate attacks, fits perfectly into the whole scene. Old fishermen talk of past catches, donkeys haul carts along the streets and you get a real feel for the history of this charming place.
The Moorish architecture is spectacular, from up close you get a real appreciation of the detail and effort that went into the construction. Houses are built wall to wall lining the streets, each painted crisp white with, desert orange tiled roofs and bright blue or yellow borders painted around windows and doors. It’s a fantastic sight and the uniformity only serves as more character to the area.
Vila Nova de Milfontes has a unique natural landscape that gives the area its great appeal. Cornered by the Atlantic Sea and with Mira River running along its outskirts, a headland stretches 2.5km beyond the village and works as a wind breaker.
When the wind is howling from the east (onshore) and the seas are angry, the estuary is still calm and enjoyable, with a stretch of sand almost as long as the headland allowing plenty of room to relax and swim in the clean water.
The town’s population is 5000, yet it offers so many opportunities for adventure, you would expect it to be far larger. Bike riding, surfing, kayaking, fishing, even paragliding just a little further out of town, it’s all here, finding the time to do everything is the problem.
Surf Camp Alentejo, is a fantastic company situated five minutes from the beach, offering great surfing holidays for beginner to intermediate surfers, and surf safaris for experienced surfers. They have two traditional Portuguese houses next to each other, large outdoor areas and a real surf vibe that will make you feel welcome as soon as you arrive.
You can come any day of the week (as long as they have room) and get straight into the waves. If you are not looking for a surf camp, then they also rent equipment like surfboards and wetsuits separately. Go to www.alentejosurfcamp.com for all detailed information. Note, if it’s the high season of June to August then booking in advance is recommended.
If adventure sports are not your thing, then Vila Nova de Milfontes has fantastic coatal walks, waterfalls, snorkelling, swimming, and scenic hideaways to pass the day. The area is surrounded by the Sudoeste Alentejano and Cosat Vientina National Park, home to the cork and oak trees among other species specific to the region.
Here is an opportunity to get off the coast and into a different type of nature. In addition, Villa Nova de Milfontes is within close proximity to seven other beaches: Malhao, Rivers Beach, Furnas, Aivados, Ribeira da Azenha, and Foz Beach. Being bored is next to impossible.
Food and night life
“Tasca do Celso” is a quirky, idyllic, family restaurant that makes your dining experience one to remember. Luis, the restaurants head waiter, said “We pride ourselves on delivering wonderful food not only to the tourists, but also the locals, and everything is fresh and made of local produce”. You can be assured of this with the kitchen viewable from the main dining area making waiting for your dinner even more entertaining.
Any choice from the menu will be pleasurable; however the seafood is most highly recommended. Desserts are a Portuguese speciality so it is wise to leave some room for one, and the Sericaia is amazing. It’s a light sponge cake served with caramelised plums, and combined with a glass of red wine or port it will ensure a satisfying indulgent finish to your meal.
For more information go to www.tascadocelso.com
Night life is variable to the season, and June to August is certainly the time when the area is most alive in the evenings. With so many bars and cafes along the beach and in the village centre you will always find something of interest, and with the majority of patrons from Portugal, it is great to mix with the locals and enjoy the atmosphere.
With the influx of visitors over the years, Vila Nova de Milfontes has certainly equipped itself well to handle the boom. You can find anything from campgrounds, hostels, homestays, apartments, and hotels. Breeze through TripAdvisor and check it out.
Patios da Vila is situated close to the beach, shops, bars and cafes. They have double and twin double apartments with all amenities and are well priced throughout the year. Go to www.portimar.pt and search Patios da Vilafor all up to date information and reservations.
Prices change two to three times a year depending on the season with most accommodations so it is best to enquire in advance and in the high season of June to August it would be wise to organize accommodation well before arriving.
Vila Nova de Milfontes has culture, energy, passion, and amazingly friendly people with an understanding that what they have as a community is inspirational and iconic to their country.
It is a place where you are proud to be a tourist; happy for the fact you found such a fantastic setting, and able to truly feel the Portuguese lifestyle. If a visit to Portugal is in your plans, it would be hard to call it a complete adventure without allowing Vila Nova de Milfontes into your heart and memories.
Luke Gribble is a writer and frequent traveler from Melbourne, Australia.
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