If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you might remember how I completely fell in love with Portugal when I visited Porto and the north region a few years ago. I decided to head to the south this time and explore in and around Lisbon. While I’m a true city girl (born and raised in Los Angeles), I love escaping the hustle and bustle every now and then and seeing what the rest of the world has to offer. Let’s face it, it is way too easy to get caught up in city life and not appreciate our beautiful surroundings. Thankfully, I discovered Unique Tours Factory which offers private guided tours in and around some of Europe’s most beautiful cities! I already had plans to see a few sights in Lisbon, so I chose a tour that would take me out of the city to places I never would have reached without a car.
Joao, a Portuguese native, picked us up right on time at our hotel and we quickly set off on a day of exploring! I completely left the day up to Joao and was pleasantly surprised to learn we were heading to Setúbal to spend a few hours dolphin watching on a catamaran boat! Thankfully, it was a perfectly sunny day and not too windy which gave us a smooth ride. My stomach was very grateful for this. The water was a piercing deep blue and it was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t believe we were only less than an hour from Lisbon!
Before long, we were treated to a pod of dolphins who started following our boat! I was too excited to actually capture a decent photo, but these friendly creatures swam alongside us for quite some time. Joao even pointed out a baby dolphin which was fun to spot, he was a lighter gray color and had the tiniest fin. I managed to pull my eyes from the dolphins enough to take in my incredible surroundings. I loved taking in the city of Setúbal from the water and seeing it slowly fade away. It was so peaceful out there on the Sado Estuary which is actually part of a natural reserve that’s under protection. We sailed by some beautiful and historic houses, but my favorite place had to be a tiny cave church. I wouldn’t have noticed it if Joao hadn’t pointed it out to me. He explained that in the 1500’s, two sailors were shipwrecked and built a makeshift church inside a cave they were using as shelter. You can still see the altar inside today.
After our morning sail, we were back on land and ready for some castle exploration! High up in the hills, we came upon São Filipe Castle, a fortress which dates back to the 1500’s. It stands high above Setúbal and is one of the most notable landmarks of the region. After painstaking restorations in the recent years, this monument has transformed into a rather beautiful and exclusive hotel. However, this does not prevent every day tourists from exploring the grounds for free, making it a wonderful half-day activity if you’re staying in Lisbon or Setúbal.
The main reason Joao took us here was for the epic panoramic views. I honestly could have sat outside all day with a bottle of white wine and plate of seafood… happy as a clam! Excuse the pun. I can only imagine how magical it is to be there for the sunset, I just have to return. Another highlight for me was a small chapel dedicated to Saint Philip. The interior is magnificently covered in 16th century traditional blue and white glazed tiles that depict his life.
Joao must have read my mind about wine because our final stop was Quinta do Alcube, a family-run winery nestled in the Setúbal region. We enjoyed exploring and learning about the complex wine production methods that our guide explained to us. Nothing was off limits as he took us through the factory and past the giant tractors, wine barrels, and rolling green fields. We even got to pet several of their animals on the farm, the goats were particularly friendly!
This small and charming Portuguese winery has been owned by the same family for over a century. Its traditional wine cellars produce 300,000 liters per year and are only sold directly to customers which might make it difficult to find in stores. So if you ever visit, make sure to buy the wines you enjoy right then and there!
Joao saved the best for last with a wonderful spread of cheeses and six different wines to try. We sampled the reds and whites which I loved, but the rosé was definitely my favorite. However, I enjoyed the cheese just as much as the wine and that’s because their cheese maker has been making local Azeitão cheese for over 50 years. This is a rather soft cheese, and the milk comes from their own sheep on the farm who eat the leaves on the vineyard. Quinta do Alcube also sells delicious honey, jams, and seasonal fruit. I was happy this was our last stop, because I walked away carrying lots of goodies to take back to my hotel!
I am so thankful to Joao and Unique Tours Factory for putting together the perfect day trip outside of Lisbon. Many of the places we visited felt like hidden gems and I know for a fact I would not have discovered them on my own. It was such a special thing to meet such passionate locals who love where they live and the work that they do. While I love big cities, there’s so much more to Portugal than just Lisbon or Porto.
Have you visited Portugal before? Which of these activities appeals to you the most? I’d love to know in the comments below!
*Note: I kindly received a complimentary tour from Unique Tours Factory but opinions are entirely my own. I would only ever recommend something that I actually enjoyed!