THE AGRICULTURAL, NEVER-INDUSTRIALISED ALENTEJO REGION OF PORTUGAL IS STILL JUST ENOUGH OF A TOURISM SECRET TO OFFER GLORIOUSLY RUSTIC SECLUSION TO THOSE IN THE KNOW.
Let me tell you: when I first started going to Comporta, no one was there. No one but farmers, fishermen and locals.”
It’s my third day in Portugal, and I’m wondering whether this claim is going to become a refrain. I’m talking to João Rodrigues, the owner of Santa Clara 1728, one of Lisbon’s loveliest small hotels, where we are sharing a breakfast. Opened in 2017, Santa Clara is Rodrigues’s restoration of an 18thcentury townhouse on a charmingly raggedy square at the point where Alfama begins to blur from heavily trafficked tourist haven into normal (if still highly photogenic) neighbourhood. Rodrigues is a bit of a Renaissance man, who pilots TAP jets in his day job and moonlights as a brilliant hotelier: besides the unassailable Santa Clara, there are two other small hotels, one of which is Casas Na Areia, in Comporta – the onetime fishing village less than 90 minutes south of Lisbon that has become a magnet for some of the Continent’s most committed jetsetters.
Some of them, like Rodrigues, would probably be happy to tell you all about how They Were In Comporta When; certainly it’s what I’ve been hearing from the handful of them I know. Comporta is where the largely agrarian Alentejo region meets the ocean – where a hinterland of pristine coastal-pine forests gives way to glittering wetlands planted with rice terraces (a mainstay crop in this part of Portugal for centuries), which themselves abruptly end in a spine of tall dunes, traversed by only a handful of mostly unpaved roads. Beyond those dunes are some of the emptiest, most photogenic beaches in Europe, bordering an Atlantic that has shed all trace of its conventional grey, breaking