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Azeitão  – the Sintra of the South

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Fountain of Pasmados

Azeitão  – the Sintra of the South

The region of Azeitão disputed with Sintra the preferences of noblemen and aristocrats. Nowadays, Azeitão presents buildings of some importance as Sintra, and displays areas of great beauty, that convert it into a pleasant summer resort. Azeitão is divided admnistratively, geographically and religiously in two areas or "freguesias": Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, whose tutelary saint is St. Lawrence, from whom the "freguesia" received its name, and Vila Fresca de Azeitão, whose tutelary saint is St. Simon, also the patron of the administrative local organ.

Where is it? It’s located 30 kilometres, south of Lisbon, near Arrábida and Setubal.

Can you describe me a bit that area?
It’s a coastal region, near a small mountain named Arrábida. Arrábida is a natural park, with vegetation both from Mediterranean and Atlantic climate type. It is a vineyard farm area, with cattle, palaces and historical traditions. It’s also a weekend refugee for Lisbon’s upper class society.

How can I get there? If you start in Lisbon, cross the Vasco da Gama Bridge, then take the A12 heading to Setubal, and follow the signs heading to Arrábida. It’s around 40 minutes drive.

Are there hotels in the area? Yes there are. You can find from touristy hotels to almost exclusive holiday clubs. Prices aren’t very high – around 100 € \ B&B –
There are hotels with tennis courts and swimming pools. Almost all the hotels have tours available from extreme sports to sightseeing tours. More...

Can I do some tours on my own?
Yes you can, but it is not advisable to go alone to Arrábida area, because it’s easy to get lost there. But you can always go to the beach of Portinho da Arrábida, or explore the monuments and Palaces in Azeitão.

What kinds of monuments exist? You have locations habited since the Palaeolithic period in Arrabida, and also from the Roman period. For the renascence, and the middle age you have several palaces like Quinta da Bacalhoa, or it’s rival Quinta das Torres. There is also or the Arrábida castle, that has an amazing view – you can in clear days, see Lisbon and the Sintra region though it’s more than 50 kilometres distant in straight line.

What else is there to see?
Like you have read before, all these area is rich in vines, and it’s famous by a unique wine named Moscatel. A liquorish wine, sweet and very good. It’s not as famous as Port wine, but it’s as good as Port wine. There is a famous family that has been making wine for six generations, named José Maria da Fonseca, and you can make a tour in the wine cellars, the museum, and taste the wine.

What about food? Food in this region is excellent and the choice is wide. Since Azeitão had an Arab influence, the lamb is a common plate, but thanks to its location near the sea, fresh fish, and “sea fruits” are abundant. Eels stuffed with tomato are also a good choice, and a small mackerel fried with tomato rice is a simple but good plate.
The bread is also very good, as well as the Alentejo region red wines.

And desserts? For dessert you can try an egg and cinnamon cake, or the fantastic Azeitão cheese. This cheese it’s quite expensive but very good, made with goat milk has a buttery texture, and all the cheese have a sequential number, and an origin certificate. A small cheese and a bottle of Moscatel make an outstanding and distinct souvenir.

Any other tip? yes, the last tip goes exclusively to the small industries of tiles and ceramics. As you may have noticed after visiting the palaces and churches, lots of tiles were used in its construction, and this happened because this industry exists in this region for centuries. Nowadays, small familiar factories produce tiles, and ceramics using techniques from the XVII and XVIII centuries. Once again, an interesting souvenir


Bacalhoa Farm first owners in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão, near Setúbal, were D. Brites e Fernando, brother of the king D. Afonso V. Some years after the death of D. Brites, the estate was bought by Brás de Albuquerque, son of the great governor and conqueror Afonso de Albuquerque. Brás de Albuquerque, after having acquired the farm in 1528, ordered the building of a Palace, which was concluded in 1554, with the ceramic covering of glazed tiles going till 1565. These tiles lasted till today.

Brás de Albuquerque was a great traveller, and acquired in his voyages a diversified estethic liking that translated itself into a renewal of national custom. By this reason, "italianising" architectonic influences are clear in Vila Nogueira de Azeitão. The building is also considered by specialists as a first mark of the "civil renaissancist architecture in Portugal". Built according a L plan, it kept probably some elements from the buildings where lived D. Brites, which the new owner considered that should characterize the new palace, ordered to the architect Francisco de Arruda, as some authors sugest.

The farm and the palace are surrounded by a turreted enclosure, that transmit to the visitors the idea of a fortress. The large interior terrace is bordered by the so called "India" and "Doves" "pleasure houses", with glazed tiles decorated with several motifs executed by 1565 and depicting the Lapits and Centaurs Action, and the biblic episode of Susan in the Bath (1565). These areas so magnificently decorated should be attributed to Francisco de Matos, whose signature is seen in one of the skirting tiles.

There is another curiosity to remember in the west gallery of this remarkable building, where the rivers Douro, Mondego, Nile, Euphrates and Danube are represented by allegories. These and other mythological references seen everywhere in the Farm and the Palace give testimony to this fortunate man preference for the elements of ancient culture, which he certainly knew well.

The actual designation of Bacalhoa Farm, given to the the estate - also previously designated by "Vila Fraiche" or "Vila Frèche", "Condestablessa Farm" (from the wife of a Supreme Army Commander), e Afonso de Albuquerque's - come from the surname of Bacalhau, by which was known D. Jerónimo Manuel, married with D. Maria de Mendonça e Albuquerque (the "Bacalhoa"), who inherited the state in 1609.


The region of Azeitão cultivates the vine since the occupation by Romans, Visigoths and Arabs, and it is considered one of the more important wine-growing zones in the country. Our kings always mentioned the singular wine of this region in the documents they produced to serve as law and protection to the local populations. Its importance is witnessed by the bulk of exportation the wine always has had, mainly in the 15th century, together with the Setúbal salt, equally famous.

The Moscatel, produced in the V. N. Azeitão and Palmela regions , is considered one of the finest wines in the world, what should be imputed to the particular agricultural and climatic conditions of the delimited wine region, mainly in two zones of production: The Arrabida Mts. (argillaceous and calcareous soil) and the adjoining plain, that receives the hot winds from the south.

The vine, grown in a particularly peaceful environment, produces a nectar with a unique sweetness and bouquet, and a alcoholic grade of 18 degrees.

Among the more important cultivators the following should be pointed out: José Maria da Fonseca, Succrs (whose old Cellars of Azeitão should be visited);

 The production of wine in the region was of 460,000 hectolitros in 1985, what amounted to 4.8% of the total production of Portugal.

José Maria da Fonseca Cellars

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