São Martinho do Porto: a guide to the gorgeous Portuguese shell-shaped bay

by - 6:00 PM

Last week, I spent some days with my family at São Martinho do Porto, a beach quite close to my hometown that has, surprisingly, never provoked much curiosity in me. How wrong was I: I had such a lovely time exploring it and discovering its hidden treasures!

I have decided to share my experience and some tips on how you can make the most out of this lovely location.

São Martinho do Porto is a small village with only around 3 thousand inhabitants located in the centre-west region of Portugal mostly well-known for its calm shell-shaped bay.

It is divided into two parts: the lower one, containing the beach and more touristic attractions, and the upper one, where most regional accommodation is located.

The port, located on the north side of the bay, used to have special commercial relevance in the past, due to being the main centre for fishing and sailing activities of the area. Not only this, but the beach itself has been attracting many tourists, especially families from the capital, for various centuries. 
Nowadays, the tranquil fishing village during the winter, still becomes a very popular choice for many, welcoming close to 60 thousand people every summer!


The connection between the bay and the ocean is so small that the waters are extremely calm: making it safe for the little ones. In addition, there are some playgrounds right on the beach and even water inflatables!


The quietness of the water also creates the perfect environment for those interested in water sports, from kayaking to windsurfing or jet skiing.
I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go paddleboarding, something I have been wanting to try for the longest time. The experience was incredible! The instructors were the kindest and I had so much fun doing it (and watching my brother constantly fall ahaha). Surprisingly, it is way easier than it looks: I only fell twice! If you're interested in trying paddleboarding, I definitely recommend Cais Paddling. They can be found on the north side of the bay and you can try this sport for as little as 5€ per 30 minutes (or 8€ per 1 hour, although I recommend only doing 30 minutes as it is quite tiring). 

There is also plenty of entertainment for adults and older children: the road by the sea includes many stores, cafes and restaurants where you can go for a quick lunch or a fancy dinner overlooking the sunset at the beach. My recommendations are (respectively) Esplanada da Fonte for a delicious durum kebab and O Farol for amazing traditional fish and seafood dishes (seriously, give the 'gambão with colourful spaghetti' a try, one of the best dishes I have ever had!).


Elaborating on the topic of food, one of the must-tries is the Bola de Berlim, what I like to describe as a holeless donut with egg cream inside. Some other versions include chocolate cream instead. Already sold, hun? The even better part is the fact that you don't need to move an inch to get to them: throughout the day, several people walk along the beach selling them for 1.2€!

Every year there are always some book fairs set up too, where you can get books written in Portuguese and other languages such as English and French. The one I visited is located in the Garden of the Engineer Frederico Ulrich Square, which can be found on the north side of the bay.


The bay is not just interesting during the day. In fact, stores are open until late and there are plenty of cafes and restaurants where you can go for a drink or an ice cream.


Visiting São Martinho do Porto is, as you can probably tell by now, not just about its seashore. If you adventure yourself into the heart of the village, you can find beautiful hidden gems.
For instance, the local market (open all week) and the church (built in 1879, contains an iconic oil painting of St Martinho) can be found on the top part of the village.


Along the road by the port, you can find a secret passage, between the Instituto de Socorros a Naufragos (ISN) and a red house. Climb up the staircase, cross the fallen tree and you will reach the top of the hill, one of the most beautiful views of the bay, the ocean and other close villages.
Here you can also find the Santo António lighthouse, which used to regulate the entrance to the bay back in the day.
Pro tip: hike early enough to see the sun rising and illuminating the whole bay, definitely non-missable.


If you continue until the end of the port, you will find a tunnel on your right. Crossing it will lead to a quite different scenario from the calm bay: the wild Atlantic waves crashing against the shore.


Another insanely picturesque view to the bay is the José Bento da Silva Square viewpoint.


Hotel Parque used to be the main accommodation choice for the hundreds of upper-class visitors during the decade of 1920. Nowadays, whilst it has been abandoned, it is still one of the most emblematic buildings in the area.


If you walk the wood pathway until the south side of the bay, you will find Salir do Porto, another really small village, also very well-known for a few reasons.
Firstly, its huge and steep dune was in times the largest in Europe. The climb is so worth the view of the whole bay!
Secondly, here you can observe some the ruins of stores where many caravels during the Age of Discoveries were built.
Finally, a small section of spring water that there passes is believed to be a miraculous cure for many diseases.


How to get to São Martinho do Porto:
Many decide to travel by train. This is an extremely easy option as the train station is located just three minutes away from the beach!
If you opt for driving, you should keep in mind that it is insanely hard to find parking on the main road, by the sea. You are most likely to be lucky finding a spot further away from the beach or on the parking lot by the camping area.

São Martinho do Porto really is a lovely little fishing village that reaches its full glory during summer. It is the perfect destination if you're looking for a good mix between seaside and historical attractions that can simultaneously meet every family member's needs.

Here are some more photos I took quite early, while the village was pretty much still asleep:


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