Situated in Portugal’s Alentejo region just 2 hours south of Lisbon, north of Faro and west from the Spanish border Vila Nova de Milfontes attracts hoards of local and foreign holiday-makers alike. In the summer months and busy holiday periods the medium-sized seaside town can reach bursting point but outside of these few crazy months you’ll find a balanced mix of refreshing nature and holiday vibes.
As part of the Costa Vincentina de Alentejano national park its bounty of beaches have remained untouched. VNDM’s sandy beaches and coves are improved only by the fact that it is this stretch of coast that the stunning Mira river chooses to meet the sea. Top it all off with a collection of breezy beach restaurants and alfresco cocktail bars and you are on to a winner! We spent 3 nights wild camping over Easter weekend and experienced a little bit of everything.
For a relatively small place there is no shortage of beaches to delve into. We spent the majority of our time at the picturesque Praia da Franquia which is the closest to town and sits on the river itself but there are lots more to explore. Praia do Farol wraps itself around the prominent headland and offers river and ocean views. At high tide you can find shallower section in-front of Choupana restaurant. Beware of the tide and current as it can be deceptively fast here and can easily catch you off-guard. Stay shallow at all times. Across the river is the white sandy paradise Praia das Furnas; you are more likely to find this stretch quieter as it involves a drive (or kayak) but the open beach can be more breezy than its neighbouring opposite. The views back to VNDM are worth the effort to get here from town!
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If you are heading to the town beaches over easter or summer expect them to be very busy but if you are making the trip out of season you can easily to baga little cove all to yourself…now that’s what we’re talking about!
For me the 145km Mira river is the main draw to VNDM and its ever-changing tides and colours mean you can easily spend a day or two in or around its energy. Whether it be dipping your toes in on the edge of it’s bank or navigating a kayak through it to the bridge you’ll want to spend some time around the Mira.
WHERE TO EAT
There is plenty of restaurants and cafes around VNDM town but nothing came even a little bit close to this magical place right on Farol beach. Choupana restaurant is nestled neatly among the wild flowers , perched on wooden stilts complete with 180degree ocean views. On the menu you can expect uber fresh fish (caught the same day), excellent piri-piri chicken and 1litre jugs of the good stuff (wine obviously!). To be honest, even if the restaurant only served chips we would still have fallen in love. The fresh sea-breeze and uninterrupted, wild views secured it as our favourite dining experience in VNDM. Choupana certainly isn’t a secret but because it is hidden out of sight on what feels like it’s own private beach you will feel like you have stumbled upon a seriously special place. You won’t find this spot in the Lonely Planet!
TIP : Book your ‘table with a view’ in the morning or day before so you can take your pick of spots before anyone else.
If you have a few days in town then I highly recommend the Portal da Vila. This tiny restaurant will cram you in like Portuguese sardines and the tables are a little wonky but the food and wine was great and the atmosphere wonderful!
WHERE TO DRINK
Again there is no shortage of bars in VNDM but they are spread out all over the place so give yourself a bit of time to find what you are looking for before settling down. There is plenty of snack bars selling bargain booze on the main (rather ugly) strip but there is also plenty of quirkier areas to explore too. I was lured in by the colourful director chairs at Cá P’ramim (opposite Portal da Vila) and returned every night for a drink and olives. Expect to pay a little more than some of the standard bars here but if the cocktail of the day is anything like my strawberry mojito order three!
If you’ve had enough of eating and drinking your way round town hire a kayak and set sail to the bridge and beyond. There is plenty of hire shops near the town beach and we found half a day was long enough to have a good explore. We headed up river and under the bridge where everything turns more wild yet peaceful and found some sandy banks to moor up and take it all in. Mornings tend to be better suited as the wind is usually much lighter and as the currents can be quite strong it is best to avoid heading out to sea! Ask the hire shop about tides and the best time to set off.
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If you love the idea of kayaking but don’t want to go on a full fitness mission you can cut it short and just paddle straight across the river to Praia das Furnas for a afternoon drink or seafood lunch at this hidden bar behind the dunes. There is nothing quite like the reward of a cold, crisp beer after a mini adventure!
DON’T FORGET TO GET LOST
There are so many nooks and corners filled with charm in Vila Nova de Milfontes you just have to find them. Take the road closest to the beach and follow the winding streets past colourful houses until you find your very own hidden discovery! Then order something local and delicious sounding from the menu.
WHEN TO GO
For a bit more space and a calmer vibes try to shoulder season months May, June, September. If you want to experience VNDM with all it’s amenities open book up for Easter or summer and enjoy the buzz. If you want to experience its beauty without the crowds try early spring/late autumn but remember VNDM is a seasonal town so bars and restaurants may be limited.
WHERE TO STAY
We chose to wild camp on the beach whilst in VNDM which involved setting up late and packing up early so we didn’t bother anyone. For more amenities and less hassle there are two camping options in town – Campiférias and Camping Milfontes.
If camping isn’t your jam there is plenty of hotels, guest houses and apartments to choose from…
Town is small enough to walk around and for me, leaving the car and exploring by foot for 3 days was part of the pleasure. Many of the bars and restaurants are spread out so have a good stomp around on your first day to see whats around. If you are coming in holiday season expecting parking to be scarce so it is best to arrive early in the morning to curb the stress. Out of season parking will be easy (and free) and you can probably nab a spot right on the beach.
GETTING THERE AND AWAY
Vila Nova de Milfontes is around a 2 hour drive from Lisbon and Faro airport. There is also a Europcar in town so you can use this as a drop off of pick up point for your hire car.
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MONEY: Although some bar, restaurants and shops do take card many of the smaller, local places do not so it is wise to carry cash on you. There are plenty of ATM’s around the city. Look for local bank ATM’s rather than currency exchange ATM;s and you’ll save money. Or even better get a prepaid travel card.
I always travel with Revolut. Revolut is a free prepaid card and app that you can hold and transfer multiple currencies on. You can use the contactless Revolut card abroad and at home with no exchange fees whatsoever. Simply top up using the app and transfer between currencies whenever you like. You can also transfer money to friends with Revolut in one tap; super handy when you need to split the bill. I have been using Revolut since we moved to Portugal three years ago and I have saved hundreds of £’s compared to using my UK bank account. There is no set-up fee or running costs (it is completely free) and you will also receive a free card when you sign up below. I’ve also written up a post on the Best Travel Money Card if you want to read more about Revolut.
T H A N K S F O R R E A D I N G