eople come to Herdade da Comporta to waste their time because there’s not very much to do, which is precisely its main selling point. Christian Louboutin, who owns a house in this gigantic Portuguese estate located only one hour from Lisbon, admits he has a weakness for the Alentejo region and its coastline. ‘There is something quite magical about that. It’s so beautiful and so wild. Wherever you go there is this feeling of being in a late-medieval landscape,’ he says.
A stark contrast to the crowded Mediterranean, the spacious Atlantic coast is gaining popularity as a glamorous and attractive alternative. Besides Louboutin, others have found shelter on the coast of Comporta, among them Queen Rania de Jordan, the historic House of Grimaldi, the actress Kristin Scott Thomas, and Sarkozy and Carla Bruni. It is a well-known secret that these VIP visitors, many of whom own a house here, have converted this village into a new eco-chic paradise.
Rice paddy architecture
The restrictions imposed on urban planners have helped keep the landscape intact. Properties and accommodation such as 3 Bicas and Sublime Comporta preserve the unique style of the original homes. Open spaces decorated in a boho-casual style, minimalist furniture and glass walls to better enjoy the landscape.
Comporta means ‘door that holds back water’, a name that becomes entirely apparent when you arrive and discover the canals that invade the huge rice paddies, the largest in Portugal. To get here, however, you must first travel along the Alentejo route, where you will see sleepy villages bathed in a relentless sun sitting among vineyards and dust. Between the end of the path and the beginning of the ocean is the Troia peninsula, lying 100 km to the south of Lisbon and home to the Herdade da Comporta. It covers a surface of 12,500 hectares between the estuary of the Sado river and the sea, and comprises seven villages: Pego, Carvalhal, Brejos, Torre, Possanco, Carrasqueira and Comporta.
The estate is well looked after because it is set mostly within the natural reserve of the Sado estuary. The fields are covered in pine trees, wild flowers and rice paddies that are green all year round, and the limited accommodation on offer here consists of unpretentious low houses, with beams and thatched roofs. Projects like the Casas na Areia, where the houses have sandy floors, or the Cocoon Lodges, wooden cubes hidden amongst the pine woods, blend perfectly into nature, proving that luxury here is largely discreet and understated. The artist Jason Martin, one of Louboutin’s neighbours, lives in Comporta because he thinks it is ‘the last Wild West of Europe’.
‘Mind the coriander’
This warning is given in each one of the five restaurants in the Herdade da Comporta estate: Museu do Arroz, Comporta Café, Ilha do Arroz, Dos Pescadores and SAL. Tomato and sweet onion salad, clams with parsley and lots of steaming pans of rice with seafood and the aroma of coriander, of course. Portuguese gastronomy born in the sea.
The days go by at a leisurely pace and life revolves around the beach. The bravest people go surfing although, despite the blue flag that is nearly always flying, the cold water of the Atlantic means wetsuits are a necessity. Others ride bikes around the rice paddies, go horse-riding or try and spot dolphins swimming in the Sado estuary.
There are 3,500 inhabitants living here, but during the summer the number doubles, and the elderly people of the village sit outside on plastic chairs watching how the tourists park their BMWs against the kerbs. On the same road that leads to the beaches, numerous improvised stalls pile up and people sell watermelons, artichokes and tomatoes, though this only happens on Sundays. During the rest of the week, peace returns to the sleepy village.
In all, there are 12 kilometres of beaches to keep you happy. The most beautiful are those in Comporta, Pego and Carvalhal. There are only three beach bars to be found along this vast stretch of vanilla-coloured sand. One of the liveliest beaches is Sal, in Praia do Pego, where the afternoons go by and the words of the Portuguese writer, Fernando Pessoa, linger in the air: ‘Never do today what you can leave for tomorrow’.
A visit to the Porto Palafítico (elevated on stilts) of Carrasqueira, an impressive picture of sticks and boats arranged in accordance with the tides, reminds you that before the rich and famous arrived, the fishermen, farmers and salt manufacturers were already here.
Storks and flamingos that wander all over the estuary bid farewell to visitors. And when they have all gone, Comporta stays peacefully among the rice paddies, thatched roofs and the shadow of the Atlantic that paints the edges of the land cobalt blue. And that is how it will always be.