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Exploring the Mountains

The limestone, whale-backed Serra da Arrábida stretches for about 36km (22 miles), beginning at Palmela and rolling to a dramatic end at Cabo Espichel on the Atlantic. The Portuguese government has wisely set aside 10,800 hectares (26,677 acres) as a sanctuary between Sesimbra and Setúbal to protect the area from developers and to safeguard the local scenery and architecture.

At times, the cliffs and bluffs are so high that it seems you have to peer through clouds to see the purple waters of the Atlantic below. More than 1,000 species of plant life have been recorded, including holm oaks, sweet bay, pines, laurel, juniper, cypress, araucaria, magnolia, lavender, myrtle, and pimpernels. Our favorite time to visit is in late March or the beginning of April (around Easter), when wildflowers -- everything from coral-pink peonies to Spanish bluebells -- cover the mountains.

Numerous sandy coves lie at the foot of the Serra da Arrábida's limestone cliffs. One of the finest beaches is Praia de Galapos. Another popular beach is Praia de Figueirinha, between Portinho da Arrábida and Setúbal, known for sport fishing, windsurfing, and sailing. The serra (mountain) abounds with caves and grottoes. The best known is Lapa de Santa Margarida, of which Hans Christian Andersen wrote, "It is a veritable church hewn out of the living rock, with a fantastic vault, organ pipes, columns, and altars."

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.