There are various traces that bear witness to human presence in the municipality of Sesimbra, dating back to prehistoric times. In 1165, king Afonso Henriques took the castle from the Moors. Owing to several changes of fortune, the castle was to be retaken on a permanent basis only in 1200 by the troops of king Sancho I, who granted Sesimbra its charter in 1201.
In 1236 the municipality was donated to the order of Saint James, contributing to the resettlement of the area and allowing the population to settle outside the castle walls. This gave rise to the development of Povoa da Ribeira, close by the sea. The progressive growth of this seaside zone led to the re-creation of the town of Sesimbra in 1536.
Its proximity to the ocean meant that its population led a maritime life, engaged in fishing and shipbuilding, and this meant that many local seafarers inevitably came to be involved in the Discoveries. The loss of the country's independence in 1580 marked the beginning of a negative period of the town's history, marked by strong attacks by pirates, preventing its growth.
The town recovered only following the restoration of the Portuguese crown in 1640 when Joao IV provided the coast with a line of defences comprising a number of forts such as the Santiago Fortress, a magnificent bulwark in the middle of the bay, which blends in harmoniously with the town as a whole. Besides its fishing tradition, Sesimbra is increasingly making its mark as a tourist resort.
The municipality of Sesimbra is among the most varied of the Costa Azul. From the striking cliffs of Cabo Espichel to the Arrabida Nature Park, including the serene, luminous beaches and the woods surrounding the Albufeira Lagoon, there is a little of everything. Those with a love of nature, walks, history; water sports, golf or good food can find here everything that gives them pleasure and joy of living.
MOINHO DE BAIXO BEACH (MECO)
This is one of the municipality's prettiest beaches where the blues of the sea blend with the colours of the sand and the silver of fish just caught using the traditional beach seine nets.
A beautiful lagoon next to the beach surrounded by thick pinewoods. Excellent conditions for angling, sailing and windsurfing.
Perhaps for its grandeur, for the rough nature of the place or for the beauty of its sunsets the Cape Espichel promontory, jutting out into the ocean, has given rise from time immemorial to a mystic, cultural quality to which the legend of Our Lady of Cape Espichel is not foreign.
She has always attracted a large number of pilgrims who worshipped her, and this led to the construction of the entire complex in 1701. It comprises the Water House, an aqueduct, lodgings and a church in which the magnificent perspective by Lourenco da Cunha can be seen. Overlooking Lagosteiros Bay stands the 15th Century Memoria Chapel.
The geological structure of the place has preserved footprints and tails of dinosaurs about 150 million years old, such as those to be found at Lagosteiros. There are two well-marked footpaths at Cape Espichel: 'Chi dos Navegantes' (Seafarers' Plateau) and 'Maravilhas do Cabo' (Marvels of the Cape), which provide a view of a number of features of great cultural and scenic interest, including matters related with geology, palaeontology, history and archaeology.
SENHOR JESUS DAS CHAGAS FESTIVAL
Legend has it that, during the 16th century, an image of Christ crucified appeared on the beach on a rock known as 'Pedra Alta' (Tall Stone). In a procession, fishermen carried it with devotion to the Misericordia Church and made it their patron saint, calling it Senhor Cristo das Chagas (Lord Christ of the Wounds).
The celebrations in honour of the Sesimbra fisher folk's patron take place during the closing days of April and first week of May. It is the town's main festival and involves novenas, sermons, payment of promises and a procession, one of the biggest in the southern part of Portugal. The route is similar to that taken in the 18th century. There are four stops during the procession: two to bless the land and two to bless the sea, from a standpoint of reconciliation of fishermen and farmers.
THE TRADITION OF FISH
Intimately linked with Sesimbras fishing traditions is the local cooking that reflects marine aromas in the dishes prepared using fish and shell- fish, such as fish stew, swordfish steaks, squid and bread stew, shellfish bread- mash or risotto, tiny cuttlefish or various sorts of grilled fish.
Nevertheless, traditional cooking is not limited to the flavours of the sea, and the traditional sweets include broas de Alfarim, zjmbros, brisas do mar and other sweets made using honey. Nor should you miss the requeijtio (ricotta), the fresh cheese and the hard cheese of Azoia, delicious when accompanied by home-made bread.
To end your gastronomic journey, try the Pescador (or Fisherman) liqueur, a fortified wine that should be served quite cold with a twist of lemon.
THE ALBUFEIRA LAGOON
It's a place of rare beauty, one where the green of the pinewoods blends with the blue of the sea and of the Lagoon itself. Its origins probably lie in an ancient branch of the Tagus. Several species of birds nest here, including mallards, shovellers, woodcock and moorhen.
The very exuberant vegetation that surrounds it provides a home for tits and blackbirds, common wax bills, stonechats, crows, turtle doves and wood pigeon. Thanks to the protection measures that have been implemented the lagoon is also an excellent haven for fish and a pleasant place either for a stroll or for windsurfing and sailing.
Its geographic location has lent it unique characteristics. Its proximity to the sea has made it a land of fishermen. Its historic centre retains the perpendicular layout of the sixteen hundreds. An important fishing centre, the boats still bring back several kinds of fish such as sardines, horse mackerel and black scabbard fish.
The port, where the bustie of the day's work can still be seen, retains all the colour of the traditional boats. At every corner the town provides visitors with a view of a monument or a glimpse of the throb of the day-to-day lives of its people. Suggestion for a stroll: From the present travel to the past through the most typical 16th century streets of Ribeira de Sesimbra and see some of its most notable monuments. Start off at the Parish Church (16th century), discover the historic centre along Esperanca and Antero de Quental streets.
Visit the Espirito Santo Chapel Museum in Candido dos Reis street Walk to Largo 5 de Outubro and visit the Misericordia Church (16th century). Take a look at the 16th century Town Hall building and pillory at Largo 5 de Outubro, the pillory a faithful replica of the original, destroyed at the start of the Republic. And end up by walking down to the seafront to visit the Santiago Fortress (17th century). Take a rest here and gaze out over the immensity of the sea.
Courtesy of Regiao de Turismo de Costa Azul.