The best independent guide to Portugal
The best independent guide to Portugal
The resort town of São Martinho do Porto sits on one of the most unique coastal features of Portugal and is a wonderful place for a family holiday.
The town sits on the northern side of a wide sandy bay which is separated from the powerful Atlantic Ocean by a towering rocky headland. The relentless sea has carved a narrow gap through this headland and then opened the horseshoe bay behind it.
The sheltered beach of São Martinho do Porto, with the headland at the rear of the image
The bay São Martinho do Porto is picturesque, offering soft golden sands and perfectly still sea waters. These calm waters have transformed the small fishing village into a family-friendly holiday destination, which is extremely popular with the Portuguese.
São Martinho do Porto has the appearance and atmosphere of an Algarve resort town, but instead of being designed for foreign tourists, it is wholly aimed for the domestic Portuguese market.
The Miradouro de São Martinho do Porto, with the Atlantic on the right and bay on the left
Further round the 3.5km bay the development lessens, into sand dunes and campsites, and at the southern side is the mouth of the Tornada River. Between the river and the sheltered side of the granite headland, huge sand dunes have been formed, and a fun activity is to “surf” slide down them.
The southern side of the São Martinho do Porto bay is much more natural and pristine, and can easily be walked to from the main resort as a raised walkway extends around the entire bay.
The pristine Praia de Salir do Porto on the southern side of the bay
For such a unique location, São Martinho do Porto is barley known by foreign tourists, and this is surprising considering it is so close to the overly touristy Obidos and trendy surfing town of Nazare.
If you are looking for somewhere completely different to visit either for as a day trip or for a holiday, then São Martinho do Porto is the destination for you.
São Martinho do Porto is one of the best destinations on the western coastline of Portugal for a family holiday.
The beach has the calmest sea waters of the Costa de Prata coastline while the headland provides shelter from the strong sea breezes. The calm waters are great for water sports (SUP, kayaking), and in the summer, there is a giant inflatable for children to clamber over.
Modern apartment blocks line the beach between the train station and the resort centre
São Martinho do Porto is favourite with Portuguese families, who own holiday apartments or permanent pitches in the campsites. There are many good value restaurants (the Portuguese would refuse to pay inflated tourist prices!) serving tradition food, along with beach bars and cafes. In the summer there is a buzzing holiday atmosphere and is a fun place to be.
Along with the beaches, there are many enjoyable day trips, which could include Nazare, Obidos and Caldas da Rainha.
The only downside to São Martinho do Porto is that it is extremely popular and sells out during the Portuguese summer holidays.
Outside of the short Portuguese summer holidays São Martinho do Porto, takes on a much calmer and relaxed ambience. This atmosphere is very similar to the low-season in the Algarve, where days can be spent at the open-air cafes overlooking the beach.
During the shoulder seasons (May-Jun & Sept-Oct), the headland provides shelter from the sea breezes, which buffer nearby beach towns such as Nazare, Peniche or Ericeira.
The beach is always the main attraction of São Martinho do Porto
São Martinho do Porto is one of those beautiful natural places you want to visit, but after seeing the bay, cliffs and sand dunes, there is not much else to see. A typical visit to just see the sights of the town will only take a couple of hours, and a day trip could be easily combined with Obidos or Nazare.
To get to the viewpoints, you will need to climb some steep hills
São Martinho do Porto is more of a destination to head to, for a beach day. With this mindset, then it is then a fantastic destination, having a glorious beach, pretty town and interesting coastlines to explore.
The map below shows the sights of São Martinho do Porto. The main tourist area is shaded in yellow and the beach extends around the entire bay between markers 4 and 6.
Sights for a day trip: 1) São Martinho do Porto viewpoint 2) São Martinho tunnel 3) Cruzeiro viewpoint 4) Praça Engenheiro Frederico Ulrich 5) Beach boardwalk 6) Salir do Porto beach 7) Salir do Porto Sand dunes 8) Saint Ana chapel ruins
On the northern headland, a tunnel has been cut through the rocks (2), which leaves the tranquillity of the bay to expose the powerful winds and waves on the Atlantic side.
On the opposite side of the headland are sheer cliffs and powerful Atlantic waves, but not on this calm day in May!
The Duna de Salir do Porto are the sand dunes close to the mouth of the Tornada River as it empties into the São Martinho bay. These dunes stand at 49m high and are the highest in Portugal (there are not many others!).
It is a favourite of children and adults alike to run up them in a single attempt, and then slide surf down them to the edge of the sea, which touches the base of them at high tide.
The Duna de Salir do Porto were formed 100 thousand years ago, when strong winds blew in red sandstone sands from lagoons that were once near Obidos. These sands no longer exist, so sliding down the dunes is great fun, but slowly erodes them.
A wooden bridge crosses the Tornada River to the sand dunes
The Passadiços da Baía de São Martinho do Porto is the wooden raised footpath that extends around the southern side of the bay, from the “A Praia” snack bar to the Duna de Salir do Porto.
If you have any time in São Martinho do Porto, this is a very scenic footpath, which passes through the established sand dunes ecosystem.
The Passadiços da Baía de São Martinho do Porto