It was a warm Sunday morning in the summer of 1956 when José Manuel Espírito Santo first laid eyes on Portugal’s Herdade da Comporta from his sailboat, at that time deserted except for its rice fields and makeshift workers’ huts. He fell in love.

Lured by its pristine white beaches, estuary and pine forests teeming with bird life, the Espírito Santo family – once Portugal’s largest banking dynasty – soon bought the 12,500-acre estate and owned it until 2014. Today, just a few villages and a smattering of bold modern holiday homes punctuate the wild landscape.

Comporta, Portugal
Beautiful cliffs and perfect beach stretching into the distance. Photography: Richard John Seymour

Comporta, referred to as the ‘secret treasure of Europe’, is just over an hour’s drive south of Lisbon. It has long been a refuge for creatives wishing to put their urban lives on hold – and find inspiration in its raw scenery and down-to-earth charm. The likes of Christian Louboutin, Jacques Granges, Anselm Kiefer, and more recently Madonna have used it as their summer sanctuary. Meanwhile, British painter Jason Martin has a studio in Comporta and takes cues from the landscape for his work.

The Comporta studio of artist Jason Martin
The Comporta studio of artist Jason Martin. Photography: Rodrigo Cardoso

Renowned architects have also found creative fuel within the estate too, including Portuguese practices Aires Mateus and Pereira Miguel Arquitectos. They have re-appropriated the sandy-floored local hut vernacular into modern holiday homes in rural spots and the villages of Carvalhal and Carrasqueira. The latter – a local harbour built entirely on wooden stilts by fishermen – even found its way into Louboutin’s Spring/Summer 2013 campaign.

Comporta, Portugal
Ramshackle fisherman’s harbour at sunset in Alentejo, Portugal. Photography: Richard John Seymour

In the white-washed village of Comporta itself, storks assemble nests atop chimneys. The bank, church, bakery, offices, factories and workers’ houses all retain their rustic, laid-back character, and sit happily beside eco-chic new additions.

The Espírito Santo family went bankrupt in 2014 and the estate has now found new owners, who have pledged to maintain the ‘unique characteristics’ of the Herdade da Comporta and preserve its agricultural and forestry activities.

Here, we reveal the places to stay and the spots not to miss on this unspoilt stretch of the Portuguese coastline.

Comporta’s best villas to rent

Photography: Nelson Garrido

Casas na Areia
Architecture studio Aires Mateus designed this holiday home in 2010 for brothers João and Andreia Rodrigues, taking inspiration from local fishermen’s huts. It’s split into four units – one housing a living and cooking space, two more housing en-suite bedrooms and a fourth incorporating two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Prices start from €600 per day. Sítio da Carrasqueira, 7580-613 Comporta; casasnaareia.com

Photography: Nelson Garrido

Cabanas no Rio
‘River Huts’ are two small wooden cabins – one bedroom with a bathroom and one living space – also designed by Aires Mateus for the Rodrigues brothers and inspired by local fishing storage buildings. They nestle between rice fields and the Sado River, which borders Comporta on the north. You can spot flamingos, storks and dolphins from their decks. Prices start from €200 per day. Sítio da Carrasqueira, 7580-613 Comporta; cabanasnorio.com

Sublime comporta villa
Photography: Nelson Garrido

Sublime Comporta
In the inner pine forests of Comporta lies this boutique hotel, designed by Miguel Câncio Martins and José Alberto Charrua to blend into the surrounding landscape. A new set of wooden villas have just been added to the grounds, giving the architecture of Alentejo a contemporary twist. At sunset, sip on Sublime Comporta’s mouth-watering basil cocktail beside the pool – a pine-tree-lined Instagram favourite. Prices start from €300 per night. EN 261-1, 7570-337 Muda, CCI 3954 Grandola; www.sublimecomporta.pt

Casa do Pego holiday villa in Comporta, Portugal
Photography: via The Modern House

Casa do Pego
Architect Pedro Ferreira Pinto designed this Comporta villa to touch lightly on the earth. Raised on stilts, the three-bedroom holiday home (which sleeps six) wraps around a decked courtyard, shaded by a cork tree, and the house is topped by a pinewood terrace and swimming pool. Its landscaped gardens blend into the surrounding nature reserve. Praia do Pego is just five minutes walk away. Prices start from €2,800 per week. Rent it via The Modern House.

Comporta holiday villa for rent, designed by
Photography: Fernando Guerra

Villa L66
Villa L66 is a minimalist bolthole designed by Pereira Miguel Arquitectos for up to six people (in three bedrooms). Two volumes sit on a 600 sq m plot – a main cement home and a detached cabin, that gives the local vernacular a sharp update. Equipped with a plunge pool, the Comporta villa sits in a rural area called Brejos da Carregueira de Cima. Prices start from £169 per night. Rent it via Airbnb.

3 Bicas villa in Comporta, Portugal
Photography: courtesy of Portugal Sotheby’s International Realty

3 Bicas Villa
Another design by Pedro Ferreira Pinto, this Comporta holiday home is currently up for sale – as well as rent. Two buildings hover above a 5,000 sq m plot on stilts. The main house holds four bedrooms, five bathrooms and a striking double-vaulted living room. The second ‘love shack’ sleeps four people. Both properties are raised off the ground and surrounded by wraparound decking. Prices to rent the villa are on request. It’s on the market for €2 million via Sotheby’s International Realty. 3bicashouse.com

Where to go and what to see

Casa da Cultura
This 100-metre-long former cinema and rice barn has been turned into a ‘House of Culture’, featuring a Portuguese shopping alley, an auditorium with vintage chairs, and an art gallery, currently showing works by artists Sandra Baía and Francisco Uhlfelder – an early Comporta aficionado who converted a fisherman’s hut into his second home. Rua do Secador 8, 7580-648 Alcácer do Sal; casaculturacomporta.pt

Horse riding on the beaches
Photography: Cavalos

Cavalos na Areia
Cavalos na Areia, or ‘Horses on Sand’, provides ways to explore the area; including horse riding, kayaking in the rice irrigation channels and cycling through the rice paddies. Estrada Nacional 261, Km 6, 7580-681 Comporta; cavalosnaareia.com

Herdade da Comporta Foundation and Winery
These facilities have been the heart of the agricultural activity of the area, where farmers used to eat and be entertained. Now it houses the Herdade da Comporta wine cellar and headquarters, which manages the real estate portfolio, foundation and tourism campaigns. Head here for wine tastings. Espaço Comporta, EN 253, km 1, 7580-610 Comporta; herdadedacomporta.pt

Comporta store Rice by Marta Mantero

Rice by Marta Mantero
Marta Mantero is an interior designer who has just re-opened her shop in a former rice barn in the heart of Comporta village. On sale are exotic items from her travels, as well as Portuguese products and local artisanal items. Estrada Nacional 253, Km 1, 7580-612 Comporta; www.martamantero.com

Where to eat

Photography: Richard John Seymour

A Cavalariça
Led by chef Bruno Caseiro, A Cavalariça is a summer pop-up restaurant in a former horse stable where guests are invited to eat among the original partitions. A highlight is its ‘mosquito hour’, when cocktails and local oysters are on the menu.
Rua do Secador, 9 7580 Comporta; cavalaricacomporta.com

Comporta Café
Comporta Café is a seafood lover’s paradise on Praia da Comporta. It’s also famous for its sharing rice dishes and coffee sauce house steak, accompanied by Comporta wine. The café is an unpretentious yet perfect place to end a day. Praia da Comporta, 7680-612 Comporta; comportacafe.com.pt

Comporta’s best beaches

Comporta, Portugal
View of the Troia peninsula, Portugal. Photography: Richard John Seymour

Praia da Comporta
Overlooking the Arrábida mountain range in the distance, Praia da Comporta is the closest beach within the estate to Lisbon, and so naturally it becomes packed on weekends.

Comporta, Portugal
Photography: Richard John Seymour

Praia do Pego
After a drive south along a road traversing pine forests rice fields you get to Praia do Pego, a secluded, quiet version of Praia da Comporta. Both these beaches are accessed by scenic pedestrian wooden paths built atop protected sand dunes.

Read next: 7 modern holiday homes in Portugal

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