Had I known what I was missing, I would have made it to southern Portugal sooner.
Luckily, one of my best friends got married in southern Spain in March, which gave me the excuse to fly to Lisbon and tack on a long weekend trip post-wedding. I spent a day happily meandering up and down the cobblestone streets of Lisbon, but truthfully I was more interested in what lay a few hours south in the Alentejo region.
The first thing that you notice when you leave bustling Lisbon for Comporta is that after about an hour the development starts to dissipate and then disappear along the coastline. No high rise condos, no giant highways and no shopping centers. When I learned more about the region, I began to understand that development has been carefully restricted along this part of the coast to preserve the natural habitat.
This is one of the many reasons I’ve chosen Cocoon Portugal in the Alentejo region of Portugal as our home for the next Mend Away retreat. Our retreat next March is all about unplugging, slowing down and reconnecting with our natural rhythms. Mend Away Portugal is a 7-day yoga and mindfulness retreat, open to you whether you’re mending, single or coupled.
Though our retreat will have a daily schedule – twice daily yoga, daily meditation, three meals a day – there will be plenty of time to explore the neighboring area. So in anticipation of that retreat, I’m sharing my favorite places in Lisbon (where we’ll fly into), Comporta (the halfway point) and near Vila Nova de Milfontes (where we’re staying).
WHERE TO STAY IN LISBON, COMPORTA & THE ALENTEJO REGION
Cocoon Portugal (Alentejo) – This beautiful 275-acre coastal farm and yoga retreat will be our home during our week-long retreat next March. It’s my #1 pick for where to stay in this region for a number of reasons: farm-to-table meals from their garden, proximity to the beach, beautiful yoga shalas with high quality equipment, access to a freshwater lake and well-designed rooms and common spaces that all open to a courtyard. Not to mention, the staff is incredibly friendly and helpful, and they’re focused on sustainability and preserving the beauty of this region.
Sublime Comporta (Comporta)- If you want to spend a few extra days in Comporta before or after the retreat, this is a luxurious place to decompress. Tucked away in what feels like a national park, the grounds include a main communal area with a lobby, bar and restaurant. From there, guests can walk out to the large pool and guest rooms that are dotted around the property. The pool, spa and restaurant are all world-class, which makes it easy to stay there during your whole stay, but I highly recommend taking day trips to the nearby pristine beaches.
Airbnb (Lisbon) – If you’ll be in Lisbon before or after the retreat, there are a lot of affordable and cute Airbnbs if you book with enough time in advance. I recommend staying in Alfama, a more historical cobble-stoned street neighborhood that sits near the water.
Memmo Alfama (Lisbon) – If you’re looking for something more upscale or full service in Lisbon, try the Memmo. This beautifully-designed boutique hotel has an unbeatable view of the ocean from their outdoor terrace and is well-situated in the heart of the Alfama neighborhood. If you’d rather avoid a more traditional hotel, check out the houses from Dear Lisbon.
WHERE TO EAT + DRINK IN LISBON, COMPORTA & THE ALENTEJO REGION
Restaurante Sal (Comporta) – Sal is one of those places where you feel like you’ve struck gold. Tucked away on Pego Beach with no neighbors, you park in a small lot off the main road and walk the rest of the way along a small boardwalk. Once inside, you enter an oasis full of lively tables of families and friends, even in low season. You order simply by picking your fish and sides, and they grill everything for you while you look out onto the ocean. I went here as many times as I could and that still wasn’t enough. If you’re joining us for the retreat, I recommend you give yourself enough time to enjoy a meal here either on your way down from Lisbon or on your way back (or both!)
Comporta Cafe (Comporta) – Comporta Cafe is a relaxed beach club that serves great food and cocktails, and it’s another great pit stop to make in Comporta on your drive from Lisbon to Cocoon. You can relax directly on the beach or grab a table on the outdoor patio. You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu, and they even have showers if you decide to take a dip in the ocean.
A Choupana (Alentejo/Vila de Novo Milfontes) – If you didn’t stop for lunch in Comporta on your way south from Lisbon to the retreat, you can also swing by this local favorite restaurant closer to Cocoon. It’s a great spot to grab lunch and kill some time before check in.
A Cevicheria (Lisbon) – This restaurant in the heart of a trendy neighborhood is where I had the ceviche of my dreams. It came highly recommended by a friend and it exceeded my expectations, despite some mixed reviews about service online. The fusion ceviche here is inventive, and the setting is fun (I mean, there’s a giant octopus sculpture hanging over your head!) I recommend making a stop here for a nice lunch or dinner if you’ll be in Lisbon before or after the retreat, and they don’t take reservations, so go as soon as they open.
Hello, Kristof (Lisbon) – If you’re needing a caffeine kick, this is the spot to go. Arguably the best coffee in Lisbon, it’s also a great place to eat a pastry while you enjoy their fantastic selection of indie mags. Just keep in mind that they’re only open on weekdays, so if you need weekend coffee head to one of the Copenhagen Coffee Lab locations around town or The Mill.
Timeout Market Lisboa (Lisbon) – If you’re looking for an affordable and quick bite, this is a food court on steroids where you can get practically any type of cuisine you want. There are many options from famous Portuguese chefs, which makes it a nice stop if you don’t have a lot of time to dine in Lisbon. They also do salsa nights from time to time! A few noteworthy stalls: Manteigaria (for pasteis de nata), Sea Me (for seafood), Santini (for ice cream) and Conserveira de Lisboa (a famous conserva shop).
Landeau Chocolate (Lisbon) – Their slogan is “If nothing else works, try chocolate cake,” which means I’m a huge fan. Go for their cake but be sure to try their other chocolate confections as well. They have a few different locations throughout Lisbon, but I recommend the one in LX Factory, which is a cool shopping, eating and art center in a converted warehouse.
WHAT TO DO IN LISBON, COMPORTA & THE ALENTEJO REGION
Hike Along Costa Vicentina (Comporta/Alentejo) – To fully immerse yourself in the natural beauty of the region where we’ll be retreating, I recommend using some of your free time between yoga sessions to hike one of the many trails along the Atlantic coast. Cocoon recommends the Fishermen’s Trail, which Conde Nast has called one of the 6 most beautiful coastal trails in the world, so that’s the one I’ll be checking out myself. If you plan to hike during the retreat, be sure to pack sneakers/hiking shoes, a hat, sunscreen/sunglasses and layers for the wind.
Surf, Kayak + Standup Paddle Board (Alentejo)- If you’re joining us at Cocoon, the team there will help arrange surfing lessons, kayaking and stand up paddleboarding for you. There are a few spots nearby that are great for surfing: Praia Malhao and Furnas Beach.
Horseback Riding (Alentejo) – There is a wonderful and humane equestrian center about 10-12 minutes away from Cocoon, so they can arrange horseback riding for an hour or more, up to five guests at a time. The ride goes from Cabo Sardao lighthouse to Almograve, and Cocoon will help you book this in advance. Horseback riding is best in the spring or fall when it’s not too hot, so March (retreat time) will be perfect weather for this!
Reiki (Alentejo) – Our very own retreat co-host and meditation teacher, Sara Shah, will also be offering individual reiki sessions as add on treatments during your time at Cocoon. If you’re not familiar, reiki is energy healing that was developed in Japan as a form of alternative medicine.
Thai Massage (Alentejo)- Cocoon has an experienced Thai bodyworker on staff who can offer add on treatments for retreat guests. This is a great way to unwind, especially after a day of hiking or surfing (or doing nothing!)
Sintra (outside of Lisbon) – If you’ll be in Lisbon for longer than a day or two, you might consider taking a day trip to the nearby town of Sintra, whose main passage is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. It’s a former royal retreat and has a fairytale-esque quality. Don’t miss the national palace, from which you can catch the most incredible views of the neighboring region. To get there, you can take a train, car or (if you’re adventurous) scooter/vespa.
Nothing – This is by far the main reason to come to this part of the world: with the backdrop of the Alentejo region, you can unwind and dip your toes into a slower way of living – one that isn’t centered around “doing,” but instead one that is more centered around simply “being.” Though our retreat will be filled with wonderful activities that I’m looking forward to, there will also be plenty of time to do nothing. And I’m very much looking forward to this. I hope you’ll join us.