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This is a beautiful small town overlooking a famous shell shaped with a very narrow entrance ("barra in Portuguese) flanked by two craggy hills. The "barra" is known for its occasional bursts of bad temper with breakers that can reach up to half the height of the flanking hills.
The town is a prosperous fishing center and Summer resort with very little industry and only light at that. Critics claim it is the place where Winter spends its Summer holidays
.For that reason it is ideal for those who think the sweltering Summers of southern Portugal are too hot for them.This probably explains the large number of, Dutch, German and other cooler climate Europeans amongst its visitors. It also explains the unusual habit of the main tourist restaurants to have their menus in Dutch  instead of the more frequent English elsewhere.A sizeable group of German, Dutch and French nationals live there permanently and own a few businesses. It has a Winter population of around five thousand that increases more than ten fold in August.

The town is neatly divided in two sections. The lower section, built around the northern and eastern shores of the bay is adjacent to the beach, caters for the majority of tourists and occasional visitors, and is where most businesses, restaurants, bars and accomodation are located. The upper section located on the north-easterly hills overlooks the bay. There you'll find the majority of the pemanent dwellers, the Church and the businesses that cater for the locals. The older and more traditional generation of Summer and weekend dwellers tend to have their houses in the upper section as well.typical Outeiro house right at the top of the upper section of the town

The lower and upper sections are connected by a sort of village ring road for cars and three very steep streets for pedestrians. These are locally known as "ladeiras", are one of the main hallmarks of the town and a constant pretext for loud complaints particularly at the time of returning home after a long and tiring day at the beach.

The best known hill around the town is "Facho"(literally "torch flame") which was for a very long time the highest point of the Portuguese coast. However, it is losing height because of wind erosion.From its topThe "Facho" there is a breathtaking view of the entrance of the bay and, on most days, one can even see the Berlengas Archipelago, where the imaginary "Republic of the Whale" is located.

Along the steep road that leads to the "Facho" one can turn to another road that goes as far as the "Salgados" beach, which is rather dangerous,

 and crosses several pinewoods. As a matter of fact, pinewoods are one of the other many atractions of São Martinho. Besides the ones crossed by the road to "Salgados", there are others , near "Bouro", famous for their production a very tasty berry called "camarinhas".

The main feature of the lower section is the main street. In the majority of other Portuguese small towns main streets are normally referred to as the "Straight Street" no matter how squiggly they are. In São Martinho it is called the "Street of the Coffee Houses" for the most obvious of all reasons. In Winter you'll find there at all times an average of ten people in the whole of the two hundred yards of its length.

Cofee Street

In August, after 10 p.m., it normally takes you a good half an hour to walk its full length if you use efficiently your elbows and "excuse mes".If you stop to chat with all the friends and acquaintances you are literally bound to bump against during your progress it'll take you a couple of hours to reach the other end of the street.

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Other features of the lower section are the quay which is as long as half the bay's diameter . In the late afternoons of July and August it is common to see several trawlers moored at the quay to unload the day's catch : bales and bales of algae "fished" by expert divers. São Martinho is the leading Portuguese algae catching centre. 

 

The lighthouse that signals the entrance to the bar is located almost at the end of hill overlooking the quay. You can cross that hill directly from the quay through a tunnel that leads you to the Santo Antonio rocky beach .

To reach the lighthouse you either climb on foot a steep stairway or go a short distance by car along the road between two hills. That gap is the Rattles Valley (Vale de Guizos) infamous amongst the abundant sailing experts who either live or choose São Martinho for their favourite sport. The Rattles Valley funnels into the bay the strong North wind prevalent along the Portuguese West coast (the "nortada" mentioned in most navigation books and deserving a mention in the Encyclopedia Britannica). As the wind rushes down it bounces over and over again between the two walls of the narrow gap and creates very strong gusts on the middle section of the bay, coming at almost right angles to one another. These X-gusts, as they are rather obviously named, are guilty of numerous capsizings of the fast sailing dinghies that dot the bay in Summer and most weekends from March to October.

Getting a Vaurien dinghie ready to face the "nortada".

If you keep on following the Rattles Valley road you will reach the dainty little chapel of Santo Antonio and immediately above it the Cruzeiro of Santo Antonio from where you can enjoy one the better views of the bay and where the sailing addicts flock to, to assess how the wind is behaving.General view of  the bay and town

It is difficult to think of a place with more abundant healthy leisure activities. All the normal beach activities are naturally available : swimming, sand games and plain skin roasting . The latter, however, has to be practiced with great care. Although the Sun hides behind mist and clouds more often than elsewhere along the Portuguese coast, the iodine in the air is blamed, rightly or wrongly, for one of the deeper and golden tans there are. The tan, if not slowly acquired, may come with nasty burns. However pleasant the beach activities, or lack of them, São Martinho is far more famous for its nautical sports : sailing either racing dinghies or the more sedate old fishing boats now refashioned into pleasure craft, rowing, jet skiing and, more than obviously, fishing be it in the calm waters of the bay or in much rougher outer seas.

São Martinho is located in the municipality of Alcobaça, halfway between Caldas da Rainha and Nazaré. On the way you can stop at Alfeizerão (home of a famous sponge cake) or alternatively you can go via Bouro and Salir do Porto, located at the opposite end of the bay. Salir is close to beautiful sand dunes that provide great fun for children of all ages: racing down on foot or sand sledge with attendant harmless spectacular falls. It has to be admitted, however, that going up is not half as fun... At the foot of the dunes a small river, called Salir or Tornada, finds its way to the bay and causes its worst problem: the silting up of the bay.

The motor way between Lisboa and Leiria puts São Martinho at less than one hour confortable drive from Lisboa International Airport. Good roads link São Martinho to the network of Portuguese morways making it easily accessible no matter where you come from. Nevertheless, nothing can beat the old time charm of of the quaint three coach old trains that run from Lisbon or Figueira da Foz. Getting off at the picturesque São Martinho railway sation is an experience in itself.  The railway station


This page was written by João Carlos Soares de Mello =================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================