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
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.
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 top 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 "
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.
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
If you keep on following
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.
is located in the
The motor way between Lisboa and Leiria puts São Martinho at less than one
hour confortable drive from
This page was written by João Carlos Soares de Mello =================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================================