by Ann Abel
posted on February 11, 2019
It’s easy, if lazy, to call a place the Hamptons of wherever: it’s close to a major city, it’s luxurious, it’s where the city’s elites decamp for weekends and holidays. But while all those attributes are true of Comporta, about an hour’s drive south of Lisbon, the Hamptons characterization is off-key.
That’s because Comporta is one of those places like St. Barth in the 1980s or José Ignacio, Uruguay, in the early 2000s, where the rich and famous go to act as if they are neither of those things. No one dresses up, the houses are simple — small, with thatched roofs and walls, in what’s known as the “Comporta cabana” style — and high-profile artists and designers (mostly European) sit outside unassuming bars drinking cheap beers with local fishermen.
In a nod to the area, Casas Na Areia, one of Comporta's premier rental properties is styled after the region's traditional thatched houses. (Photo Courtesy: Silent Living)
Design-world heavyweights like Christian Louboutin, Jacques Grange, Philippe Starck, and Anselm Kiefer are some of the famous figures who hide out here. No one cares. Comporta is a place where everyone gets to take off their mask, where everyday people feel just as welcome as the superstars.
From the outside, Comporta, which is actually a cluster of seven fishing villages, looks like many other villages in the Alentejo: whitewashed buildings, cobblestone streets, not all that much going on. But once you’ve arrived, you’ll get a glimpse of the wealth here. Shops such as TM Collection and Levanda sell beautiful, locally-made scarves for €200 and hippie-chic dresses for €800. The minimercado, Mercearia Gomes, is stocked with caviar, pink Himalayan salt, imported cheese, and French Champagne, giving it the nickname Little Harrod’s.
So how did this come to be in Comporta? After all, the Portuguese coast is dotted with charming villages. Sure, there’s some critical mass at play, as well as strict environmental protections that have ensured the preservation of its wild landscape (including miles and miles of white sandy beaches), but there’s also something harder to put a finger on.
“Comporta is a magical, unspoiled place just now being discovered. Here time has another rhythm”, says Teresa Barros, the founder and director of the marketing agency Xpose Communications and one of the region’s biggest cheerleaders. “We are able to slow down, get back to our essence, experience all that is still authentic and genuine in Portugal, and enjoy slow living. We are reminded of the luxury of simplicity.”
The only hotel in the region, Sublime Comporta, is situated on a 17 hectare estate, and is home to three excellent restaurants. (Photo Courtesy: Sublime Comporta)
Barros also represents the only hotel (for now) in the area, the petite Sublime Comporta, which also has some of the region’s best dining. That is true both at the relaxed Sem Porta (without a door) and at the intimate, 12-seat Food Circle dinners that take place in the hotel’s huge organic garden, courtesy of chef Tiago Santos, most recently of Bar Douro in London, as well as several Michelin-starred restaurants in Portugal.
“Sublime Comporta pays homage to the best of Portugal,” says Barros. “A breath-taking natural environment — 42 acres of umbrella pines and gnarled cork trees — comes together with contemporary architecture and achieves the perfect balance between design, comfort and respect for nature and its surroundings.”
With Sublime as the only hotel, most visitors rent private homes in the area. Some of the best are Casas na Areia (houses on the sand, which have actual sand floors in their living rooms) and Cabanas no Rio (cabanas by the river), which are part of a larger hospitality company Silent Living. A spokesperson echoes Barros’ comments:
“What is special about Comporta is its Portuguese character, that never loses strength over the years,” says Marta Lourenço. “More important, it’s the way Comporta helps us to get out of the stress of daily life, and reconnect with ourselves, our loved ones, and nature. It’s a small and secret paradise for body and soul. Casas na Areia and Cabanas no Rio are an invitation to dive deep into nature, as a local, and focus mainly on life’s most important things: traditions, family, routines with the people we love.”
Comporta's dining scene ranges from casual, roadside spots to low-key luxe beachfront glamour, like at Sal Restaurante. (Photo Courtesy: Sal Restaurante)
Among those traditions are home-cooked dinners, shared with family or friends old and new. Indeed, much of the social life in Comporta involves inviting guests for dinner. But there are also excellent, informal restaurants, such as the roadside Dona Bia, where one can eat rustic food next to local farmers, and Gloria, where the best barbecued chicken in town is served. More upscale are feet-in-the-sand-chic beachfront restaurants, such as the popular Sal Restaurante. When I visited a year and a half ago, Lisbon’s most famous new resident, Madonna, just happened to be at the next table. (Again, no one cared.) Not even the Queen of Pop could distract from the fresh fish on their plates and their companions by their side.
That’s what Frederico da Cunha, Sal’s owner, had in mind. “Comporta is a very special place where your soul and eyes meet tranquility — where you go to bed and hear nothing but the waves, crickets, and frogs; where you look at the stars and you can see the world.” he says. “Comporta is one of the few places in Europe that still keeps its realness. People here are very respectful with everything that concerns tradition and environment. We love this place and will protect it with all our heart. I’m not only talking about people that live here. Everyone.”
He continues: “Sal is above all the personalization of all this. It does not impose anything on Comporta; it is part of her. Sal was born from her and grows with her, in its quality, its service, its naturalness, its authenticity, its subtlety, and its peacefulness.”
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