Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal: Seaside Splendor

beach view selina hotel
Selina Hotel is the Perfect Relax and Work Place in Vila Nova de Milfontes

By Veronica Ondrejech

Milfontes rests along the wild Atlantic Coast of Portugal between Lisbon and the Algarve.

The “Archangel” an award-winning piece by artist Aguiar Aureliano in Milfontes depicting an ecological cry and warning about the planet degraded by the hand of humans.
The “Archangel” an award-winning piece by artist Aguiar Aureliano depicting an ecological cry and warning about the planet being degraded by the hand of humans.

Bordered by the river Mira, miles of sand dunes, natural preserves, and the ocean, this is a nature lover’s paradise.

It is located about an hour’s drive from the main toll road which keeps this historical town from getting too crowded, especially in the non-summer months.

covid tales1Prior to being a tourist town, Milfontes was just a small fishing village with commercial trade developed by King John II.

Prior to that Romans and Moors existed here and there are archaeological traces of life dating back to the Neolithic Era.

Thousands of Fountains

In Portuguese, Milfontes means “Thousands of Fountains” which references the many springs in the area.

More recently Vila Nova was added to the name translated as “New Village” so today it’s known as Vila Nova de Milfontes, “New Village of Thousands of Fountains”.

It’s a perfect description of this lush ocean paradise.

Strolling through Milfontes in the off-season offers visitors a tranquil alternative to the hustle and bustle of the summer season.

A boathouse on the Mira River which looks similar to a church, it's visible from a little boardwalk.
A boathouse on the Mira River which looks similar to a church, it’s visible from a little boardwalk.

Add to that travel during Covid-19 and the town is completely yours.

Sure, there will be fewer vendors open and available, but this is a town that lends itself to peaceful exploration.

More than a Playground

The beach town is surrounded by natural beauty, trails, and preserves and is much more than a summer playground.

A visit during the month of October provides mild temperatures (68-75°) without competition for space on the sand, in fact, you can have an entire beach to yourself along with a seaside café for the effort of a short walk.

This is a time to slow down, to savor and enjoy nature, the beaches, and the history of this sweet little paradise. If you’re looking for a party then July and August are the months for you.

Selina Milfontes Hotel

The communal terrace of the Selina Milfontes Hotel and Hostel with amazing views of the town, ocean and river.
The communal terrace of the Selina Milfontes Hotel and Hostel with amazing views of the town, ocean and river.

We began our mornings relaxing on the deck of our hip and fun hotel, Selina Milfontes.

The hotel group came up with the unique concept of blending a hotel, guesthouse, hostel, co-living and co-working space into one establishment.

They began in Panama and created their first “Selina” property in 2014 and today they boast about 70 locations worldwide.

Sustainable Hotels

Focused on sustainability, responsible travel, and incorporating local experiences/activities in one location, the hotel unites their guests with the towns in which they operate through these experiences.

Selina Milfontes Hotel
milfontesRua dos Carris nº9, 7645-242 Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal.Phone: +351 927 514 681

On-site in Milfontes they offer surf lessons, electric bike rentals, stand-up paddleboard (SUP), and Kayak tours as well as equipment for rent if you’d like to go it alone.

We checked in online in advance due to COVID regulations, so when we physically arrived the check-in process was a breeze with just a quick ID verification.

Our host gave us a tour of the communal facilities and showed us into our top-floor room with views of the town.

Steps from our third-level private room we wandered out to an expansive communal terrace filled with couches and chairs where staff hosted wellness activities with the backdrop of an expansive view of the town, ocean, and river.

Views to the right overlooked the edge of the village with its mini skyline of traditional homes, church, and fort.

afternoon in the square 1
A few people enjoying the late afternoon at the town square.

Watching the Mira River

Directly in front of the terrace, we could watch the waves break into the Mira River and then flow to the green countryside just off to our left.

This shared verandah became the perfect spot for our morning ritual of absorbing the sunshine while taking deep breaths of the fresh ocean air as we drank in the stunning views along with a cup of Joe.

You can be as social or as introverted as you like in a place like this, guests were both friendly and respectful of each other.

Hot Tub, Bar and More

The Selina staff brewed our fresh coffee each day at the bar on the first level. We enjoyed our drinks on our terrace lookout even though the bar and outdoor areas on the ground floor level were fun and trendy.

glass enclosed porch on beach

They offer a shared kitchen if you would like to make your own drinks or snacks and cooked to order breakfast is also available.

A hot tub, bar, and swinging chairs made for a fun hang-out downstairs. We giggled as we watched a family get completely drunk and silly in the hot tub while their dogs roamed around and greeted guests (this is a pet-friendly site).

Yoga and Meditation Classes

Yoga and guided meditation group classes on the upper deck became private lessons this time of year making this a perfect season to visit for specialized attention at group prices.

Our kind instructor explained that they also offered painting and dance classes.

Some guests worked at their computers while others played chess, we all took pleasure in the views and vibe.

This is a great spot to just breathe, literally. I could feel myself relax the minute I plopped down on a cozy chair or sofa and just looked out at the views.

A special path along the river and town of Milfontes.
A special path along the river and town of Milfontes.

We spent quite a bit of time here as it has one of the best views in town.

Positioned just steps to the city square in one direction and to the river in the other the Selina Milfontes is situated in a prime spot which made our car unnecessary.

There was free street parking available right out front, and our car remained parked for the entire three days we visited.

We strolled the half-block down to the river and found a wooden trail constructed over the water, a perfect path to view the edge of town and take photos from a unique perspective.

You can pick up a free guide at the tourist information center in town, which includes a walking tour, but you won’t find this trail listed inside.

It begins just to the left of the little restaurant in the parking lot below Selina.

Tourist Center
 Rua António Mantas 7645-221 Vila Nova de Milfontes Check times online as COVID changes the hours: Website

Follow the trail and you end up at a lookout point by the old fort where it towers over the river and beaches.

Built in 1599 to defend against pirates (yup real pirates, old lore says that they were part of the Knights Templar) and to protect the entrance to the river.

The Sao Clemente Fort is worth viewing and photographing but it is privately owned and not open to the public.

Backtrack a little and climb the stairs to town to find a courtyard with a monument celebrating the first flight between Portugal and Macau in 1924. A good piece of trivia as the town is proud of its place in aviation history. Turn right at the little street in front of the courtyard towards the church of Igreja De Nossa SR Da Graca (Our Lady of Grace) to appreciate a 16th-century building damaged by pirates and earthquakes.

It has been rebuilt a few times but kept the original features of the façade and the high altar. Watch the time as we were jolted out of our zen vibe by the clanging of the church bells right over our head while we were appreciating the quaint and beautiful design.

The Old Town Milfonte

There is one other church in town which is a little harder to find named Capela De Sao Sebastiao. It’s a small 17th-century church dedicated to the saint who protected the town from the plague and other illnesses, definitely thought-provoking during this age of COVID.

I thought about lighting a candle for our current plague, but it was closed. The old portion of the town is small, and it is worth wandering around to find this quaint little church even from the outside.

A special path along the river and town of Milfontes.
A special path along the river and town of Milfontes.

After passing the church we wandered through the whitewashed town enjoying the architecture and colors of vibrant blue and yellow-painted accents surrounding the doors and windows of the small homes. We meandered past local galleries with paintings, hand-crafted ceramics, as well as unique little craft shops. It is easy to get lost in the little old town but if you keep walking you always end up at the fort, square or beach. I highly recommend “getting lost”.

People Watching in the Square

We found our way to the small center of town and selected a café in the “Largo do Rossio Square” for some snacks and an important activity of the day…people watching while enjoying the national culture of café life. Things move slower in Portugal and this unrushed enjoyment of a café stop (or two or three) is a highlight not to be missed.

In fact, there are only about five cafes open in the old town this time of year so why not make a goal of visiting them all. Drinks and snacks are usually around 10 euros for two people. We ordered an array of snacks as we watched two backpackers plan out their trek, tourists strolling past us, and busy locals on their way to work.

The cafes are also a great place for an adult beverage later in the day when you need to rest from all the walking, relaxing, or getting lost. Make sure to try the regional Alentejo wines, they are famous throughout the country and may be Portugal’s best-kept secret. They’re also a great bargain at 3-5 euros a bottle. The “expensive” stuff can run up to 10 euros.

This is a hiking town, if your idea of fun is walking on a path aside rock cliffs with views of crashing waves that expose stunning geology then this town is for you. The popular Rota Vicentina trail includes a network of paths encompassing 400 kilometers of marked routes including the Camino Historico (Historical Way) and the Trilho dos Pescadores (Fisherman’s Trail).

You can purchase an in-depth trail map at the tourist information center for around 15 Euros. Each little bluff is a photographer’s dream with twisted rock formations chiseled and carved from the energy of the crashing breakers.

There are four popular and easily accessible beaches around the town, but a hidden one, Praia do Carreiro da Fazenda (not marked in the tourist guide) is well worth a 10-minute stroll along the ocean or through a rope-marked path in majestic sand dunes.

We got a kick out of the few people who managed to find the beach, turned their back to the waves (don’t do that), and then got soaked. It is horrible that we laughed. Further up the coast, Portugal boasts of some of the largest waves in the world and you’ll see smaller versions here.

To get to this beach or access the beginning of the trail system just walk from town along Avenida Marginal, the main street along the beach, and it will take you to a circular drive by the old, closed lighthouse marked with a unique iron sculpture of “The Archangel”.

This is an award-winning piece by artist Aguiar Aureliano depicting an ecological cry and warning about the planet degraded by the hand of humans. If you continue past the statue, you’ll find stairs to a hidden wooden bar (A Choupana), it was closed due to COVID-19 but looks stunning tucked beside a small cliff overlooking the ocean.

Turn right at the bar and you’ll be on the path where the trails begin, continue walking about 5-10 minutes and you’ll see this secluded beach.

Praia Do Malhão

To check out another fluffy sand beach which is a bit tamer you can continue past Praia do Carreiro da Fazenda a few more kilometers and you’ll arrive at Praia Do Malhão. Along the way stop to enjoy Portinho Do Canal which is the biggest fishing harbor in the county and this county is big. Milfontes is in Odemira county which is the largest in Portugal (by land size, not population).

Quebramar Milfontes cafe and restaurant located on the sand of the Praia da Franquia.
Quebramar Milfontes cafe and restaurant located on the sand of the Praia da Franquia.

If you want calmer water activities like kayaking, SUP or swimming then you can just stay in town and head to the riverside beach of Furnas Beach which was voted “Best River Beach”.

I enjoyed watching some paddleboarders on the river as we walked back to town. They were the only two on the river and it was so calm versus the rocking thunder we had just witnessed.

The other two beaches of Praia Da Franquia and Farol Beach (lighthouse) are known for their gentle waves, easy access, boat trips, and water sports.

Families on the Beach

We saw two families on the beach and the rest was empty. Definitely a good time to visit. Stroll around and let nature be your guide and you will be well rewarded.

There is so much more to explore in this ocean paradise and historical town including fresh fish restaurants and family kitchens boasting special recipes including casserole dishes and delicious soups.

During COVID and off-season, there were about four restaurants open downtown. We were only there for a few days but we’ll be back to explore them all.

Alentejo Wines

Note: The writer was sponsored during her stay at this hotel but the opinions are all her own. During COVID it’s important to pre-check-in from an email link sent by Selina. The Selina group has its own app and reward program.

Veronica OndrejechVeronica Ondrejech started the Traveling Queen (Travelling Queen for the UK) website to share the benefits of traveling like royalty without the royal budget. Focusing on shoulder season and off-season travel she shares tips and tricks to enjoy more with less. She has recently began video blogs and informational videos on life as an American expat living in Portugal.

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