José Saramago once famously wrote in ‘Journey to Portugal’ "All roads lead to Sintra. The traveller has already chosen his own. He will go around Azenhas do Mar and Praia das Maçãs, first looking at the houses that cascade down the cliff, then at the sand hit by the waves of the square".
The picturesque postcard village of Azenhas do Mar, located in the parish of Colares, belongs to the municipality of Sintra, and is only a 15 minute drive to the centre of Sintra and less than an hour away from Lisbon.
Azenhas do Mar would make for a great day out or even just a half-day visit but her sheer beauty may entice you to stay longer, no matter how long you stay for, you are close enough to enjoy Sintra’s rich cultural and historic offers such as the Castle of the Moors, Quinta da Regaleira and the National Palace of Pena.
According to Sapo news, this village was one of the 14 finalist villages in the 7 Wonders of Portugal and you only need to see photos to understand why.
Home to 800 inhabitants, Azenhas do Mar translates to ‘Watermills of the Sea’, whose name comes from the many watermills that existed in the area, with its first watermill dating back to the period of Arab occupation. Today you can still see some of the remaining water mills and millstones lining the cobbled streets of the town.
The Camâra Municipal de Sintra shared on their website that the fishing village of Azenhas do Mar focused on cereal milling and wine growing, being a prominent location for the famous wines of the Colares Demarcated Region.
“In fact, some of the oldest private wine cellars known as Colares Wine were located here. Of these, we know those belonging to Luís Augusto and Manuel José Collares who, as early as 1848, manufactured and sold wine from their own production.”
The same source notes that “King D. Carlos I and Queens D. Amélia and D. Maria Pia spent their holidays here, with many 20th century architects established their creations here, such as Raul Lino, Norte Júnior and others. Ferreira de Castro lived here and Vergílio Ferreira and José Saramago wrote about the village.” This coincides with a National Geographics article which says that “the village was a tourist discovery of the 20th century and that the village became an obsession of the bourgeoisie.”
Despite being a somewhat small fishing village, Azenhas do Mar ended up being the picture-perfect location where wealthier families from Lisbon would have their summer houses, with my research identifying that these houses were down to architect Raul Lino, who was inspired by Portuguese architecture from the 17th and 18th centuries.
When you arrive in Azenhas do Mar you will be greeted by cobbled streets and a cluster of typical Portuguese white houses which are decorated with the famous azulejos which you can wander until you reach different breathtaking viewpoints of the town and the coast. The iconic image of Azenhas do Mar houses almost tumbling into the sea were beloved by painters at the time and later photographers who have made Azenhas do Mar one of the most photographed villages in Portugal. I can only imagine that nowadays this is still proven, as it can still be seen as an Instagram-worthy shot.
Arguably one of the most beautiful Portuguese coastal scenes, you can also enjoy Azenhas do Mar’s small beach which is located at the bottom of this charming town and even swim in its natural sea pool of seawater which retains water at low tide. Azenhas do Mar is also close to some other beautiful beaches backed by cliffs, which are known for being popular with surfers if you want to venture further with some being Praia do Magoito, Praia da Aguda, Praia da Adraga and you are even in close proximity to the famed Cabo da Roca which forms the westernmost point of the Sintra Mountain Range and is perfect for watching the sunset.
Now let's get back to Azenhas do Mar, for those wanting a romantic meal, the restaurant named after the village is based on an old watermill that overlooks the majestic cliff and ocean. The restaurant states on its website “There is no doubt that we are in front of a wonder of nature, describing Azenhas do Mar to be a “planted” seaside village.” Located just above the beach and natural pool, Azinhal do Mar is undeniably a romantic setting and serves authentic Portuguese seafood and fish but is definitely a more expensive option.
It is important to note that there are a couple of seafood and fish restaurants in the area which are more budget-friendly and have great reviews such as Água e Sal which is a family-owned restaurant but you can also drive further afield where there are more options and of course back to the town centre.
Following undertaking her university degree in English with American Literature in the UK, Cristina da Costa Brookes moved back to Portugal to pursue a career in Journalism, where she has worked at The Portugal News for 3 years. Cristina’s passion lies with Arts & Culture as well as sharing all important community-related news.