Few people know this, but Alcácer do Sal is one of the oldest cities in Europe. It was founded over a thousand years B.C. Laid out over the right bank of the Sado river, it is a historic area in Portugal, best known for its rice fields.
Alcácer do Sal is the second-largest municipality in the country, located in the northern part of Alentejo, very close to the Atlantic. For a long time, salt was the main reason for the settlement of peoples in this region. From the Phoenicians times, through the Roman empire, until the 18th century, salt was transported by galleons from dozens of salt flats. Eventually, salt flats were converted into rice paddies, which started using a network of channels supplied by the Pego do Altar and Santa Susana dams. Today there is still one salt flat operating, the “Salina da Batalha”, which is open for guided tours.
Over the Sado valley, on the hilltop, a Moorish castle was built in the 12th century. It was later conquered by King Afonso II, passing into the Portuguese domain.
Álcacer is also home to one the most beautiful “Pousadas de Portugal”, has beautiful beaches just a few kilometres away and offers the best wild boar steak in the country, as well as delicious seafood from the Sado river.
One of the main attractions of Alcácer is the boat trips along the south bank of the Sado River, in the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve. Until the 18th century, it was recognised for its extraordinary richness of salt production, which eventually gave way to vast rice fields.
Of the fifteen galleons believed to have resisted until the end of the 1970s, few are still found sailing. The Amendoeira galleon is one of the boats that has been preserved overtimes. It is now used for sightseeing on the river’s south bank.
On these boat trips, you can find countless species of birds amidst marshes and rice paddies. This area is also home to several threatened species, such as the black bat and the otter.
On the other hand, if you would like to watch the dolphins in the Bay of Setúbal and observe the pink flamingos, herons and ducks, you’ll have to go on a different kind of boat, more agile and fast. These boats usually take up to 16 people.
The Castle of Alcácer do Sal, in Alentejo, is located in the municipality of Alcácer do Sal, Setúbal District, in Portugal. The castle is considered a National Monument.
The city’s name is directly related to this castle: Alcácer derives from the word “Al-Kassr”, which means castle in Arabic. The castle, surrounded by two walls, is home to a hotel, part of “Pousadas de Portugal”. Located in the castle, overlooking the Sado river, the hotel is a beautiful place to spend your days in Álcacer. It offers numerous activities, such as hunting, canoeing, horse riding, fishing, bird watching and golfing.
The castle also hosts an archaeological museum, the Archaeological Crypt of the Castle of Alcácer do Sal, inaugurated on April 18, 2008. Excavated in the basement of the fortress and the old Aracaelli Convent - which today hosts the D. Afonso II hotel -, the museum gives us a feeling of time travelling. It displays the remains of all peoples who lived in the town for over 26 centuries.
Visiting the only remain salt pan in Alcácer - Batalha - is the perfect opportunity to learn about the salt production in the region, an activity that gave the city its name. In the visit to the Batalha salt flat, on the left bank of the Sado river, you’ll get the chance to understand the importance of Alcácer do Sal in the production of salt. Furthermore, you will learn about how the production of salt is done, the history behind it since Roman times and its connection to the regions of Aveiro and Murtosa. These salt pans are pretty similar to those existing in the district of Aveiro and in Murtosa, since the farmers who already produced salt in those areas transferred the same techniques to the Alcácer do Sal region.
You can also watch the flamingos flying over the salt flats during the visit, conveying a beautiful scenario.
Between Comporta and Carvalhal, about a 30-minute drive from Alcácer, you can find Brejos da Carregueira beach. This is the ideal beach for those who want to spend a relaxed day, away from the hustle and bustle of the other beaches in this region. The beach is kind of hidden between rice paddies, so the access is very restricted.
In Brejos da Carregueira, there are no bars and not even a lifeguard. However, you will find a long swath of sand stretching into the distance, a transparent clear sea where you see the bottom and, above all, one of the less populated beaches in Portugal.
Santa Suzana village is just about a 20-minute drive from Alcácer do Sal and it is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Alentejo.
The houses are all alike. They are only of one floor, whitewashed, with a blue bar framing the windows and doors. They all have the same chimneys and are painted by the residents every two years. Even those not inhabited are painted by neighbours, who are proud of this picturesque village in the region.
The main highlights in the village are: the baroque-style Matriz church, which is over 500 years old; the 18th-century submerged baroque bridge (which is on the old road to Évora); the "theatre", which locals call “Teatro Comunitário”; and the Pego do Altar dam.
You should also have lunch or dinner at A Mondina restaurant, located right next to the dam. The most famous dishes are “feijoada”, “migas à alentejana” and fried rabbit.
“Pinhoadas” are made from honey, sugar and pine nuts. Pine nuts are famous in Alcácer do Sal, as the area’s sandy soil is fertile for the growth of pine trees. You can buy “pinhoadas” at any café in the city, or directly at the most famous pine nut factories in Álcacer, such as Mr. Casimiro Jerónimo, known for making pine sweets, and Mr. Aldegundes Freitas, known for making “pinhoadas”:
The best way to get to Alcácer is through the Lisbon airport. After arriving in Portugal, you can either choose to go by bus or train to go from Lisbon to Álcacer. However, if you’re looking for the quickest way to get to this Alentejo town, renting a car is the best option. It is a 1-hour drive taking the A2 highway for most of the trip and changing to IC1/N5 national road for the last leg of the journey.
If you prefer to go by train, you can catch it at the different train stations in Lisbon. There are trips at numerous times of day, during the morning and evening.
Travelling by bus is pretty straightforward. Rede-Expressos is the bus company that provides bus services, offering frequent trips departing from the Sete Rios Station.
Portugal tends to have pleasant weather conditions throughout the year, even with some differences between the north and south. In Alcácer do Sal, the summer is hot, arid and with a cloudless sky for most days; winter is cool, with strong winds and a partially overcast sky. Throughout the year, the temperature generally varies from 7°C to 32°C and is rarely below 3°C or above 38º C.
During the summer months, temperatures range between 32ºC and 18ºC, while in the winter, temperatures go from 14ºC to 7ºC. Spring and Autumn’s months usually have mild temperatures. The month with the most rainfall in Álcacer do Sal is November, with around 78mm of precipitation.
Alentejo’s coastline is much diversified and it is where you can find the finest and less populated beaches in Portugal. The coastline from Comporta in the Alentejo to Sagres in the Algarve is one of the most stunning in Europe.
The Alentejo coast is a calm place, that has been resisting mass tourism. For this reason, it is considered the wildest coast in Europe and one of the most beautiful in the world. Its preserved nature has a strong, wild character, creating landscapes of breathtaking majesty.
Alentejo’s beaches are popular among surfers, being one of the best spots in Europe for the practice of this sport.
The nearest beaches to Álcacer do Sal are Tonel, Carvalhal, Comporta, São Torpes, and Sines beaches.
Everyone who visits Alcácer do Sal falls in love with its local-made products. You can find many handicrafts items in Alcácer do Sal. Traditionally, Alcácer do Sal is known for its saddlers, who use the leather not only to produce shoes, wallets, suitcases or “samarras”, but also saddles for horses and all kinds of hunting gear.
The miniature figures depicting agricultural work, made in wood, metal and cork, as well as the mats and chairs, are other handmade products that can be found in the municipality. There are still many artisans dedicated to the creation of these art pieces.
It is also worth mentioning the emergence of the so-called urban handicraft, where modernity and innovation are highlighted. The art pieces that stem from this activity include painting on fabric, ceramics and tiles, ironwork and handcrafted jewellery.
In addition to handicrafts, you should also explore the numerous grocery stores and markets of the region. They all offer high-quality products produced in the area, such as rice, salt, wines, olive oil, pin nuts, among others.
Álcacer do Sal restaurants are very diversified. The Alentejo tradition is enriched here by the existence of the Sado river and the proximity to the sea. The variety and quality of products make delicious dishes where rice is often used. Sea and river fish, shellfish and game meat are very common among the typical dishes of this region. These are then seasoned with aromatic herbs and other wild plants that grow in the area. Olive oil and bread, especially those produced in Torrão, are unmissable as well.
Here follow our suggestions of the best restaurants in Álcacer do Sal:
Until recently, the best way for getting around the city was by walking or by car. For about ten years, there was no public transport in this Alentejo’s city. However, a new urban transport system was recently created. Its name is “Nónio”, a tribute to the mathematician and astronomer Pedro Nunes, and it covers the whole city, mainly the urban centre of Alcácer do Sal.
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