About 40 kilometers west of Lisbon, in plain sight from the heights of Sintra, lies the village of Colares. The borough (freguesia) with the same name spans a handful of villages in the area, including the most western village on the European mainland.
The main attractions in Colares and its surroundings are the rugged and fascinating Praia da Adraga beach near the village of Almoçageme, the westernmost point on the European mainland Cabo da Roca, near the village of Azóia, and of course the picturesque village of Azenhas do Mar, built against the cliffs of the rugged Atlantic coast.
The Colares region already had signs of civilization before Portugal existed as a country. Around 130 BC the Romans were already in the area. Around the twelfth century, after centuries of occupation by Romans, Vikings and Moors, the area officially became part of Portugal.
Discover by car or bicycle
Colares is perfect to explore by car on a beautiful sunny day. You drive from village to village through narrow, winding and hilly roads, where you can stop for a nice view, a little walk on the beach or a hot bica with a savory or sweet snack.
The region can also be easily discovered by bicycle. You will encounter some steep slopes here and there, but they are usually short,maybe a couple of hundred yards long. Most roads are not too hard to cycle. Be careful in traffic though, because even though you see more and more cyclists around, most Portuguese drivers are not used to these distractions on the road.
Villages in the freguesia Colares
Colares is part of Sintra and lies directly to the west of that city. There are a few (small) towns in the freguesia Colares:
- Azenhas do Mar
- Praia das Maçãs
Beaches in the area
Its western location on the Atlantic coast means that Colares has a good number of miles of coastline, from south of Cabo da Roca to beyond Azenhas do Mar. Much of this coast is very rugged and inhospitable, with cliffs up to more than 50 meters (55 yds) high.
In the many recesses in the cliffs and on the flatter parts you will find dozens of beaches, both large and small, some of which are very easy to reach. Here is an overview of the most important beaches in Colares:
- Praia da Ursa
- Praia da Aroeira
- Praia da Adraga
- Praia Grande
- Praia Pequena
- Praia das Maçãs
- Praia da Aguda
In good weather most locals will go to Praia da Adraga, Praia Grande and Praia das Maçãs. These beaches are easily accessible, have some amenities such as restaurants and cafes and (sufficient) parking right on or next to the beach. For the other beaches you need to do a bit more. For Praia da Ursa for example you first have to descend a steep path before you feel the sand between your toes.
The wine region of Colares
The Colares wine region is officially a DOC (‘Denominação de Origem Controlada‘), the highest regional classification in Portugal. This means that the region is protected and only wines from the region itself may bear this classification.
Colares as a wine region is also centuries old. Its location on the western coast should be a disadvantage, with the strong sea breeze. But because of the dunes, most vineyards are well protected against the elements. An additional advantage is that this sandy soil is the reason why the vines in the DOC Colares are almost immune to all kinds of specific diseases such as phylloxera. Because of this sandy soil, the vines have very long roots, which means that the vines have to work harder to suck up water for the grapes.
Planting the vines in these conditions is a lot more work. In the past, a hole (sometimes up to three yards deep) to plant the vine was done by digging by hand, but nowadays most winegrowers do this mechanically. As a result, the number of vineyards in the region is growing again.
The Ramisco grape is without a doubt the most interesting grape used in the Colares region. This grape has been planted here for centuries and is now part of the regional cultural heritage.
The grape produces a firm red wine that is sold in the region. Your best chance of a procuring a nice bottle is at the Adega Regional de Colares (adres: Alameda Cel. Linhares de Lima 32, 2705-351), but you might also find a beautiful specimen in the smaller local supermarkets in the area.
The Ramisco grape from Colares is quite rare abroad though: the winegrowers in Colares simply don’t have the volume to make large-scale export interesting.
Other grapes in the region are Arinto, Galego Dourado, Jampal and Malvasia.
The New York Times wrote an extensive and beautiful piece on the Colares wine region, back in August of 2017. It’s well worth a read!
Wine tasting at the Adega Regional de Colares
If you like to get a taste of all the special wines made in this region, you should definitely book a wine tasting at the local wine cooperative, the Adega Regional de Colares. This way you’ll get a nice overview of all the wines produced in the Colares area.