The municipality of Odemira is a Unique Alentejo (Alentejo Singular). That’s what the county calls it, and rightly so. Odemira is not a unique place in the sense that it is completely different from the whole Alentejo. What makes it distinctive is that it gathers in itself many of the different characteristics that we find separately, here and there, around the region.
To facilitate diversity, it helps a lot that the municipality is the largest in Portugal. This allows it to have one of the least polluted rivers in Europe, the Mira River. But also some of the most stunning and still wild beaches in the country. Sometimes the land joins the sea on high cliffs that seem purposely made to provide magnificent views over the ocean. For people and the fauna that live there, like the white storks that nest on the cliffs of the Alentejo coast, something unique all over the world.
The coast but also the interior of the Odemira municipality are excellent places to discover by walking along the trails that are marked out on the Vicentina Route (Rota Vicentina). Across the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park (Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina), we are guided through historical tracks and trails used by local fishermen to reach the best fishing grounds.
Going through the mountains, hills, valleys, rivers and streams or by the seashore is your choice. You can, for example, start in the municipality of Odemira towards the north and cross those of Sines and Santiago do Cacém or let yourself be attracted by the Algarve further south, to Aljezur, Vila do Bispo and Lagos.
When driving on the roads of Odemira you will find the calm countryside where the nice people of the villages and towns will greet you warmly, as people from Alentejo usually do. Everywhere in the Odemira municipality, the culture, the architecture of churches and other monuments, the traditions and gastronomy will be discoveries that guarantee the desire to return. Let the exploration begin!
The story behind Odemira
There are many traces of pre-Romanization cultures in the municipality, which proves that the settlement of the region is quite old. The main reason for the establishment of these peoples in the land that today is called Odemira is its strategic location between the S. Luis mountain range and the edge of the Monchique mountain range. The River Mira was also a natural link between the sea and the inland Alentejo.
The name Odemira, according to legend, was born from the phrase “Ode, mira para os inimigos, donde vêm sobre nós” (“Ode, aim for the enemies, where they come from”), said by the woman of the Moorish alcalde (named Ode), from the castle, when she sighted the Christian troops on a mission to reconquer Portugal. Another version that explains the name reveals that the term Ode derives from the Arabic Wad, meaning mira (river), and Mira is a word of pre-Celtic origin related equally to the word “water”.
The Romans and Arabs were the ones who most influenced the customs of those who inhabited Odemira. The already mentioned reconquest of the village was made only around 1238, when the whole region of Alentejo came into possession of the Christians. In Odemira, the heroes were, it is believed, the warrior friars of the Order of Santiago.
The first charter of Odemira dates from 1256 and was granted by King Afonso III. After his possession had changed families several times by distinct royal decrees, the first Count of Odemira was King Sancho de Noronha (1446), a title granted by King Afonso V. In the new charter of 1510, King Manuel highlights the importance of the cattle, the metal lodes and the existing sea port. When the county became extinct in the 17th century, the territory was incorporated into the Cadaval House. Only in the 19th century, were the limits of the county delimited similar to the ones we have today.
Visit Odemira – the village
“Planted” on the banks of the above-mentioned Mira River, the village of Odemira is white as almost all of them in Alentejo. Besides its architecture, it is very worthwhile to visit the flower gardens in the squares and by the river, as well as the viewpoints and local shops. You can make your tour of the village following the following itinerary or simply let yourself be guided by your instinct and the smiles of those who pass you by.
Starting the course in what we consider the centre of Odemira, “Praça da República” (square) has as a clear highlight win the “Paços do Concelho” (Town Hall) building from the 18th century, with elements of baroque, neoclassical and neogothic styles. Further on, Praça José Maria Lopes Falcão (square) could tell stories of a distant past, when we could find a church and a cemetery there. Then, cattle fairs were held. Today, it is the place where we find the Tourism Office, where there will be more suggestions to visit Odemira and the whole municipality.
Both situated in the same street (Serpa Pinto), in which we now walk down, there are two religious buildings with a special grace given by the blue of the details on the walls, contrasting with the predominant white of Alentejo. Igreja de Santa Maria (church), in Mannerist style, was part of a Franciscan convent founded in the 16th century. Igreja de S. Salvador (church), on the opposite side, has Mannerist and Baroque architecture from the 14th century.
Continuing down the hill that sustains the village, we come across the Igreja da Misericórdia (church), a 16th century building, also in Mannerist style, with rectangular and oval shapes. Take the opportunity to enter and see the magnificent fresco mural paintings, one of the factors that led to its classification as a Public Interest Monument.
At the Fontanário da Praça Sousa Prado (fountain), built in the 19th century with baroque and rococo inspiration with donations from the residents, let us refresh ourselves while we observe the details. Then, following the street with the same name, the Edifício dos Correios e da Segurança Social (Post Office and Social Security building) shows us elements of modernism and others that represent the style of the Estado Novo (the dictatorial regime called “New State”).
Already in contact with nature, we come to the Jardim da Fonte Férrea (garden), name given due to the source of ferrous water that exists here. Discover the beautiful tile panel that represents an element always present in Odemira… If you drink from the fountain water, you will get married in Odemira. Try it and tell us if it worked!
When you arrive at the Zona Ribeirinha (riverside area), whose most pleasant part is still on the right bank of the Mira River, which runs to the northwest, slow down a little. Spend some time appreciating all the surroundings and the work of art “Árvore”. Start here now, or leave it for later, the Caminho Histórico da Rota Vicentina (Historical Path of the Vicentine Route), a rural trail with 163mi (263km), in 13 stages, that takes us to other villages.
To serve as a warm-up for the Vicentine Route, take the Percurso Ribeirinho (Riverside Path) in Odemira. It consists of only 2,100ft (650m) that put us in contact with nature and show us know the Mira river basin through interpretative panels. At the end of this course, near the road bridge, you will find the Marcos da Barca. They were used to secure the cables that pulled the barge which, between the XVI and XIX centuries, was the only way to cross the river.The payment… the prayer of an Our Father and a Hail Mary for the soul of the rich widow who founded the institution Albergaria da Barca.
Crossing the river via the bridge, there are two more historic buildings. The first is Fábrica do Miranda, a large mill for milling wheat and peeling rice. It allowed that, for a long time, since the beginning of the 20th century, this was the second industry in the Odemira county, after the cork industry.
The second building that deserves to be highlighted is the 19th-century Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Piedade (hermitage). Notice that it is erected on a small hill. The original was a little lower and subject to flooding. In the Lower Middle Ages, it was famous for its miracles, which is why it became a center of pilgrimage.
Crossing the river again, trace the route, on foot or by car, to go up to the Cerro dos Moinhos Juntos. Before enjoying the view and the sound of the wind “singing”, you will fall in love with the Municipal Windmill, preserved and in full operation despite having started grinding in 1874.
Visit Odemira – Exploring the whole municipality
Before or after exploring the village of Odemira, you have a whole region to discover. Starting with the coast or the interior is entirely your choice.
Walking by the sea following the Vicentine Route
Some of the well-demarcated trails of the Vicentine Route provide formidable views over the Atlantic Ocean, which inspired the Portuguese to begin the epic Discoveries. We walk rocked by the sound of the sea waves, there beside us or further away, at the bottom of the cliffs. We are One with Nature.
In the municipality of Odemira, there are 35mi (55km) of coast. You will surely find your favourite stretches. But one of the most outstanding places in your future memories will be the Farol do Cabo Sardão (Cape Sardão Lighthouse). It has been protecting sailors from the rough coast since 1915. And it has the originality of being the only lighthouse in Portugal with the doorway towards the sea…
During your walks, the reasons for taking a break will be immense. Whether it’s to interact with the welcoming people of villages and towns like Zambujeira do Mar or Vila Nova de Santo André, or to observe the landscape and the birds that “decorate” it from the skies or from their nests. The countless beaches accessible when the cliffs (temporarily) diminish their magnificence, are also always an invitation almost irrefutable to a more or less prolonged rest.
You will also come across special places like Porto de Pesca de Lapa de Pombas and Porto das Barcas (two small ports), where traditional fishing is still, as for centuries, rewarded with the richness of these seas.
Stay on the beaches
Odemira’s beaches and their diversity have the gift of surprise. Some have a long sandy beach, others not so much. Some have the convenience of being in a small urban area, others are wild and more exclusive. Some are great for relaxing on the sand, others invite you to practise water sports. There are also some naturists, where the harmony with nature is absolute.
In common, the beaches of the Odemira coast have the Bandeira Azul (Blue Flag) award, synonymous with environmental quality. Most are accessible and equipped so that those with conditioned mobility can enjoy them.
It is worth taking the time to get to know the various beaches in this coastal area of Portugal. Only then can you choose your favourite. One suggestion we can make is that you explore little by little, starting from the nearest urban centre. Just like we recommend below.
Vila Nova de Milfontes
- Praia do Malhão – extensive sandy shore, naturism in the north zone, good for bodyboarding/surfing
- Praia do Farol – at the mouth of the Mira River, easy access, small waves
- Praia da Franquia – waters of the Mira River mixed with those of the ocean, good for canoeing
- Praia das Furnas – river and sea, it has already been considered the best river beach in Portugal.
- Praia do Almograve – natural pools in the sand during low tide, great for families, beautiful rocks, good for bodyboarding/surfing
Zambujeira do Mar
- Praia da Zambujeira do Mar – maybe the best urban beach in Portugal, surrounded by high cliffs, strong swell, great for bodyboarding/surfing
- Praia dos Alteirinhos – difficult access by a stairway, exclusive and quiet, naturism
- Praia do Carvalhal – lightly frequented, protected by two cliffs
The interior of Odemira
As you move away from the sea, another world in the interior of Odemira. Through valleys and hills, we cross an Alentejo whose landscapes where the olive trees and cork oaks predominate, a view familiar to us.
Not long before we find the water again, this time at the Barragem de Santa Clara (dam), fed also by the inevitable Mira River, which is born not far away, in the Serra do Caldeirão (mountain range). Without large villages nearby, the dam is the monumental scenery to forget about the time.
Enjoy the river beach. Observe the shores, small islands and submerged buildings up close by practicing canoeing or taking a boat trip. Still on board or on land, take up fishing for bass or carp.
Close to the Barragem de Santa Clara, strive to find the Ponte D. Maria, in the parish of Santa Clara-a-Velha. Because it is near a Roman road that connected Beja to the Algarve they call it the Roman Bridge. In fact, it was only built in the 18th century. The water lilies are the platforms of choice for the frogs that jump over them. A bit to the north is the Estação Arqueológica da Necrópole do Pardieiro (Archaeological Station), a funerary area where, in the Iron Age, gravestones were left epigraphed with the Writings of the Southwest, one of the oldest systems of signs known in the Iberian Peninsula.
In the many small villages painted in white that we can visit in Odemira, throughout the interior of the municipality, some have clearly something that distinguishes them. It is the case of the Igreja Paroquial de São Martinho das Amoreiras (18th-century church), built in baroque, rococo and neoclassical styles.
The Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Assunção (church), in Colos, is not so imposing but also very beautiful. Still near this village is the Ermida Nossa Senhora das Neves (hermitage), the stage for local pilgrimages on August 5th.
Eating and drinking in Odemira
The fact that the Odemira municipality is a Unique Alentejo that embraces such diverse characteristics is obviously reflected in its gastronomy. The symbiosis between the mountains, the plains, the sea and the river are signs revealing enough for us to guess it.
In the region’s restaurants, ask for the very fresh fish and seafood that is caught at sea or in the river. Traditional dishes from Alentejo also have a place here, such as Sopas de Pão (Bread Soup) or Açordas, but also the ones with the meat that the municipality produces. Don’t miss the opportunity to taste cheeses and sausages. After the main meal, try the “Aguardente de Medronho” (Arbutus Brandy) and, for example, the sweet “Bolo Lêvedo” (leavened cake), “Bolo de torresmos” (greaves cake) and “Alcôncoras” (honey and olive oil cookies).
As you have noticed, the pure natural landscapes that stretch as fas as the eye can see are more than enough reasons to visit Odemira. But there are many others! With such an extensive offer, the Odemira municipality is perfect for bringing family or friends together but also for romantic moments as a couple. Whatever the case, we know that this charming area of Alentejo is already in your travel plans for the near future.