The Tiny Beach Below This Cliffside Town In Portugal Boasts A Natural Pool And Great Food

The first thing that draws the eye when you see a photo of Azhenas do Mar is its striking location, with the small Portuguese village sitting atop a rocky bluff and gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean. The cluster of whitewashed houses and terracotta roofs contrast with clear blue skies and create a sense of calm and well-being. With its distinctly Mediterranean vibe, Azhenas do Mar instantly looks like a relaxing place to visit. Its name is equally charming; Azhenas do Mar translates evocatively to "Watermills of the Sea," derived from a stream that once powered the watermills of the small coastal town in Portugal on its way to the ocean. That's all before you take into account the town's real hidden gem: a sheltered beach at the base of the cliffs with a stunning natural pool.

The picturesque village is a well-kept Portuguese secret, just a 45-minute drive from Lisbon, 2023's Best European city for short getaways. This stretch of the Portuguese coast is dotted by many wonderful beaches to choose from: To the north is Praio do Magoito with its wide sands and surf spots; to the south, is Praia Grande, the biggest beach in the Sintra region. Tucked away in the middle is Azhenas do Mar, combining its sandy delights with the charms of the village above, not to mention some great places to eat and drink.

Take a dip in the ocean or seawater pool

Azhenas do Mar's beach is only around 100 feet long, but it is a cozy and atmospheric spot. Tucked into a rocky cove, it is sheltered by the surrounding cliffs from the sea breeze and heaviest rollers coming in from the Atlantic. The star attraction is the seawater pool, created sometime in the mid-20th century. Carved from natural rock, the pool is designed to withhold water when the tide is high, providing a safe and calm environment to swim and play in until the tide comes back and refreshes it. It's worth checking the tide times, however, because the beach and pool both vanish beneath the waves are at their highest. If you decide to take a dip, brace yourself: Even in the height of summer, the Atlantic waters along Portugal's best beaches can be a bit chilly!

For such a tiny beach, it is pretty well catered for. The Bar do Praia overlooks the pool with a terrace and outdoor seating, serving ice-cold cocktails and snacks. Sometimes there are dance nights with live DJs so you can party as the sun sets over one of the ocean. Above the cocktail bar is Restaurante Azenhas do Mar, one of several great places in and around the village that will delight seafood lovers. The menu offers a wide range of fruits of the sea, everything from barnacles and shrimp to octopus, spider crab, and catch of the day. The restaurant also provides a romantic setting with sweeping ocean views while you dine.

Other things to see and do in Azhenas do Mar

Azhenas do Mar isn't huge on historical monuments, but it is worth taking a wander around its sloping cobbled streets while savoring the views and architecture. While many whitewashed houses may look unassuming, some buildings are designed by Portugal's top architects, who strove to distill an authentic "Portuguese Style" in their work. Beyond its crooked streets, there are clifftop walks to explore and enjoy the panoramic views. Nearby, you can find the Park of Pena, Sintra Cascais Natural Park, and the gorgeous Guincho Coastal Route. For more beach space, Praia Da Aguda is around a 15-minute walk away. It is also pretty secluded and accessed via a long staircase, but if you get into trouble in the water, there is no lifeguard service.

You might find Azhenas do Mar so beguiling that you'll want to stay. Fortunately, there are a few luxurious accommodation options in the village to choose from, and several other restaurants in the area to keep you pleasantly sated. Fresh seafood gets top billing in many of them such as Nortada, a restaurant just down the coast with more wonderful sea views from the shady terrace — look out for the unusual local dish of stingray in butter sauce. Moinho Ibérico, a 10-minute drive inland, is set in a lovely old windmill and dishes up upscale fare including steaks and whole grilled octopus. In short, you are bound to return from a trip to Azhenas do Mar chilled and well-fed.