Another classic coastal town along the Fishermen’s Trail in southwestern Portugal, Vila Nova de Milfontes (New Village of a Thousand Fountains/Springs) features an impressively scenic location where the Mira River runs into the Atlantic Ocean. Whether you are passing through on a multi-day trek or using it as a base to explore this beautiful area and the nearby Costa Vicentina, Vila Nova de Milfontes in the Alentejo region will charm you into staying longer than you expected.
Up and down the coast from Vila Nova de Milfontes, Portugal there are amazing beaches and stupendous cliff views, but many people choose it over other towns in the area because it is slightly larger, with more hotel options and a vibrant nightlife scene.
Meanwhile, the old town remains a charming throwback to days gone by and the classic little Forte de São Clemente (built in 1599) draws photographers and history buffs alike with its ivy-covered walls looking out over the estuary it once defended against Barbary pirates from North Africa.
While fishing is still a going concern in Vila Nova de Milfontes, tourism is definitely the big industry in these parts. Its population can reach as high as 50,000 during the busy summer months, however, unlike the Algarve which teems with foreign tourists all year-round, almost all visitors going for a Vila Nova de Milfontes vacation are Portuguese families. This gives this pretty whitewashed beach town a much different feel than those in the south, although English is still widely spoken.
Vila Nova de Milfontes Map
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Things to Do in Vila Nova de Milfontes
Vila Nova de Milfontes Beaches
There are plenty of great beaches within easy walking distance:
Praia da Franquia
The most popular Vila Nova de Milfontes praia is located right on the river meaning Praia da Franquia is generally calm and safe, making it popular with families. However, the river currents vary with the weather and tides so it is always important to be cautious. There is a beach café, lifeguards in summer and it is a good place for canoeing, kayaking and wind-surfing.
Praia do Malhão
Around 5 kilometres north of town is Praia do Malhão, the best surfing beach in the area. Located within Southwest Alentejo Natural Park, there is no development allowed here, leaving it wild and open, backed by picturesque sand dunes and featuring extreme Atlantic waves. It is a quiet spot with no facilities, no restaurants and only the occasional nudist.
Praia das Galés
On the southern end of Praia do Malhão, separated by intriguing rock formations, this tiny plot of sand is quiet and protected.
Praia do Farol
Nestled in between the Mira River and the Atlantic Ocan, Praia do Farol (Lighthouse Beach) is the closest beach to town and can get very busy in the summer. There are several cafés and beach bars, lifeguards in summer and terrific views of the incoming waves. The only downside is the strong current where the river and ocean meet.
Praia das Furnas
Across the river from Praia do Farol, Praia das Furnas is a Blue Flag beach with clean water and uncrowded sand. In the summer there are lifeguards on duty and a ferry runs back and forth every hour (€2 round trip). Once again, you need to be careful with the strong currents.
Praia Carreiro das Fazenda
Another popular surfing beach, this windy, dune-backed beach has some very cool rock formations and a lot of big waves. Not suitable for children but perfect for people looking for the wild side of the Alentejo coast.
Praia da Angra da Cerva
This seashell-shaped beach is protected from overcrowding by its less convenient location. Steep cliffs surround this photogenic spot that is perfect to get off the beaten beach path. To reach it you need to park at the end of Estrada do Canal (near Porto das Barcas) and walk for about 2 kilometres on a trail beside the dunes.
Hiking Near Vila Nova de Milfontes
One of the main stops on the iconic Fishermen’s Trail hike, Vila Nova de Milfontes has excellent coastal trails running in both directions. While it is a long day hike to either Porto Covo (north) or Almograve (south), the views along the dunes and cliffs are unbeatable and you can always simply walk as far as you like before turning back. The entire Fishermen’s Trail runs from Porto Covo to Odeceixe and is usually done over 4 days. Or you can opt for the epic Rota Vicentina trek, which starts at Santiago do Cacem and follows a variety of routes all the way to Lagos.
Vila Nova de Milfontes Surfing
Like most towns along the Atlantic Coast, Vila Nova de Milfontes boasts some excellent surfing spots, with Praia do Malhão being the pick of the litter. Surf Milfontes rents boards and wetsuits and offers surf lessons. While the main lodge is in town they have a beach hut at Praia do Malhão where they keep gear and provide information.
Praia das Furnas is a good place for beginners, with smaller swells and a sandy bottom. The popular Alentejo Surf Camp offers a range of packages that can include rentals, accommodation, lessons and even yoga on the beach.
Forte de Sao Clemente
Once an important military outpost designed to protect the town against African pirates (and anyone else who showed up with unfriendly intentions), this fascinating medieval fort is a huge part of the town’s identity and is a big favourite with photographers. Although you will have to settle for enjoying the views from outside as it is privately property and not open to the public.
Largo do Rossio Square
This charming square in the centre of town is surrounded by atmospheric cafés and restaurants, perfect for enjoying Portuguese café culture and some slow-paced people watching. We found it difficult to pull ourselves away.
The Mira River by Kayak or Paddleboard
Areias do Mar has a wide range of kayaks for rent, or you can opt for one of their customized kayaking tours.
The SW SUP Stand Up Paddle School rents paddleboards, from wide, stable beginner boards to sleek wave riders. They also give lessons, offer tours and can provide advice.
Sunset from the Dunes
There is no one spot you need to find, just do like we did and wander out into the dunes past the lighthouse until you find your perfect spot away from the crowds.
The Church of Nossa Senhora da Graca
The old town centre is a beautifully maintained stroll through history, while still offering a good selection of bars, restaurants and artisan shops. The traditional architecture contrasts sharply with the hopping nightlife scene in summer but outside of July and August the area retains a much more serene air. Over 450 years old and painted in traditional blue and white, the iconic Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Graca represents the impressive history of Vila Nova de Milfontes and is the focal point of the old town centre.
Vila Nova de Milfontes Biking
You can pick up a rental from Aventura Activa and choose one of the many bike trails (128) in the area that range from short 5 km trips to full day rides. There are many different types of terrain, roads and paths in the area but most of the trails tend to be relatively flat.
Ride a Horse on the Beach
Meike’s Horse Trails can provide lessons as well riding tours of all lengths and for all experience levels. There is nothing quite like galloping through the dunes as the waves crash in from the Atlantic.
When to Visit Vila Nova de Milfontes
Booming in the summer months, any time outside high season visitors will be shocked at just how quiet and peaceful this popular beach resort can be. So, while July and August are undoubtedly the times to come for hot weather, bustling beaches and exciting nightlife, the shoulder seasons of May-June and September-October tend to be perfect for those looking for beach weather without the chaos.
Of course, southern Portugal is justifiably famous for its mild winters, making it possible to enjoy a visit any time of year. In the off-season accommodation will be cheaper, the beaches and restaurants practically empty, and daily highs of 15C are perfect for hiking and biking. The waves are bigger in winter, too.
Alternatives to Vila Nova de Milfontes
Vila Nova de Milfontes is the most popular town along this stretch of beautiful Portuguese coast. If you are looking for a quieter alternative then the pretty nearby village of Porto Covo is a good choice, and Almograve’s traditional Portuguese feel is perfect for some. Odeceixe boasts one of the most unique beaches in all of Portugal, while Zambujeira do Mar has a wonderful cliff-top church and a colony of nesting storks. Aljezur has a fascinating old castle and is close to some of Portugal’s best surfing, while Carrapateira is known as one of the top windsurfing beaches in Europe. Even if you do decide to stay in Vila Nova de Milfontes, these all make easy day trips.
How do you get to Vila Nova de Milfontes?
The nearest airport is in Faro, 125 kilometres and a 1.5-hour drive away, although it is also just a 2.5-hour drive to Lisbon’s international airport where you’ll probably find more flight options.
If you don’t want to rent a car you can take a Rede Expressos bus from Sete Rios station in Lisbon (3.5 hrs / €20). From Faro there are Comboio trains to Funcheira, and there are frequent buses from there. Another option is to take a bus or train to Lagos (2 hrs / €10), then you can take an Eva or Rede Expressos bus to Zambujeira do Mar (1 hr / €10). There is great scenery along the way from either direction and the buses are clean and comfortable (and have wifi).
From either Lisbon or Faro you can get a private transfer for up to 8 people for around €150.
Train Station Transfers:
From Funcheira it costs roughly €35 for the same service.
Public transportation between smaller towns in Portugal can be difficult so if you’re not planning to hike from village to village, we highly recommend renting a car so you don’t miss out on any of the best spots. Plus, it is nice to be able to set your own schedule. We find that Discover Cars usually has the best deals in the area.
Vila Nova de Milfontes Restaurants
Vila Nova de Milfonte restaurants are well known for their fresh fish and seafood. The Tasca do Celso, an upmarket rustic family restaurant, is a highly recommended choice for seafood and unique local delicacies to be paired with a great wine selection.
For the best meal with a view in town head to the A Choupana restaurant. It is by Farol de Milfontes and is a great place to watch the sun set over the water.
If you are looking for an amazing burger the Riverside Pub is for you. It is definitely an English expat hangout and we enjoyed the atmosphere and view over the river from the deck.
Vila Nova de Milfontes Hotels
Pirata hostel Milfontes has dorms, a shared kitchen and common area indoors and outdoors. They also have private rooms with a bathroom and kitchenette which is the room we chose. They were very friendly and helpful and are within walking distance to everything.
For an amazing view over the river, ocean and beaches look no further than Cerca da Vitoria 3 Milfontes which has apartments ranging from studio to 2 bedrooms. There is an outdoor pool and terrace and on-site parking.
With an excellent breakfast, rooms with decks and a location just a few minutes from the beach, the Blue Bamboo is another good choice.
Camping Vila Nova de Milfontes
Camping Milfontes has campsites as well as bungalows and mobile homes. It is in the woods on the edge of town but is within walking distance to everything but can be busy and noisy.
Orbitur Camping Park is out of town by Praia Malhão but has its has own supermarket, snack-bar and restaurant, TV room, game area, tennis court, outdoor fitness circuit, children’s playground and a great swimming pool. It has spots for tents, caravans and camping cars.
Vila Nova de Milfontes is the most popular beach town along this stretch of Atlantic coast and can feel like a bustling party town in the heart of summer. However, it is close to a lot of excellent beaches and offers the most facilities and amenities, which tends to appeal to families. And if you visit outside the high season there is a good chance you’ll have all these great highlights mostly to yourself.
Other useful articles you may want to check out:
Armacao de Pera Beaches and Viewpoints
Walking in the Algarve: Armacao de Pera