The Serra da Arrábida

The Serra da Arrábida with its landscape of exceptional aesthetic value presents itself as one of the most beautiful landscapes in both Portugal and the world.

Over the years, dedicated writers and artists from the most diverse fields have been inspired by the unique and distinctive beauty of this territory.

From the top of its 501 meters, Formosinho, a vast panoramic view over the entire surrounding region is available.
In this region it is important to mention the Nature Park of Arrábida. Founded in 1976 and with an area of approximately 10,800 hectares, this biogenetic reserve is located in the district of Setúbal.
All of its territory is classified as a site of special interest for nature conservation – CORINE biotope.
It includes several areas of Integral Reserve, such as the Solitary Forest, the Vidal Wood and the Covered Wood.
It is important to mention also the well-known Arrábida breach commonly known as “marble of the Arrábida,” unique to Portugal, having been used extensively in the churches and chapels of Setúbal.

The Serra da Arrábida has an enormous richness of landscape, since it is a barrier between the coast and the interior, also possessing exuberant vegetation of Mediterranean character. Its coastal cliffs are of unique beauty, as they are an abrupt transition between the marine and terrestrial environments, presenting cliffs with significant geomorphic peculiarities. The southwest massif has the largest cliffs on the seafront of mainland Portugal, with Risco being the highest limestone escarpment in Europe.,which falls on a calm, clear-blue and emerald-green sea.
The Espichel platform is a promontory at the westernmost end of the Arrábida fold, with all the magic and sanctity associated with these places. The slopes of the Louro mountain range provide a continuous framework of the Barris Valley across a mountainous ridge. The Serra de S. Luís / Gaiteiros is centrally located between the valley of Barris and Alcube. Chã da Freira offers a view over an expansive area, its flora takes on a singular variety of tones in accordance with the seasons, in contrast to the constant green of the vegetation that surrounds it. The Comenda, finally, has a vegetal cover of arboreal size that stands out very much from its surroundings.
The Arrábida is formed by a multiple landscapes with rare characteristics, unique in national and even international contexts.
Its South-facing orientation is unique on the Portuguese West coast and offers very effective protection against the prevailing North winds. This reduces waves, and that is favorable to the development and reproduction of many marine species. These distinctly calm waters in Arrábida contribute to the existence of a considerable number of rare species in Portugal.
The high diversity of marine flora and fauna is one of its most striking characteristics. More than 1,000 animal species and more than a hundred algae are recognized here.

The present flora and vegetation of Arrábida constitute a natural heritage of immeasurable value, since in the same territory there is convergence of three floristic elements: the Euro-Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Macaronesian. The vegetation of Arrábida is thus a rare example of very old Mediterranean vegetation, which over time has been shaped by the climate up to the present through specific ecological conditions, with an exuberant and surprising quality that makes it different from everything that surrounds it.
The combination of climatic, geographical and orographic characteristics warrants the presence of unique plant communities worldwide, rich in an evolutionary history resulting in an exceptional vegetal landscape of high uniqueness.

In Arrábida it is important to note the microclimate typical of the north and south slopes of the mountainous area.
The northern slope, more exposed to the humid north-west winds, is wetter and cooler than the southern slope, which is sheltered from strong cold winds and exposed to strong sunshine. This makes it more arid in the summer, with high temperature and mild winters.

There are species such as the kermes oak (Quercus coccifera), rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), aroeira (Pistacia lentiscus), lentisco-bastard (Phillyrea angustifolia), aderno (Phillyrea latifolia), zambujeiro (Olea europaea sylvestris), Black hawthorn (Rhamnus oleoides), clovis (Daphne gnidium), Portuguese oak (Quercus faginea), cork oak (Quercus suber) and pinus pinea (Pinus pinea).
The Espichel Corriola (Convolvulus fernandesii) and the Trovisco do Espichel (Euphorbia pedroi), found on the cliffs between Sesimbra and Cape Espichel are the native to the Serra da Arrábida.

The Nature Park of Arrábida is still a site of great variety in the animal kingdom, where a considerable number of species are registered, with a total of 213 vertebrates: 8 species of amphibians, 16 species of reptiles, 154 species of birds and 35 species of mammals.

The fox (Vulpes vulpes), the least weasel (Mustela nivalis), the European polecat (Mustela putorius), the genet (Genetta genetta), the wild rabbit (Oryctolagus cuniculus), the badger (Meles meles), the wildcat (Felis silvestris), the Beech marten (Martes foina), the Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) and the cape hare (lepus capensis) are among the mammals.
The caves, especially in the cliffs, have associated a very particular fauna of bats: plush bats (Miniopterus schreibersii), the Mediterranean horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus euryale), large horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus ferrumequinum) and Mehely’s horseshoe bat (Rhinolophus mehelyi).

Among the avifauna among the prevailing diurnal prey stands Bonelli’s eagle (Hieraaetus fasciatus), with the only couple nesting on the Portuguese coast, the common buzzard (Buteo buteo), the kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) and the pilgrim hawk (Falco peregrinus). Nocturnal birds of prey are the Eurasian eagle-owl (Bubo bubo) and the barn owl(Tyto alba).
The partridge (Alectoris rufa), the Alpine swift (Apus melba), the bee-eaters (Merops apiaster), the bluebird (onticola solitarius), the blackbird (Phoenicurus ochrurus), the nightingale (Luscinia megarhynchos), European robin, (Erithacus rubecula), wren (Troglodytes troglodytes), hawfinch (Coccothraustes coccothraustes), hoopoe (Upupa epops), red-legged partridge (Alectoris rufa), red-necked nightjar (Caprimulgus ruficollis), the kingfisher (Alcedo atthis), the Great Spotted Woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), the Kingfisher (Parus major) and the short-toed creeper (Certhia brachydactyla), and common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus) are among many other species that can be observed in this protected area.

About 300 identified species of butterflies (lepidoptera) and 450 of beetles (oleopterans) stand out among the insects.

In amphibians and reptiles, the Iberian wall lizard (Podarcis hispanica), the Bedriada’s skink (Chalcides bedriagai), the ladder snake (Elaphe scalaris), the Montpellier snake (Malpolon monspessulanus), the snub-nosed viper (Vipera latastei) and the horseshoe whip snake (Coluber hippocrepis).
The aquatic resources provide shelter to the Spanish pond turtle (Mauremys leprosa) and viperine water snakes (Natrix maura).

The Frade cave spider (Anapistula ataecina), the emerald-rose weevil (Cneorhinus serranoi) and an endemic snail species (Candidula setubalensis) are among the thousands of species of invertebrates, the last two being endemic species of the Serra da Arrábida.

From the a speleological point of view, the Arrábida has hundreds of caves, some of them are exceptional because of their rarity, singularity, diversity and beauty of the rocky formations that they harbor.

From a paleontological point of view, in the Arrábida there are several fossil deposits and dinosaur footprints that are scientifically relevant, and with a unique peculiarity of being associated with the material and immaterial cultural heritage of Cape Espichel.

The “Professor Luiz Saldanha Marine Park” was created in 1998, it was the first marine park in mainland Portugal, integrated in the Nature Park of Arrábida in honor of Professor Luiz Saldanha, a Portuguese biologist who distinguished himself in the study of the marine fauna of the North-East Atlantic.
It is an area with a remarkable natural wealth on the national and European levels, where more than 1,000 species of marine animals and plants can be found.
The park has diversified, rocky and sandy bottoms with depths up to 100 meters. With sheltered areas, such as several coves at the base of the coastal cliffs to areas of heavy swell as in the Espichel.
This coastal area, integrated in the Nature Park of Arrábida, has undergone today diverse protection measures because of its ecological wealth.
In recent years, about 1,320 aquatic species have been registered in the Luiz Saldanha Marine Park.

With human inhabitants dating back to the Paleolithic period, the region of Arrábida presents an important set of cultural values where some archeological sites stand out, such as the caves of Quinta do Anjo, Lapa de Santa Margarida, the Roman station of Creiro and the Roman road of Viso, as well as numerous archaeological remains dating from the Bronze Age and Roman colonization.

The three castles: Palmela, Sesimbra and Setúbal and some fortresses such as the Outão, Santa Maria, Fort de São Domingos da Baralha and Albarquel, are good examples of the region’s military architecture. The castles of Palmela and Sesimbra are testimony to the Moorish historical occupation of the region.

There are examples of religious heritage, such as churches, hermitages and convents in greater number spread a little throughout the region, warranting prominent positions: the convents of Arrábida (New and Old), and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Cape Espichel.
The Arrábida Convent is a 16th century building, once a Franciscan monastery.

The Convent of Arrábida encompasses the Convento Velho, located at the summit of the mountain range, near the Convento Novo and the Garden and the Sanctuary of Bom Jesus.
The convent was founded in 1542 by Frei Martinho de Santa Maria, a Castilian Franciscan to whom D. João de Lencastre (1501-1571), first Duke of Aveiro, ceded the lands on the hillside. Friar Agostinho da Cruz lived in this convent.
It is also worth mentioning the importance of a remarkable set of several cruises and pillars, fountains and quintessential mills.

The structures linked to maritime activities, namely through the fish cannery, shipbuilding and the like, exist in the municipalities of Sesimbra and Setúbal.
On the southern slopes of Palmela, in the village itself, as well as in the Azeitão area and likely in Sesimbra, there are ceramic kilns that authenticate the archaeological finds and typologies found.
Among the economic activities carried out in the Nature Park of Arrábida there are the production of Azeitão cheese, the cultivation of vines, both table grapes and a wide variety of wines, and honey production, to which must also be added sheep and cattle husbandry. It is the floristic composition of the pastures in the Nature Park of Arrábida that lends itself to such high quality of milk production in the sheep which graze there.