a true port city
If you're in search for the real Portugal, Setúbal is a city not yet overdeveloped by tourism. On a balmy August day, I decided to hop on a bus from Lisboa's Praça de Espanha and relax during the one hour drive south to Setúbal. As the third largest port in Portugal (after Lisboa and Porto), Setúbal is shockingly different. My first surprise was that there were no tourists in Setúbal, especially in August when the country is chockfull of Brits and Germans. The compact, small city still retains a blue collared feel, with many families still depending on fishing and local business as income. Those who don't work locally often commute to Lisboa.
The most appealing aspect, especially to me, of Setúbal is that it is surrounded by nature. The city is surrounded by the lush, rolling, nature preserve of Arrábida. There is a nearby nature preserve swarming with wild dolphins. Setúbal has taken on a new name as a water sports enthusiasts' locale. There are numerous diving, boating, and surfing services offered along the pristine Costa Azul, the beaches stretching along the Setúbal Peninsula.
I spent the entire day in Setúbal strolling along the streets, observing and conversing with locals, spending hours in the local parks. I only encountered a few tourists that day, a number I could count on one hand. The friendly storeowners enticed me into their shops without pressuring me to buy anything, and these shops were all void of the tacky tourist crap that is swarming all over Lisboa. They do, however, have the amenities of larger cities like Lisbon, with various retail shops and supermarkets. Eating fresh caracois (snails) along the port was the perfect ending to the most relaxing day. The next time I return to Lisboa, I may just decide to skip the big city and head south.