Ericeira, Mafra and Cape Roca: Day Trip from Lisbon

Take a day trip from Lisbon to Ericeira and Mafra.

Culture & History, Europe, Gastronomy

The Portuguese capital is one of the most popular destinations in Europe for good reason, but while there you can enjoy a day trip from Lisbon to incredible sites such as Mafra, Ericeira and Cape Roca.

Mafra Palace

Approaching Mafra, it is evident why John V (João V) decided to build his palace here. The spectacular 18th century baroque and neo-classical royal building dominates the surrounding area. This is a vast building, covering almost 40,000 sqm, and with a 220 metre-long façade. There are 1,200 rooms and 156 staircases.

The original, plan was to build a road down from Mafra Palace to the coast, but that as with many regal designs went by the way. Allegedly, King John promised his wife Mariana to build a convent should she provide him with a child. Hence when the Infanta Barbara was born in 1717 construction began. It wasn’t completed until 1755, five years after the king’s death. Consequently, Mafra is a curious mix of palace and convent. It is in the latter that we start our visit.

The library at Mafra Palace
The library at Mafra Palace

As befits its purpose the convent part is simple in design. Inside is a small hospital. The palace is much more ornate, with Italian marble, and artwork collected from all around Europe. According to my guide, the excellent Fernanda, all the furniture and paintings are original.

Perhaps the most impressive room is the library, which is the largest 18th century library located in one room, according to Fernanda. It houses more than 30,000 books which are protected behind glass as well as by a colony of bats that swoop in each night to eat the moths. The library has a vast collection of music books, and has occasional concerts played there. “Mafra is music,” says Fernanda.

This is evidenced by the amazing Basilica of Our Lady and St Anthony of Mafra, which was built in the Italian baroque style and inaugurated in 1730. It contains six organs which can play simultaneously creating a quite unique sound. We leave the basilica to wander around the adjoining Cerco Garden to listen to the most wonderful chirping from the caged songbirds.

Wine Tasting at Quinta de Sant’Ana 

Quinta de Sant’Ana - Day trip from Liisbon
Quinta de Sant’Ana vineyard

King John used Mafra Palace as a base for his hunting in the nearby the Tapada Nacional de Mafra. Driving from Mafra we pass the grounds en route to our next destination, the Quinta de Sant’Ana winery.

Quinta de Sant’Ana is set in the most beautiful rolling countryside draped with vines. The estate includes buildings, including its own well-preserved chapel, that date back to around the same period as Mafra Palace. Legend has it that a king was out hunting in the tapada when he fell in love with a local woman and the rest is history.

The current vineyard was replanted in 1999 by husband and wife James and Ann Frost. Since then, the vineyard has remained very much a family affair – the couple and their children still live in their magnificent ivy-cloaked main house – keeping true to its roots and producing relatively small quantities of wonderful wine, some 40,000 bottles each year.

The quinta is also open for stays as well as weddings – an American couple got hitched the day before our visit, but we are her for the wine tasting.

Quinta de Sant’Ana - Day trip from Liisbon
Fernanda with a bottle of Riesling at Quinta de Sant’Ana

While taking us on a brief tour around the grounds our guide, Rita, explains that in addition to having only organic grapes, Quinta de Sant’Ana uses local suppliers wherever possible and tries to implement a zero waste policy. They grow their own flowers to use at the weddings, which then become compost.

We tasted two wines, a 2022 Riesling which was crisp and slightly salty, and their Reserve. The latter, a Tempranillo – Merlot – Touriga Nacional mix, was aged for 42 months in the barrel and at 15% carried quite a punch. Apparently, the Touriga Nacional is a grape used in port production and is one of the local grape varieties that Quinta de Sant’Ana is moving more towards. With a distinct Rioja nose, the wine was extremely smooth belying its strength, and eminently drinkable.

Ericeira Surf and Seafood

Ericeira is noted for its surfing. The unofficial surf capital of Portugal, the town has been a World Surfing Reserve for more than a decade. Surfers of all levels come here, with the main surfing held just off Ribeira d’Ilhas beach to the north of the town. You can also swim 12 months a year. Friends of mine based in Ericeira spent the whole day prior to our visit lazing on the beach on a unseasonably warm day.

Ribeira d’Ilhas beach Ericeira
Ribeira d’Ilhas, Ericeira surf beach

Ericeira is not noted for surfing alone. The coastal town has the most amazing seafood. On our brief wander around the town, we bump into the mayor, Helder Silva who had just unveiled a statue to the fishermen of the town, as well as launching five new fishing boats. The statue shows a proud fisherman, and is certainly far better than the one of Christian Ronaldo at Madeira airport.

In our brief chat, Silva emphasises the importance of “sustainable tourism growth”, stressing that his role is to ensure everyone is content. For him quality of life is much more important than unsustainable tourism growth.

We lunch at Esplanada Furnas, a local seafood restaurant with amazing views across the Atlantic Ocean. It is a Sunday and the place is packed, but Fernanda arranges a table by a window overlooking the bay.

The clams at Esplanada Furnas Ericeira
The amazing clams at Esplanada Furnas Ericeira

Dramatic waves crash outside as the food arrives. We start with a tuna paté served with the local pão saloio bread for which the region is renowned. This is followed by clams cooked in garlic and coriander which are astonishingly good. “The important thing is the garlic,” says Fernanda.

Our main is a barbecued sea bream which is delicate and clearly fresh. We passed a man gutting and filleting the fish as we entered.

My friends join us for a glass of wine and a quick catch up as we had not meant since a trip to Chihuahua Mexico in late 2021. Sometimes while travelling we forget to just take our time and chill with good friends.

Sunset at Cape Roca
Amazing sunset at Cape Roca (Cabo da Roca) - Day trip from Lisbon
Amazing sunset at Cape Roca (Cabo da Roca)

Cape Roca (Cabo da Roca) is the most westerly point in mainland Europe. Our journey here takes us via the beautiful city of Sintra which I visited on a previous journey to Portugal.

The lighthouse at Cape Roca came into operation in 1772. By the time we arrive the sun has started to set, and many tourists have gathered to say goodbye to European sun for the day.

I gaze out across the Atlantic. The next stop is New York, my driver Bruno informs me. It is a wonderful place to conclude my day trip from Lisbon, chilled and relaxed, and ready to explore the Portuguese capital the following day.

Lisbon Day Trip Photo Gallery

All images by Mark Bibby Jackson.

Mafra National Palace

Tickets from €6 (free for children up to 12),


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Mark Bibby Jackson

Mark Bibby Jackson

Before setting up Travel Begins at 40, Mark was the publisher of AsiaLIFE Cambodia and a freelance travel writer. When he is not packing and unpacking his travelling bag, Mark writes novels, including To Cook A Spider and Peppered Justice. He loves walking, eating, tasting beer, isolation and arthouse movies, as well as talking to strangers on planes, buses and trains whenever possible. Most at home when not at home.

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