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Slow Down in Portugal's Alentejo Region

I'm thrilled that requests for Portugal are pouring in because it's one of my very favorite countries on this planet. The food and wine are fantastic. The arts, history, architecture, Fado, azulejos, landscapes, and the warm Portuguese people are all reasons to go, and I could go on and on! Yesterday a new client asked to include the Alentejo region in his plans, and I'm so excited because I love this part of the country, east of Lisbon. The head of the Alentejo tourism office once drove me alone around the whole region for a few days showing me white-walled towns atop high hills, palaces of Portuguese pink marble, cromlechs hidden in cork forests, hotels set in vineyards, meals I remember in detail years later, and the town of Évora too (pictured above) with its Roman ruins right in the center of town. Lisbon and Porto are musts, of course, but try to leave time for Alentejo on your next trip too! 

Excerpt below from 3/21/2023 Virtuoso article by Robin Catalano can found here. 


When it comes to exploring these medieval villages, azulejo art museums, and chilled-out beach towns, don’t rush it. The Alentejo region might comprise a third of Portugal – stretching from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border – but it feels entirely like its own country. It’s the nation’s most rural and least-populated province, with a distinct dialect and a collection of oceanfront and inland towns separated by cork forests, olive groves, vineyards, and wildflower-studded plains.


Because the Alentejo is one of Portugal’s least-visited regions, traffic is minimal and the pace unhurried, making it ideal for slow-travel exploration. Even on weekends, inland towns such as Elvas remain easygoing, with restaurants and markets mainly visited by locals from neighboring towns. The Alentejo’s coastal villages receive well-deserved attention come summertime – especially from surfers – but they still feel beautifully under the radar.


The best way to explore Alentejo is slowly, taking time to savor each medieval castle and fishing village – here’s what not to miss. 


Medieval Strongholds and UNESCO World Heritage Sites


For the best views in Elvas, head up to one of the city’s two hilltop medieval forts, Santa Luzia and Nossa Senhora da Graça. The meticulously preserved fortress city near Portugal’s border with Spain played a crucial role during the Spanish-Portuguese War, and today, the entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The five-mile-long, four-story-high Amoreira Aqueduct on Elvas’ outskirts is one of Portugal’s most famous monuments, and inside the city’s walls, historic buildings clustered along cobblestoned streets lead to Praça da República, the central square, and its handsome Gothic-Baroque cathedral.


About an hour’s drive southwest of Elvas, Évora’s past reflects a variety of cultural influences, including Roman, Celtic, Moorish, and Gothic. A UNESCO World Heritage site since the 1980s – and the capital of the Alentejo region – Évora teems with museums and well-preserved buildings, such as the first-century Roman Temple. See “Portugal’s Stonehenge” at Almendres Cromlech, a rugged Neolithic site ringed with 95 nut-shaped stones, or visit the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), a religious sanctuary built with more than 5,000 skeletons exhumed from overcrowded graveyards in the 1600s.


Bike Trails, Beaches, and Natural Beauty


The Alentejo is mostly known for its verdant rolling landscapes, but rocky peaks – and plenty of hiking, biking, and cycling trails – reign at Serra de São Mamede Nature Park in the east. Just south, in the quaint town of Esperança, travelers can walk a nine-mile loop trail that passes cork forests, former frontier outposts, and cave paintings that date to 4000 BC.


The region’s rocky Atlantic coastline begins near Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park, wrapping around to Galé Beach to the north. Most beaches here are rugged and undeveloped, with swells that wallop the shore, attracting surfers from around the globe. (São Torpes is an especially popular spot.) For travelers whose speed is less surfing, more sunbathing, head to the beaches near Comporta, Carvalhal, and Lagoa de Santo André. Secluded horseshoe-shaped Samoqueira stuns with jagged cliffs rising more than 300 feet.


Among the Alentejo’s many fishing villages, Porto Covo’s cliff-clinging houses resemble Amalfi Coast towns in miniature. Compact, pastel-painted Vila Nova del Milfontes, at the mouth of the Mira River, is a favorite of Portuguese vacationers for its water sports, mountain biking, horseback riding, and surprisingly impressive nightlife scene. Adega 22 is a popular new spot for tradition-with-a-twist Portuguese cuisine.


Tapestries, Tiles, and More Traditional Arts & Crafts


Portugal’s rich handicraft traditions span the entire country, and there’s no shortage of it in the Alentejo. The town of Portalegre is famous for handwoven tapestries that resemble paintings. You’ll find them in shops and galleries all around the city, as well as on the walls of the Museu da Tapeçaria, which exhibits thousands of contemporary weavings.


The fortified city of Estremoz, known as the “White City” for its snow-hued marble buildings, receives a pop of color from the azulejo tiles throughout that depict scenes from nature and everyday life. The new Museu Berardo Estremoz, housed inside the Tocha Palace, displays 800 years’ worth of azulejo art. The city earned UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity status thanks to its Bonecos de Estremoz, vividly painted clay figurines. See them at the new Centro Interpretativo do Boneco de Estremoz or the Museu Municipal de Estremoz, then buy one to take home at Irmãs Flores – Loja Artesanato.  


Wine, Seafood, and Chestnut Pudding


The Alentejo is a major Portuguese wine region, known for whites such as arinto and antão vaz, and reds such as aragonez and castelão. Top vineyards include Quinta do Carmo, near Estremoz, and the sophisticated Herdade do Esporão, outside Cerros. Adega Mayor, on 350 acres in the remote plains of Campo Maior, is sleek and modern. From its outdoor patio, travelers can spy the Serra de São Mamede to the north and southwestern Spain to the east.


Like most of Portugal, the Alentejo is strong on seafood. Don’t leave without trying açorda, a shellfish soup with herb-tinged broth and topped with an egg, and bacalhau com broa à Alentejana, a flavorful cod baked with cornbread – both dishes are widely available.


While chestnuts are a staple of Mediterranean cuisine, the Alentejo has its own distinct varieties, including the creamy, delicately sweet barea and clarinha, both cultivated in Portalegre. Try them in a range of savory dishes at Solar do Forcado, including oven-roasted pork, stuffed lamb, and chestnut soup. No matter which part of the province they stop in, travelers should save room for dessert, such as chestnut pudding or chocolate cake studded with the tree nut. Sericaia, a custardy, cinnamon-laced cake baked in a shallow clay dish, is delicious on its own, but even more memorable when served with preserved plums.


How to Explore The Alentejo


The 92-room Convento do Espinheiro, on the outskirts of Évora, is housed in a former fifteenth-century monastery that’s been updated with modern flair. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a 50-minute massage for two.


The family-run São Lourenço do Barrocal, outside the town of Monsaraz, is home to 40 rustic-chic guest rooms and cottages, farm-to-table dining, and a winery. Virtuoso travelers receive breakfast daily and a $100 spa or horseback riding credit.



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