Alentejo, Portugal

Crashing waves, great food, quiet charm among a rich rural heritage

Overview

It’s been called Portugal’s secret garden, and while it’s true that this gem of a region is a less well known than other quarters, it’s hardly some tiny hidden backwater. In fact it covers a significant 30% of the country’s land mass, although it’s home to just 5% of the resident population. To help you locate this beautiful area, it’s the sizeable chunk of earth north of the Algarve and south of Lisbon. As Portuguese speakers will tell you, its name means “beyond the Tagus river”, the waterway which neatly cuts off almost the entire bottom third of the Iberian Peninsula.

Away from the crowded beaches and tourist filled resorts of the southern shores, the Alentejo has an altogether different vibe. Marked by nature, heritage, and some of Europe’s wildest coastline, it’s filled with plains of wild flowers, sandy beaches, huge horizons and historic towns. Time has its own rhythm here where one of the most important items coming up on your ‘to do list’ is simply to sit at the table and share a glass of wine with friends and family.
The most popular time to escape to the peace and quiet of Alentejo is during the high summer season. True, it’s never that crowded, unlike its Algarvian neighbour, but for a proper get away, consider the low season months between October and April. With roughly 300 days of sun each year, even winter sees lots of sunshine. Temperatures remain mild, ideal for hiking and cycling, whereas the summer highs of up to 40°C, prohibit such outdoor adventures. Enjoy the spring almond blossom and nesting birds, and the wine fairs and harvest food festivals of autumn.

Évora and the Route to Spain
Follow the heavily fortified historic trading route from Lisbon where numerous towns mark the journey leading to the Spanish border. Elvas is unmissable for its star-shaped masterpiece of defensive engineering; charming Monsaraz is one of the country’s oldest villages; and Borba, Estremoz and Vila Vicosa are renowned for the white marble seen in both the buildings and in the surrounding landscape. At the very heart of the region lies the ancient cathedral city of UNESCO listed Évora, once a major trading and religious centre. Today Évora enjoys a quieter pace of life and is best visited during low season as its inland location subjects summer visitors to soaring temperatures. Cooler months are the ideal time to explore the city’s incredibly well preserved Roman temple, the Royal Palace of Dom Manuel, gothic cathedral, Chapel of Bones, and historic aqueduct.

Alentejo’s Wild’s Atlantic
Dramatic and unspoiled, this coastline is home to some of Portugal’s most stunning beaches. Long stretches of golden sand, towering cliffs and characterful seaside villages will delight beach lovers in a way that the tame, over populated Med never can. Great swells make many areas popular with surfers. The charming coastal towns are attractive to Portuguese families over the summer, but come low season, many stretches are practically deserted save for strolling couples and the odd fisherman. Check out or the remote Praia do Malhão, the more lively Vila Nova de Milfontes, and the lookout point at Sardão Cape, the only place in the world where you can see white storks nesting on the cliffs.


Major Airport

Lisbon Portela Airport: LIS

Low Season Months

Jan
9°C
88mm
5hrs
Feb
10°C
86mm
7hrs
Mar
12°C
57mm
8hrs
Apr
13°C
56mm
8hrs
May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct
17°C
69mm
7hrs
Nov
13°C
80mm
6hrs
Dec
10°C
85mm
4hrs

Hotels

Coming online very soon

Top Experiences

Rota Vicentina Trail

An impressive network of routes covers the coastline from Porto Covo to the Algarve. A favourite is the stunning Fishermen’s Trail which takes hikers along the edge of the Atlantic shore line for over 200km, or choose inland options taking in small villages and local culture.

Visit a Winery

As the biggest wine producer in Portugal, Alentejo has wineries everywhere offering world class produce, tours and tastings. Splash out on the exquisite in-house restaurants or check out programs to take part in workshops, or get involved the autumnal harvest.

Balloons over Alqueva Lake

Rise at dawn and make a magnificent journey over Alqueva, the largest artificial lake in Europe. An incredible adventure, allowing 360 degree views over a unique landscape and medieval towns. You’ll see how vast the Alentejo plains are and spot tiny animals far below.

Insider Tips

  • Visit Mourão’s tavern of Adega Velha where there’s a good chance you’ll catch locals singing Cante Alentejano, an age-old acapella singing style that’s been added to UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage.
  • Don’t miss the Saturday market in Estremoz’s huge public square with views of its castle. Enjoy the scents of fresh herbs, cheese, olives and cured meats, and look for bargains at the nearby antiques fair.
  • Some museums, monuments and eateries, especially fish restaurants, are closed on Mondays, so do check openings before you set your heart on a destination, and perhaps chose a different day to visit Évora.

Good To Know

  • Car rental is highly recommended. Alentejo is a big region with a small local population. Public transport is extremely limited even at peak times and during low season can be practically non-existent.
  • In Évora, consider booking a knowledgeable local guide to show you round. You’ll hear fascinating historical anecdotes, find hidden corners, be shown the best eateries, and navigate the tiny cobbled lanes.
  • Ask locals for dining recommendations as the best places are not always advertised in English. Try fresh goat’s cheese and chouriço always with local wine. A speciality is ‘migas’ which is basically fried leftovers.

Food & Drink

Restaurante Dom Joaquim, Évora

££££

A beautifully decorated venue with a relaxed atmosphere which prides itself on traditional Alentejo fare. This place has won national and international awards. Don’t miss the roasted pork cheeks with apple puree.

Gadanha, Estremoz

£££

Local produce with a modern approach, Gadanha is a great choice for a business lunch or family gathering. It boasts an extensive wine cellar and a shop filled with carefully chosen items to take home or give as gifts.

Quinta do Quetzal, Vila de Frades

££££

Dining with a difference in the restaurant of this winery overlooking rows of vines. Not only does it serve up fabulous Portuguese dishes with respect for seasonal products but it’s also a contemporary art museum.

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