Alentejo, meaning beyond the Tagus, is the biggest region in Portugal, with a size similar to that of Belgium and covering one third of the country. It is a mainly agricultural region still untouched by tourism but with a great many deal of secrets to uncover. Known for its easy-going and slow-paced lifestyle, if you are looking to take a break away from the crowd this is the place you are looking for.
Évora is the capital and biggest city in Alentejo and a world heritage site. Its historical centre has a medieval vibe and is filled with monuments all within walkable distance from each other. The most famous of which is the 22 centuries old Roman Temple of Diana sitting on the top of the hill around which Évora was build. Also to see, naming a few, is the Bone Chapel, ornamented with human bones, the Cathedral, one of the oldest and most important in the country, and the Aquaduct.
Probably the main attraction of this region, its food. It’s no accident Alentejo is called the bread basket of Portugal.
The most recognizable products of the region are olives, black pork and, inevitably, bread.
This is reflected on the table with simple yet complex dishes, often garlic flavoured, made with easily recognizable ingredients over which local ingredients, like wild herbs, and tradition add a layer of unexpected sophistication.
Dishes to try are açorda, migas, carne de porco à alentejana or the local desserts like Sericaia.
Alentejo’s wine is beloved by the Portuguese people and this is not by chance.
Renowned for its red blends, traditionally very robust,more recent wines tend to be easy-drinking and fruity.
Entry level wines offer best value for money as they are quite inexpensive for its quality but truthfully there are options for every taste and budget.
Some wineries worth a visit are Adega da Cartuxa in Évora, Adega Mayor in Campo Maior, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova in Beja or Herdade do Esporão in Reguengos de Monsaraz.
The second city of Alentejo.
A picturesque small city brimmed in orange from the clay roof tiles and white from the lime painted walls.
With an ancient history, Beja had it golden age in the roman era and today is an archaeological hotspot.
One of the main landmarks is the castle tower, which is some 40 metres high and can be seen from afar as it dominates the landscape.
The Rainha Dom Leonor museum has a surprisingly vast collection from archaeology to medieval painting.
Mostly still pristine. Located on a natural park, mass tourism hasn’t arrived here yet.
You’ll find deserted beaches, wild and unspoiled.
You’ll be able to buy fresh fish and seafood directly from the fisherman. Barnacles (percebes), an expensive delicacy, and a very dangerous harvest, are abundant here.
There are also some world class surf spots on the area.
On the quiet Vicentine Coast, every year, during a week, Zambujeira do Mar, a little town with around 900 people receives 200,000 people for Sudoeste Festival.
This is one of the big festivals on the Portuguese circuit and on stage you will be able to watch from debuting acts to world famed artists. Tickets available here.
Mértola lays on the Guadiana river on top of a rocky hill.The river is navigable to the ocean.
Called the museum town, Roman and Islamic influences are still visible on the streets and a museum shows the artefacts that have, and still are, being recovered.
Main attractions are the castle, the museum and the church, which was once a mosque.
Vila Viçosa is known for its marble industry and for being the former residence of the Braganzas, the last ruling house of the Portuguese Monarchy.
Main attraction are the Braganza’s palace, the coach museum, which includes the coast where the last but one king of Portugal was assassinated, the marble museum and the castle.