The Alentejo region stretches from the Spanish border in the east to the Atlantic Ocean in the west like the kneecaps to the waistband of Portugal. Amidst olive groves, vineyards and farmland in the east, you’ll find red-roofed, whitewashed hilltop towns overlooking the plains like feudal lords. As you travel westward towards the beautiful windswept beaches of Comporta along the back roads amidst cork groves (link tribute to some bloggers we follow: Salt of Portugal), you’ll be observed by storks nesting atop buildings, power line towers and trees in nests large enough to share with many undelivered newborn babies. This is where we found ourselves as we bid farewell to 2019 and Bom Ano to 2020.
If we were being honest, before our first visit to Portugal, we had never heard of Alentejo or its delicious wines. One trip to Evora, the hub of eastern Alentejo, and we were hooked. We wrote about Evora then and here, so we won’t repeat ourselves and we’ll only entice you to read more with a few new images below. Suffice it to say, we loved it enough to go back again and to explore its surrounds.
On our first day in Evora, we visited Arraiolos. This charming small village looks up on its church and castle like many Alentejan towns. Some such towns we found are more depressed and a bit edgier, but we found this one summoning passersby to visit the hilltop church and grounds on a beautiful Saturday afternoon were not alone for good reason.
Winding our way to the northeast, we stopped in Estremoz for lunch. This town doesn’t seem to have yet figured out, at least not in winter, how to capitalize on its surrounding vineyards, great location and historical landmarks and draw in the tourists. The Pousada Hotel atop the town looked like a great place to stay and we bought several bottles of wine at a local Adega shop and enjoyed a delicious traditional Portuguese lunch of lamb and cod and rice (which surprisingly turned out to be a soup) at A Cadeia Quinhentista which is the old converted medieval jail. Very cool and worth the stop, so we are rooting for Estremoz to figure out how to attract more people passing through.
Making our way to Monsaraz through little villages selling pottery, we were enchanted by and fell in love with Monsaraz. So much so, we had to devote a whole post just to it and did so here.
Leaving Monsaraz, we spent two days at one of the region’s vineyard/hotels. We’d read about Herdade do Sobroso in an article in Forbes about great remote places to stay and it lived up to the hype. Its very off the beaten path but its more than 1,000 hectares of land sport acres of vineyards, farmland and a game preserve. You can take a wine tour (we did), arrange for star gazing in an observatory near Monsaraz, take a cruise on Alqueva Lake or do an off road jeep tour of the preserve. Off road is an understatement. Our whole experience from the tour, to the meals (they bring out these little white pots with dinner in them each night, like some kind of mystery dish but which leaves you only wanting another portion) to sitting by the roaring fire to roaming around their miles of dirt roads on foot left us wanting to bring others back.
On our way home we stopped for lunch in Alcacer do Sal. We were only here a very short time, but will definitely return. Humans have settled this area for more than 40,000 years and its been inhabited by the Lusitanians, Romans, Moors (its name is derived from the Moorish name Al Qasr, meaning the Castle) and was taken back by the Portuguese Christians in the reconquista in 1217. There’s an archaeological crypt, a castle and church built on a former pagan temple and if you’re not as into history as we are, there’s a great waterfront plaza on the Sado River with lots of little cafes and bakeries for any meal you might desire.
And on our trip to the Algarve, we stopped in the village of Comporta to take in the storks and visit Praia do Carvalhal (a beach just south) for lunch. We didn’t find Comporta’s most famous resident, Madonna, but maybe she’ll dine with us next time we visit.
Lest we not forget the megaliths. All throughout the region, you can find megaliths from the first known human inhabitants of this area, about which we wrote about here. Humbling to be in their midst and ponder their purpose.
In summary, the Alentejo region is huge (about a third of Portugal), variant, beautiful, vast and welcoming. Please visit.