alentejo.jpgGolden plains that disappear out of sight combine with the sun and the heat to impose their own slow, steady rhythm. This is the Alentejo.

Inland, the vast golden wheat fields undulate in the wind; along the coast, unspoilt beaches look rugged and unexplored.

The open, ample landscape is peppered with cork-oaks or olive trees that have withstood the ravages of time. Occasionally sturdy fortress walls rise up from hills, as at Marvão or Monsaraz, or you’ll see just a simple dolmen reminding you of the magic of the place. Atop small hills stand white one-storey farmsteads, while the castles are reminders of the battles and conquests that once took place here. The patios and gardens bear witness to the influence of the Arabs, who helped to shape the people and the nature.

In the Alentejo, the brute force of the land dictates the march of time. Perhaps this is why the region’s culture has its own particular character. All you need to do is visit Évora and discover its Roman roots and the delightful charm of its heritage to understand why the city has been classified as a world heritage site. When you see the temple of Diana and some of the city’s churches, you’ll regard your time as well spent.

But don’t travel northwards or southwards without exploring the region’s coastline. There the landscape consists of high sheer cliffs sheltering tiny beaches. And there are also the sweet smells of the countryside, the herbs and spices used to season fish and seafood dishes. Here the time passes slowly, because the Alentejo follows the rhythm of the land itself.

The past of the Alentejo
Remnants from the past, challenges to our imagination, are all around in the Alentejo, offering a real journey in time.

Two thousand years ago the territory that would later be Portugal was part of the Roman Empire. This source of our language and culture left many records in the Alentejo, written on stone and mosaics, cisterns and forums, in vanished cities and on old monuments. Other civilisations, older and less well known, covered the region with impressive megalithic monuments, majestic and mysterious in their simplicity, erected in honour of unknown gods.

These remnants from the past, challenges to our imagination, are all around you in the Alentejo, offering you a real journey in time.

Discover the ‘towns’ of Pisões and São Cucufate, where the inhabitants lived in luxury, with hot baths and cool pools amid the heat of the plain. In Miróbriga, remember the racing chariots pulled by Lusitanian horses, which attracted crowds to the town hippodrome, and then try to imagine in the ruins of the town’s first-century buildings what daily life was like two thousand years ago.

Don’t miss the chance to pay a visit to Castro da Cola, whose riches transport you to the life of our ancestors, from the Neolithic Age to the medieval Christian world, not forgetting the precious legacy of the Moors. Take a leisurely tour around the antas, or Iron or Bronze Age settlements, set in fertile land traversed by the River Mira.

Activities on the Alentejo coast
The Alentejo coast from the Sado Estuary to the Algarve is beautiful and unspoilt, with beaches ranging from the cosmopolitan to the secluded.

From Tróia to Sines the coast is a continuous stretch of golden sand, with pleasant beaches such as those of Galé, Melides and Santo André. From the port of Sines southwards, this natural paradise of sand and sea reaches on past Porto Covo, Milfontes, Almograve and Zambujeira do Mar.

But there is more to the Alentejo coast than just the beaches. The waves here are ideal for surfing and other water sports, and if you want to learn you can take lessons at the renowned water sport centre SurfAlentejo in Santo André. Diving is another popular pursuit because the ocean is so rich in marine life. If you’re in the Milfontes area, you can learn to dive at the famous Alentejo Divers’ Centre.

Freshwater canoeing is another active option, and can be enjoyed on the lagoons of Melides and Santo André, at the Santa Clara-a-Velha reservoir lake and on the River Mira.

On land you’ll discover the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Nature Park, where you can take beautiful walks along the coast starting from São Torpes. If you prefer, you can travel on horseback, by mountain bike or jeep. And if you want to do something even more adventurous, paragliding is very popular on some of the cliffs and hills. Finally, for something completely different, try a journey to Africa in the Alentejo and go on safari in Badoca Park.

Alentejo for couples
The Alentejo, in southern Portugal, is a region of romance experienced amidst the delights of nature.

In palaces and convents or in more modest homes, against the backdrop of the open horizon, you can find the peace and calm propitious to the romantic ambience often noisily swallowed up by the city.

We would suggest a weekend in the Pousada do Alvito country hotel where there is everything to ensure harmony reinforced by the welcoming beauty of the surroundings. Romantic dining is guaranteed in the 15th century castle cloister that now provides all the comforts usual to a royal court.

Later, take the Rota do Fresco tour, visit regional churches and together unlock the secrets that artists sneaked into their paintings and sculptures. To find out more, take your love to Évora and discover some of the most beautiful monuments in the Alentejo.

Submerge yourselves in the romantic ambience of the Duques de Cadaval Palace terrace and wonder at the intriguing frescos on the Casas Pintadas (Painted Houses). Gently wander the Praça do Giraldo square and Largo das Portas de Moura and discover just why this city was so long a favourite of kings and queens. Share the beauty of the heritage and lose yourselves, hand in hand, to the joys of this World Heritage city.

Finally, visit the D. Manuel Palace and its Galeria das Damas and the improvised romantic ruins and make your love a promise: to return to commemorate your next anniversary with a weekend as enticing as this.

Archaeology in the Alentejo
Come to Alentejo where, set among the beautiful golden plains, you’ll see ancient monuments dating from prehistoric times to the Roman period.

Steeped in archaeological significance, Évora boasts rock engravings of the Gruta do Escoural and the haunting stone circle of the Cromeleque dos Almendres. Find yourself transported back in time to the age of the country’s first inhabitants of 25,000 years ago.

Follow the minor roads until you come across the Roman villa of São Cucufate. Then why not enjoy some authentic Alentejo cuisine, which is perfected in the cookery school of Refúgio da Vila in Portel before finding an Alentejo hill farm to spend the night?

Close to Ourique, follow the Castro da Cola. This circular tour will take you to 30 different places around the River Mira, which is also an excellent spot for a refreshing swim or even a boat trip.

As you head towards the coast, be sure to visit the ruins of the Roman city of Miróbriga, which boasts the country’s only complete hippodrome.

And at each archaeological site, soak up the atmosphere and the immense Alentejo landscape.

Village tourism
Visit the castles and villages of the Alentejo for a relaxing, peaceful holiday.

The pace of life in Portugal’s beautiful southern villages doesn’t seem to have changed for centuries. For the curious visitor a wealth of traditional customs, stunning scenery and fascinating historical tales lie in wait.

Hear the stories of the knight-monks from Flor da Rosa; admire the landscape around the castle of Évoramonte and spend a few days relaxing in the village of São Gregório.

Or go bike riding in Telheiro; listen to the Alentejo choirs in Pias and go for a swim in the sea after visiting Santa Susana.

Finally, at the end of a relaxing day, you can enjoy a delicious local meal and a good night’s sleep in comfortable accommodation.

Sport in the Alentejo
Known for its tranquillity and the undulation of the cornfields, the Alentejo can also get the adrenaline really flowing.

Find out if it is your vocation to be a millionaire Formula One driver, and discover the excitement of go-karting in Évora, Portalegre, Santo André or Serpa. In Évora you can also choose one of the parachuting schools and pluck up your courage to throw yourself from three thousand feet above the city walls for the experience of a lifetime. Or simply glide over the plain in the wicker basket of a hot-air balloon, gazing in wonder at the land basking in the orange colours of the sunrise. Another option is to enjoy the waters of the Alentejo: its reservoir lakes are excellent for jet skiing, windsurfing and water-skiing; the calm water is also great for a full day’s canoeing. Various parts of the region are suitable for paddling a canoe, from the Sado to the calm waters of the Guadiana. Back on terra firma there is no lack of action either, since you can go mountain biking or horse riding along unknown trails and around the winding lanes of the villages.

In the Alentejo, you can even experience the emotions and sensations of Africa on a real savannah. In Santo André have a photo-safari adventure in Badoca Park and get a close-up view of tigers, giraffes and zebras.

Flavours of the Alentejo
Enjoy all that the Alentejo has to offer, and forget about diets for a while.

Combine your travels with eating and drinking, and take an occasional break at one of the region’s many excellent restaurants and taverns.

In Serpa, Évora and Niza be sure to sample the protected origin local cheeses, all with their own particular characteristics, but all irresistible to the nose and palate. At the end of your trip, pass by one of the cheese-makers in each area and take some cheeses home as presents. While you are in the Alentejo, discover also a new olive oil route from the north to the south of the region. Include in your itinerary a visit to Moura to see the olive press at the olive oil museum at Lagar de Varas do Fojo, and learn from this important remnant of traditional technology how the oil used to be made.

For the greedy, the Alentejo confectionery based on recipes from the convents leads the purest of beings to sin. Indulge in the “morgados” of Évora, the “trouxas de ovo” of Beja or the “sericaia” of Elvas and Vila Viçosa, based on eggs and almonds, and sometimes sweetened with honey.

Don’t forget to include the typical aromas and tastes of the Alentejo in your return basket: pick a handful of oregano and take home a bunch of rosemary to give a real Alentejo touch to your meals.

Informations provided by ITP – Instituto de Turismo de Portugal – www.visitportugal.com