Alentejo

Alentejo: Why go

It’s the biggest region in Portugal, one of the least known and one of the loveliest. It’s divided into two areas, Alto Alentejo (upper) and Baixo Alentejo (lower). Baixo Alentejo takes in the west coast up to Setúbal. Alto Alentejo includes Evora and the great marble towns of Estremoz, Borba and Vila Viçoca, as well as the Serra de Ossa and its gorgeous eucalyptus forest. You’ll find startling beautiful savannahs coloured by dusty red soil and blue skies, with cork trees, gum trees and olive trees scattered liberally across the land, ancient hilltop villages peering down at you, grand provincial towns which have faded elegantly and an extraordinarily tasty rural gastronomy (one of the biggest surprises in Portugal was its exceedingly good country cooking). The Romans were here - Julius Caesar visited - as were the Carthaginians, the Visigoths, the Vandals and the Moors. It remains blissfully undiscovered to all but the Portuguese and is miraculously untouched. If you want to know what Tuscany or Provence looked like before the tourists invaded, come here to see.

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Our top tips for Alentejo

Eat

Restaurants we love

1. I Cervejaria (pictured) and O Sacas (both in Zambujeira do Mar). Simple but superb restaurants serving the freshest of seafood.
2. Choupana (on the beach at Vila Nova de Milfontes). Fresh fish cooked on an open BBQ and spectacular sunsets.
3. Pont’a Pé (Aljezur). Traditional Portuguese food in a rustic little cafe: be sure to order the clams in white wine and coriander, and the boar stew with sweet potatoes.

See

Evora

This university city was built by the Romans and latterly conquered by the Moors. The Temple Romano, which dates to the 2nd century, stands within the old city walls. It’s a World Heritage site and one of Portugal’s gems.

See

The Tróia Peninsular Carvalhal

Take a ferry from Setubal to this sandy peninsula, and bask on the beach or visit Roman ruins and flocks of flamingoes on the Rio Sado Estuary. In the summer you can dive and swim with wild dolphins

Kids

Our favourite beaches

1. Odeceixe is great for toddlers - a sweeping expanse of sand with a shallow river running through it.
2. Farol is sheltered, with gentle rolling waves for easy swimming (most of the coast is pounded by Atlantic surf).
3. Pristine Comporta beach (pictured) belongs to a tiny fishing village of the same name.
4. Gorgeous Praia do Malhão has 15km of uninterrupted golden sand, backed by impressive cliffs. If you want to ride, you can saddle up and canter along the sea shore; there are a couple of stables to hire from.
5. Carvalhal (reached by dirt track from Zambujeira do Mar). This idyllic little cove is rarely crowded, even in high summer. There are no cafes or restaurants so bring all you need with you.

Do

4 lovely towns

1. Estremoz. One of the great marble towns and bursting with graceful pomp. It attracts little interest from tourists and is all the prettier for it. It’s one of the region’s 7 hilltop settlements, its castle resplendent at the top. Estremoz marble is extremely pretty, thus a stroll about the Rossio, the town’s square, is quite a grand affair. Market day is Saturday.
2. Monsaraz. The Moors were ousted in 1167 and the town handed over to the Knights Templar. Imperious views take in the Rio Guadiana (which marks the border with Spain) and the Alqueva Dam, the largest man-made lake in Europe, where you can swim, ski, sail, canoe.
3. Beja (pictured). Founded by Cesar in 43BC, the old town includes a convent, several churches and an ancient castle. Further south is the pretty town of Mertola, overlooking the Guadiana river valley.
4. Milfontes. A pretty town on the coast that’s popular with the Portuguese. You can learn to surf, hire loungers on the beach and top up your tan or head inland and climb in the hills of the Serra de Cercal.
Beja photo by Digitalsignal

Do

Walking the Rota Vicentina

Choose a section of this stunning path and hike it independently. The inland Historical Way meanders through cork forests, green valleys and hilltop villages, while the Fisherman’s Way goes along the clifftops, with amazing views of empty golden beaches and pounding surf.