By Lucy Richardson, Editor

Late last spring, Lucy journeyed into the depths of Portugal to discover Alentejo, a place brimming with ancient culture, natural beauty and twinkling dark skies. She lived it up in luxury and found herself awed by this little-known region. Could it be the next big thing in travel?

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Alentejo until recently. More fool me. This oft-overlooked section of southern Portugal stretches between the Tagus River in the north, the Algarve in the south, Spain in the east, and the Atlantic in the west. It’s largely rural, mostly undeveloped, and brimming with untouched beauty.

Stop 1: Montimerso Skyscape

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Montimerso Skyscape
View of the rooms and Alqueva Lake at Montimerso Skyscape

Our journey started near the Spanish border, on the banks of Alqueva Lake, Europe’s largest manmade reservoir. I adored Montimerso Skyscape from the moment we arrived. It was right up my street – possibly my favourite i-escape hotel I’ve visited. It’s upmarket but not in a stuffy way, rooms are stylish, and the staff were brilliant.

The setting is unreal: among rewilded land overlooking the lake, within a region designated as the world’s first Starlight Tourism Destination. There’s a stargazing dome and platform in the grounds, and a telescope in the dining room with a nifty device for capturing still shots. Other points of interest include a birdwatching platform (binoculars available to borrow), a fire circle, gorgeous picnic spots, and a stunning infinity pool (for dipping rather than swimming in).

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Montimerso Skyscape
The restaurant and pool at Montimerso Skyscape

We must have visited at one of the best times because all the wildflowers were in bloom and the surroundings were lush. In summer it’s dry and arid, with temps reaching the 40s. The landscape here was like nowhere I’ve seen in Europe. There was something vaguely African-savanna about it, a result of the dwarf-like trees, wild scrubland and roaming wildlife – I half expected to see an elephant trotting down to the lake for a cooling dip. The local village, Monsaraz, is a beauty, set high on a hilltop, in a defensive position to ward off Spanish invaders. The walls of the ancient castle offer spectacular panoramic views.

I found all this wonderful, but being so remote does have drawbacks. The restaurant scene is limited (but the hotel food is delicious), the cuisine is hearty and traditional (but the wine is great), and the coast is a long drive away. But you can swim in the lake, and it’s crystal clear. This isn’t a place for families or for those after a fly-and-flop holiday, but for nature lovers, stargazers, walkers and winos, it’s a hidden gem you’ll want to discover.



Stop 2: Herdade da Malhandinha Nova

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
The Malhadinha Nova estate and vineyards

We hopped in the car and drove south-west to Herdade da Malhadinha Nova. The property spans a whopping 500 hectares made up of vineyards, eucalyptus forests, olive groves and grazing land.

They’ve developed the estate’s various outbuildings, transforming some into uber-luxurious private villas and others into equally fancy suites. All have their own style and character and are flawlessly beautiful. Every building has its own pool, and most have open kitchens where resident chefs whip up Michelin-worthy meals. You can eat at whichever one you like – golf buggies are available for moving around the estate.

We stayed in one of the new Pedras Suites and spent the first hour or so feeling dumbstruck, not quite able to believe our eyes but also not quite sure how to feel about such extravagance: all-glass walls, in-room sunken bathtub, private pool, treetop views, birdsong, an activity booklet spanning 256 pages. On our table were wildflowers and a spread of complimentary ham, cheese and bread, plus chilled white wine from the estate, carefully selected according to our tastes.

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Herdade da Malhadinha Nova
Left: View from the Pedras Suite; Right: the breakfast spread at Herdade da Malhadinha Nova

This feels like a place where the rich and famous hide away – I asked if they get celebs, which was answered with a subtle smile and a nod but no comment. The restaurant is a destination in itself – they’re even working on offering private helicopter transfers from Lisbon so that wealthy city dwellers can pop over for lunch. Then there are the wines, which are popular throughout Portugal and beyond, and the horses, which are bred for show jumping. Most of the food comes from the estate: fish, Alentejo black pig, cattle, chickens, turkeys, fruits, vegetables, herbs, honey. All water comes from the river that cuts through the middle.

It’s certainly idyllic, but the location is remote – you probably won’t leave the site as there’s little to see in the immediate area. Summer temperatures would be a struggle too – it soars to the 40s. But the hotel would work well as a two- or three-night stopover en route to Lisbon or the Algarve, or combined with a few nights on the Alentejo coast. It’s great for families or groups of friends that want to travel and stay together, as there are lots of accommodation options and two private villas that can be booked together.



Stop 3: Teima Alentejo SW

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Teima Alentejo
The gardens and pool at Teima Alentejo

Stepping back into our comfort zone, we hopped over to the coast and found pretty little Teima Alentejo, set in leafy surroundings 10 mins from the beach. It’s such a peaceful spot, and the resident animals – donkeys, horses, ducks, frogs, cats, dogs – roam free. The grounds are surprisingly extensive, and the gardens are beautifully maintained. Everything about it oozed calm.

This was a much simpler place than Malahadinha but by no means basic. Rooms are cool and quirky and themed by colour. Each has its own private terrace facing the pool. Most artworks weren’t to my taste, but they certainly added character. The local beaches are stunners, all white sand and dramatic cliffs. There are plenty to choose from, most empty when we visited. Odeceixe is one of the finest in Portugal; Amalia, Monte Clerigo, Amoreria, Arrifana, Carvalhal and Zambujeira do Mar are also beautiful and close by. There’s a cool, hippie vibe to the area, and it’s popular with surfers. We found this stretch of coastline far superior to the southern Algarve coast.

the i-escape blog / Just back from Alentejo / Teima Alentejo
Left: Swings by the lake at Teima Alentejo; Right: Carvahal beach

Owner Luisa looks after her guests very well, and she was incredibly helpful with local recommendations. Her advice? Come in October because the sea is unusually warm and most tourists have gone. Now there’s an offer that’s hard to refuse…

Inspired to start your own Alentejo adventure? See our full collection of hotels in the region

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