In the south of Portugal, between the Tejo River and Algarve, you will find the quiet and peaceful Alentejo, the largest and least populated region in Portugal, where time moves at a slow pace. The word “Alentejo” means “além do Tejo”, that literally translates to “beyond the Tejo”. Cork and olive trees, charming whitewashed houses with colorful outlines, villages that seem straight out of a fairy tale, medieval castles, herds of animals and beautiful vineyards and wineries characterize the Alentejo landscape, free of clutter and traffic. If you are looking for tranquility and want to escape the hustle and bustle of the city, this is the ideal destination for you, since it is essentially rural. Plus, this is the perfect place to taste the most delicious dishes and internationally renowned wines. There is also a lot of archaeological, monumental and architectural heritage to discover. But if what you really want is to relax, you can always enjoy some of the most beautiful golden sand beaches, with crystal-clear waters. Here we show you what you can do in Alentejo!
Évora is a university city and its historic center has been classified as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. It was occupied successively by Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Portuguese. In Évora, more precisely in the square 1º de Maio, you will find the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), a particularly macabre 17th century small chapel used by the Franciscan monks for meditation. Both the walls and the columns of the chapel are covered with a several thousand bones and skulls that come from the burial spaces connected to the convent. It is estimated that there are about 5000 human skulls among countless bones. Right at the entrance of the chapel, a phrase is engraved on the door: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” (“We bones here are waiting for yours”). The point is to make people reflect about the transience of life. This is undoubtedly one of the most famous touristic sites in Évora and possibly in the Alentejo!
Explore the ancient Cromlechs in the district of Évora
In the district of Évora, there are many dolmens and menhirs scattered here and there in the landscape. Here you will find two of the most imposing and diversified sets of megalithic complexes in the Iberian Peninsula. These elements probably owe their existence to the magnificent natural environment that allowed prehistoric people to survive and travel. One of the highlights of the Alentejo is undoubtedly the Almendres Cromlech, an oval-shaped arrangement of menhirs, with about 95 stone monoliths. This prehistoric stone circle even has some engravings with symbols probably related to fertility rites. The Almendres Cromlech, in the municipality of Évora, is the largest megalithic monument in the Iberian Peninsula and one of the oldest in the world. It is also the most important and best-preserved cromlech on the Peninsula! This cromlech was discovered in 1964 and is located near the top of a gentle slope, on a hill. If you have heard of the Stonehenge in the UK, you should know that the Almendres monument is 2,000 years older. It was built about 7,000 years ago! In Reguengos de Monsaraz, you will also find a very interesting megalithic complex, known for its square shape. The Xerez Cromlech has about 55 menhirs and it is believed to date back to the 4th or 5th millennia BCE. This cromlech was originally from Herdade do Xerês, but due to the Alqueva Dam construction, it was moved to Orada Convent.
Walk around the picturesque streets of Monsaraz
Monsaraz was conquered from the Moors in 1167, was given to the Order of the Templars and later to the Order of Christ. It is an ancient, peaceful and picturesque village, ideal for those seeking peace and quiet. Walking through its schist-paved streets with their whitewashed houses is like stepping back in time. It is no surprise that the village of Monsaraz was named one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal, in the “Monument Villages” category. Located on top of a hill, just about 50 kilometers from Évora, this beautiful Portuguese village is surrounded by a wall and crowned by a castle. It is worth strolling along the cobbled streets lined with lovely little white houses with flowered windows. A visit to Monsaraz can indeed be a truly magical experience! Climb up to the castle and enjoy the splendid view over the Alqueva Dam and the largest artificial lake in Europe.
Visit São Pedro do Corval, the largest pottery center in Portugal
Just a few kilometers from Monsaraz, in the heart of the Évora district, you will find São Pedro do Corval, the largest pottery center in Portugal. This municipality has an ancient tradition of pottery, dating back to prehistoric times, due to the existence of clay deposits with unique properties in the region. Appreciate the unique traditional utilitarian pieces that were molded back in the days to the needs of people who worked the fields. In the land of pottery there are almost two dozen charming potteries that are constantly in operation. The door is open to any traveler who wants to see how the clay is formed by the hands of the pottery master on the wheel. You will find real works of art made on the potter's wheel, cooked in wood-fired ovens and painted by hand. And this is not the only reason to visit São Pedro do Corval! In this municipality, the small houses with large chimneys, dating back to the 17th century, are unique in the world. For all these reasons, a visit to this region is a real journey into the Portuguese past!
Go on a truly cosmic journey in the star observatory in Alqueva
Alqueva is not only home to the largest dam and the largest artificial lake on the European continent, but also a unique region to observe the night sky. With very little light pollution, the skies in the Alentejo are extremely starry and will enchant anyone. At Lago Alqueva Observatory, an astronomical observatory located in the middle of the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve, you can go on a truly cosmic journey through the magnificent Monsaraz night sky and learn about the polar star, the constellations and its legends. Through telescopes you will be able to marvel at planets, nebulae and galaxies! The Dark Sky Alqueva was even the first place in the world to be certified as a "Starlight Tourism Destination" by the Starlight Foundation. Discover everything about astronomy and enjoy the beautiful starry skies of the Alentejo!
Discover Portugal’s history in Paço Ducal in Vila Viçosa
Vila Viçosa is a small village in the heart of the Alentejo, with a magnificent architectural heritage. The Paço Ducal is the most emblematic building in Vila Viçosa and the former holiday home of the kings of the Bragança Dynasty. Structural works began in the 16th century and ended in the 18th century, resulting in a mixture of styles that characterise the building. In the Paço Ducal you will find a large collection of decorative arts, paintings, sculptures and textiles. The Hercules Room and the Virtue Room are particularly worth seeing. In this monument, the memories of the last two rulers are still alive, and the dozens of rooms give a little insight into the history of Portugal! You can admire ceilings with mythological scenes and beautiful frescoes, and there is also a library with a collection of about 50 thousand books gathered by D. Manuel II, some of them very rare. In the old stables you can see several examples of magnificent coaches and carriages. The garden is also a pleasant surprise!
Explore the military history of Elvas in the Santa Luzia Fort
Built in the 17th century, this fort of Renaissance architecture was one of the five key elements in the defense of Elvas. This fort, located on a hill just a few hundred meters from the 17th century walls, has been a World Heritage Site since 2012. Elvas was one of the most important fortifications on the border, which is why it was named the "Border Queen". The Santa Luzia fort played an important role in the battles that prevented the Spanish domination. It is one of the most important military monuments from this period and is considered a masterpiece of Elvas military architecture! Since 2014, it has been occupied by the military museum, where you can now learn more about the entire military history of the city and admire war artifacts from different eras. The monument makes every visitor take a step back in time!
Visit a winemaker and go for a wine tasting
Alentejo is a very fertile land with more than 250 wine producers and eight demarcated regions. It is due to the climate, the soils and the grape varieties that Alentejo wines are known for their extreme quality. Alentejo is in fact one of the Portuguese regions that produce more wine. The Alentejo landscape itself is characterized by the vast vineyards. Red wines – the most famous – are usually dark in color and intense, while white wines tend to be softer, more aromatic and fresher. The Alentejo wines have a Controlled Denomination of Origin (DOC) for some of the most important regions. The concept DOC is awarded to wines produced under strict quality control in specific regions. If you visit Alentejo, you absolutely must visit a winemaker and go for a wine tasting! There are many wineries and wine estates where you can do this. Portugal Trails will be happy to set this up for you as part of your experience of the country!
Taste the unique Alentejo cuisine
Açordas, migas, stews, lamb, broad beans, cheese, asparagus… All these dishes and ingredients scream Alentejo! In this region, there is a wide and great variety of traditional dishes, that are a real treat for those who enjoy the Mediterranean diet. The flavorful cuisine of the Alentejo has always been associated with field products and is based on bread, olive oil and aromatic herbs. Among the most famous dishes are migas, lamb stew, pork loin with clams, gazpacho and asparagus soup. And Alentejo also has its merits when it comes to desserts! The most famous sweets are, for example, siricaia, azevias, boleimas or toucinho do céu. Cheese is also a very famous product in this region. Serpa cheese, for example, is stored in dairies in a cool, humid environment for at least a month until it becomes mature.
Explore the heavenly beaches
These beaches in the southwest of the Alentejo region are very different from the beaches you find in the south of Portugal. Characterized by beautiful wild landscapes, these beaches are less frequented and have unique features. In Sines, for example, you can visit São Torpes beach, a wide and clean beach, with slightly darker sand and a calm sea. You can also opt for Vasco da Gama beach, a pleasant urban beach in the bay of Sines, just a few meters from the city center. Porto Covo, near Sines, has some of the most beautiful beaches on the Portuguese coast. Visit Samoqueira beach, a postcard-worthy beach surrounded by rocks and cliffs, where you will find authentic natural pools with crystal blue waters. You can also go to Cerca Nova beach, a wide beach surrounded by imposing cliffs and crystal-clear waters. All of these beaches will definitely surprise you!