Portugal’s spectacular Alentejo is home to beautiful farmland, medieval castles, and remnants of Roman and Arab architecture. Located north of the Algarve, the climate is mainly warm and dry. In fact, the region is one of the warmest in Portugal, making it an ideal climate for Portugal’s breadbasket.
The Alentejo covers approximately one-third of the landmass of Portugal. However, with only 759,000 inhabitants, it represents a tiny 7 percent of its population. Thus, agriculture—and the food and wine it produces—is quite rich here. This region produces many traditional wines, cheeses and smoked hams and sausages. Queijo de Nisa is just one example of a locally produced cheese with a protected designation of origin (meaning it can only be officially produced in this region).
There are also many wine estates throughout the region. There are three smaller wine routes that make up the greater Alentejo wine route. The São Mamede Route, the Historic Route, and the Guadiana Route each have their own set of characteristics and attractions. The Alentejo is widely renowned for its unique wines.
Additionally, this region produces a large amount of cork. Harvesters remove the bark of the cork oak (or sobreiro) with axes, in the traditional manner. There is not yet any industrial option that is more efficient in harvesting the bark. The cork oak is one of the few trees that can handle this sort of bark stripping. It is a completely sustainable practice, and the bark of just one cork oak can produce up to 4,000 wine bottle corks.
The region also has a long history of encounters with foreign cultures, giving it a certain cultural diversity. The region was once Moorish territory, before the early kings of Portugal reconquered the area. It is also close to Spain, allowing for another cultural exchange.
The Alentejo region also houses several beautiful parks. The Parque Natural de Sao Mamede, for example, features quaint medieval villages and a Mediterranean climate that supports a diversity of wildlife. The Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede is one of 30 officially protected parks in Portugal.
One of the most popular places to visit in Alentejo is Évora. Once the capital of Portugal, Évora has been witness to the Roman and Moorish civilizations. While you’re there, you won’t want to miss the ancient Roman temple to Diana. If you are into the macabre, you might also enjoy visiting the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones.
Other notable towns include Alcacer do Sal, Regengos de Monsaraz, Estremoz, Arraiolos and Marvao.
If you plan to drive through the Alentejo, check out our self-drive packages, such as Lisbon Towns and Villages. Escorted tours that pass through the Alentejo include the Best of Portugal and Portugal in Depth. While you’re in the region, you’ll want to do some hiking through the beautiful countryside. Check out some of the beautiful natural parks for easy and exciting trails. You’ll also enjoy doing some mountain biking here. If you love wine, be sure to tour some of the wineries, and go for a wine tasting. And don’t forget to visit the beautiful architecture.