After months (or years) of fast-paced routine and energetic vacations, it’s nice to press pause and trade the crowds for some peace and quiet. How does driving along quiet country roads to a charming vineyard, followed by a day exploring UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sound? What about sitting on a beach and dining on delicious yet reasonably priced seafood? In Portugal, an excellent getaway is Alentejo, the country’s largest region that’s usually overlooked as a tourist destination.
Alentejo stretches from the Algarve in the south, extending along the coast to the border with Spain and ending in central Portugal. Most of the land area is covered in rolling hills, cork trees, and farms and vineyards, sprinkled with cities and villages. Visitors travelling through Alentejo are sure to notice “half-naked” trees across the region, remains of cork production; in fact, Alentejo is the chief provider of cork in Portugal and the world.
For watching dolphins and birds, go to the powdery yellow-white sands of the Troia Peninsula, 17-kilometre (10.5-mile) spit of land reaching from Comporta towards the opening of the Sado Estuary. Most tourists head to the tip near a ferry drop-off for surfing and windsurfing, but adventuring further away will reward them with a quieter beach experience.
For fantastic food and a plethora of seafood and traditional dishes, head to the Restaurante Museu do Arroz (Restaurant of the Rice Museum) in Praia da Comporta or just south of the city to Sal (salt) near Pêgo Beach.
Speaking of beaches, make special note of Odeceixe, close to the rugged Southwest Alentejo and Costa Vicentina National Park, as well as Zambujeira do Mar, which hosts one of the country’s coolest annual music festivals (for a quieter visit, plan around the festivals).
Away from the beaches, villages become sleepier and time moves back a few years (or decades). Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to Temple of Diana and Chapel of Bones, is a destination everyone should visit at least once. It’s also an excellent place to eat and drink classic Portuguese dishes and wine. Try a hearty açorda, (bread covered in olive oil , garlic, herbs, and poached eggs) or one of the many traditional soups that Portuguese people eat regularly, sometimes daily.
Further east is Monsaraz, a medieval village just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border. The Castelo de Monsaraz provides excellent views for miles, and the village is a fun place to buy handicraft souvenirs. Plus, the farmhouse São Lourenço do Barrocal is among the best hotels in Alentejo.
From beaches to villas to expanses of vineyards and farmland, Alentejo has it all. Its romantic, white-washed towns and its ancient castles and fields that may as well have jumped out of painters’ canvases make it more than worth a visit. Who wouldn’t want to spend a day sitting in a shaded spot drinking wine and listening to the singsong tunes of nature?