The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region and may also be the wildest. Extending from the Algarve towards central Portugal, it reaches from the Atlantic to the Portuguese-Spanish border. Lined by a rugged coast to the west and filled with farmland, cork oaks and olive trees, many of the local adventures involve nature, but there are villages oozing with traditional heritage as well. Although it only scratches the surface, here is a list of the top activities and experiences in the Alentejo.
Many popular Portuguese wines come from Alentejo, and there are plenty of vineyards that allow tours and tastings all over the region. Today, Alentejo is renowned mainly for its red blends, from Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon to non-local native varieties such as Touriga Nacional and Touriga Franca. Whites are also gaining in popularity thanks to local grapes Antão Vaz and Roupeiro being made to produce a fruitier taste.
The beaches of Alentejo are among the most beautiful in the country, and the coast is also home to charming villages filled with white houses and noteworthy restaurants. On a road trip, be sure to stop in Zambujeira do Mar, Comporta and Sines.
The local cuisine of the Alentejo is known for hearty and comforting recipes, such as açorda. Traditionally, this was a “poor man’s dish” made with rustic bread soaked in herb-filled broth and topped with an egg. Since its humble origins, the dish has been further developed and is enjoyed today with prawns and other types of locally caught seafood. Another favourite recipe is carne de porco à alentejana, a dish made with fried cubed pork, fried potatoes and clams in a garlic sauce.
The Tróia Peninsula is one the Alentejo’s coastal gems, and it’s a great place to retreat from the more crowded beaches, enjoy water sports and even go dolphin-watching. Located along the Sado River Estuary, it is a popular birdwatching destination, and the 18 kilometres (11mi) of white sand practically ensure semi-secluded beach space. Although the coast, estuary and local restaurants are among the main attractions, history lovers may enjoy knowing that the Tróia Peninsula is also home to ancient Roman ruins consisting of tombs, a port and baths.
About 17 kilometres (10.5mi) from Évora, Almendres Cromlech is a group of standing stones that date from the Neolithic period. Historians believe that these stones, which form two circles, may have been positioned to serve astronomical and time-keeping purposes in addition to acting as a ceremonial site. Almendres Cromlech is the largest stone formation in Portugal, making an opportunity to visit truly unique.
The villages along the border with Spain are home to many castles and fortified cities that date back to a time filled with battles and invasions. Each one has its own history and charm, so be sure to tick as many as possible of your list while you’re in the area.
Even if it’s impossible to visit multiple castles, try making time to see the fortification at Monsaraz as well as the village itself. It was listed as one of Portugal’s Seven Wonders in 2017, has been classified a top monument village and is the epitome of a traditional Portuguese village. Perched on a hilltop that allows you to take in the surrounding countryside, it’s as picturesque as it is old-worldly and peaceful.
Another fortified medieval town that’s well worth the trip but usually missed is Elvas in Portalegre, Alentejo. Beautifully preserved, it is full of mesmerising landmarks, and the fort itself is shaped like a star (which can be seen when looking down from above). Among the fascinating sightseeing spots are the 16th-century Amoreira Aqueduct, the medieval castle, the historic centre and the Manueline-style cathedral.