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 and tapers east at the mountain range of the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park. Lined by a rugged coast to the west and filled with farmland, cork oaks, and olive trees, much of the local adventures involve nature, but the villages ooze with traditional heritage. Although it only scratches the surface, here is a list of the top activities and experiences in the Alentejo.
Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Évora is known as a “city-museum” filled with culturally significant landmarks and marked with a notable history. It is also the Alentejo’s regional capital and largest city. There is plenty to see and do to fill up a day of exploring, including visiting the eerily stunning Chapel of Bones (Capela dos Ossos), snapping photos of the ancient Roman Temple, touring the Royal Palace, and enjoying a drink, lunch or coffee in the central square.
Schedule a wine tour
Many popular Portuguese wines come from Alentejo, and there are plenty of vineyards that allow tours and tastings.
Drive along the wild coast
The beaches of Alentejo are among the most beautiful in the country, and the coast is also home to charming villages filled with white-washed houses and noteworthy restaurants. On a road trip, be sure to stop in Zambujeira do Mar, Comporta, and Sines.
Try Açorda and other traditional dishes
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 up of rustic bread soaked in herb-filled broth and topped with an egg. Since its humble origins, the dish was further elaborated and is enjoyed today with shrimp and other types of locally caught seafood. Another favorite recipe is Carne de Porco à Alentejana, a dish made with fried cubed pork, fried potatoes, and clams inside a garlic sauce.
Spend a weekend in the Tróia Peninsula
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 bird-watching destination, and the 18 kilometers (11 miles) of white sand practically ensures 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 home to ancient Roman ruins consisting of tombs, a port, and baths.
Visit Almendres Cromlech
Piggybacking off ancient landmarks, the Almendres Cromlech is a group of standing stones, located 17 kilometers (10.5 miles) from Évora, that date back to 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 and may be one of the largest and oldest in Europe, making an opportunity to visit truly unique.
Visit as many castles as possible
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. Today, these landmarks are memories preserved in stone.
Visit the historic city of Monsaraz
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, classified as a top monument village, and portrays the epitome of traditional Portuguese villages. 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 mesmerizing 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 center, and the Manueline-style cathedral.
Go hiking and/or bird-watching
Bird-watching is a top activity for nature enthusiasts in Portugal, and the Alentejo’s large expanses of rural countryside provide plenty of space to catch glimpses of the local species. The Sado Estuary, Castro Verde, and São Mamede Park are all excellent spots to see these creatures in the wild, including flamingos, heron, eagles, and swallows (among others).