The agricultural and rural nature of the Alentejo region of Portugal contribute to a slower, more traditional pace of life, and one of the best ways to experience it is by bike. You might pedal across its beautiful plains from the Atlantic coast to the mountains that sit on the eastern border with Spain. On a bicycle, you might share the Alentejo road with a farmer and his ox cart, or with women walking in their traditional black dresses not far from their white-washed farm houses.
Many bicycle tour operators offer packages through the Alentejo and we’ve listed just some of them below. Experienced cyclers could certainly put together their own routes by consulting a detailed map. Throughout the Alentejo, you can set your own level of adventure and choose from among hill, plain, city, town and beach routes—or pack all of them into an extended tour.
ABOUT THE ALENTEJO REGION
Occupying nearly a third of Portugal’s mainland, the picturesque Alentejo region is an hour's drive from Lisbon. Its boundary to the north is the Tejo River and, to the south, rolling plains dominate, then taper off into mountains to the east and into Portugal’s southernmost region, the Algarve. The Atlantic Ocean is the region’s western border.
The Portuguese often refer to the Alentejo as a nation unto itself. Its architecture is white-washed, imbued with a Moorish flavor, and the people speak their own dialect and sing songs unique to the region. Roman conquerors left their relics behind across this region and you’re bound to see some of them along your route, from a Roman temple in Evora to a Roman villa at São Cucufate that is mostly intact.
While crossing the Alentejo, you might pedal passed a grove of olive trees or a field of sunflowers. You might seek shade within one of the many cork forests, leaning your bike up against the intriguing, renewable bark of its trees, which constitute a major industry for the country. You might stop to snack on smoked pata negra and some locally produced goat cheese. You might ride the region’s coastline roads or test your muscles by venturing into the mountains at the Spanish border.
CASTLES, PALATIAL PALACES AND ANCIENT RUINS
One bicycling route could take you past four of the region’s castles -- Nisa, Castelo de Vide, Marvão, Portalegre and Alter do Chão.
Along the road, you’ll see dolmens, which are ancient stone tables, as well as some burial grounds from the Neolithic period. Bicyclers can visit the caves in Escoural and see its rock carvings and paintings. Near the River Almansor you’ll find the remnants of old water mills.
Ride past the castle of Alandroal and then into Vila Viçosa for a visit of the Ducal Palace, the family home of the most influential Portuguese royal families.
A LITTLE WINE ALONG THE WAY
Bicyclers can find wine estates where full-bodied red wines are produced near the towns of Reguengos de Monsaraz, Redondo, Borba and Vidigueira. Estates you can visit also include the La Quinta do Carmo estate, the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation in Évora, Herdade dos Coelheiros in Igrejinha, Arraiolos, Roquevale, Monte Branco, Redondo and Herdade do Esporão in Reguengos de Monsaraz.
INTRIGUING TOWNS AND CITIES
The Alentejo Region is renown for the city of Evora, one of the most beautiful cities in Europe and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you can slow your bicycle down for a tour through cobblestone streets and, perhaps, a visit to the Roman temple or the Gothic cathedral. In Évora, pedal to the Jardim de Diana, for a unique view of the acropolis. Take time to sample the local cuisine in one of the city’s many restaurants or, if you’ve mapped your bike route correctly, this would make an excellent over-night stop.
Another city to explore is Estremoz, a classic market town, where you can pedal to the medieval castle of Castelo De Vide or tour through the city’s ancient Jewish quarter. Famous for beautiful hand-woven tapestries, the beautiful village of Arraiolos is full of interesting legends and the hilltop leading up to the town is dotted with white-washed houses.
Bicyclists often make it a point to visit the fortified village of Monsaraz and the River Guadiana valley.
WHAT ABOUT THE BEACH?
The Nature Park of the South-West Alentejo stands guard over the regions wildly beautiful beaches. Nestling between rocks or stretching out to form vast expanses of sand that are perfect for long walks, these beaches are the ideal place for enjoying complete rest and relaxation. Cyclists can traverse the beach roads carefully, stopping in at little fishing villages and working their way toward a rest under the sea cliffs or the umbrella-like pine trees that shelter some parts of the Alentejo’s beaches.
WHEN YOUR PEDALS STOP TURNING
At the end of the day, you can rest your pedaling muscles in one of the region’s well-known Pousadas, lodgings with historic significance such as a convent or a monastery. The Pousada Flor da Rosa, for example, is a medieval monastery in the Alentejo town of Crato, or you might try the Loios Convent in Évora.
And, after a brief rest, go out and enjoy the nighttime with a meal based on the traditions of this region, where bread, wine and olive oil reign. Try a traditional Portuguese barbecue or find a club featuring the traditional Fado folklore music.