The fields of the Alentejo are punctuated by cork forests, sunflower fields, olive groves and the occasional fortified hill towns. Moors, Romans, Carthaginians and other great civilizations have been drawn to the wide-open natural beauty of this Region. Évora, the center of the Alentejo, reflects their triumphs with its Roman temple, Gothic cathedral, and ancient ramparts – but beyond its history, Évora is a thriving place of life, commerce, palatial hotels and a cuisine as rich as its past.
Portugal’s hidden treasure, Alentejo is wild and historic, like the Centro de Portugal Region, with some of the most evocative natural scenery in Europe – including a coastline of rocky cliffs and idyllic, little-known beaches.
Golden plains that disappear out of sight combine with the sun and the heat to impose their own slow, steady rhythm. This is the Alentejo.
Inland, the vast golden wheat fields undulate in the wind; along the coast, unspoilt beaches look rugged and unexplored.
The open, ample landscape is peppered with cork-oaks or olive trees that have withstood the ravages of time. Occasionally sturdy fortress walls rise up from hills, as at Marvão or Monsaraz, or you’ll see just a simple dolmen reminding you of the magic of the place. Atop small hills stand white one-storey farmsteads, while the castles are reminders of the battles and conquests that once took place here. The patios and gardens bear witness to the influence of the Arabs, who helped to shape the people and the nature.
During the summer the green stands of cork oaks turn the flowing plains of the Alentejo into a romantic and enchanting place of sun and shadows. These ancient forests, which have produced cork for millennia, are occasionally interrupted by wine estates, olive groves, or a white and blue house on a hill. After the bark is harvested, the trees light up the day with their red hues, a sign of the only tree that has a renewable bark.
The Portuguese often refer to the Alentejo, with its own dialect, strong Moorish flavor, white washed towns, and unique songs, as its own nation. Most towns seem to float on hilltops above the plains, embraced by a castle. Gothic towers and red tiles rise from the venerable walls. The songs of the Alentejo, with a flavor of coriander and garlic, greet the visitor.
Extending from the southern bank of the great river Tejo to the mountains of the northern Algarve, the Alentejo is bound by the sea to the west, and Spain to the east. Its name means “Beyond the Tejo,” and it occupies more than one fifth of Portugal, with only a small fraction of the national population.
Its endless landscapes are rich in reminders of it past. From prehistory there are countless Dolmens, Mehnirs, and burial mounds. Impressive Roman relics are everywhere, from the still-standing temple at Évora to a mostly intact Roman villa at São Cucufate. While the Alentejo flourished under centuries of Roman rule, it thrived in the 400 years that the Moors held it. They left behind cultural and architectural ties, a Mosque at Mértola, and legends.
By 1249 a young Portuguese nation had incorporated the Alentejo, and strong castles arose to guard the plains. With mild winter weather, abundant soil, and a hospitable landscape, the Alentejo flourished in the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery. Cork, wine and wheat would become the treasures that this land would offer the world.
Today, the Alentejo remains rural and natural with thousands of miles of cork forest and a variety of wildlife. Its large towns are living museums, still in their ancient walls, with a sense of timelessness that is increasingly difficult to find elsewhere. From the monumental charm of the regional capital of Évora, to the impossibly high castle tower at Beja in the south, history, tradition, and grandeur are everywhere. It is a place where amid a harmony between nature and humanity we can remember so much of what we have forgotten. These lands of cork once bore the likes of Vasco da Gama to explore the world. Today, the world is invited back to discover the Alentejo.
Occupying nearly a third of the mainland, this picturesque region is an hour's drive from Lisbon. It is bound to the north by the river Tejo, and by mountains to the south. Spain and the River Guadiana mark the border to the east, and the open Atlantic is the border to the west. The northeast of Cork Country is famed for its villages along the Castle Route: Nisa, Castelo de Vide, Marvão, Portalegre and Alter do Chão. Further south, the landscape becomes warmer and flatter. Around Évora (one of the most beautiful cities in Europe), one finds the enchanting walled towns of Monsaraz, Vila Viçosa, Estremoz, and Arraiolos (renowned for its handmade tapestries and rugs).
To the south, the rolling plains are even less inhabited, the only shade being provided by olive and cork oak trees. A trip to the museum-towns of Alvito, Beja, Serpa and Mértola will offer many memories.
To the west, the Alentejo’s coastline offers magnificent Atlantic beaches, sea cliffs, and umbrella-like pine trees.