Alentejo, meaning ‘Beyond the Tagus’ or ‘Across the Tagus’, is a region in south-central Portugal. Separated from the rest of Portugal by the Tagus River, the Alentjo is the largest region in Portugal, stretching southward where it borders the Algarve. The area is ideal for outdoor holidays and people who just want to explore the beautiful countryside that Portugal has to offer.
Walkers, hikers and cyclists can wander along the quiet roads and paths that are little-used and offer a tranquil break from the more visited areas of Portugal. Then there are the olive groves, cork and oak forests where you can take in the fragrant smells of the citrus trees and marvel
at the fields of beautiful sunflowers. Running along the Alentejo/Algarve coastline are two walking trails, the Fisherman’s Trail (approximately 75 miles) and the Historical Way (approximately 142 miles). These routes will lead you through the most beautiful and unspoilt part of Portugal and are ideal for hiking, mountain-biking, horse riding and donkey trekking. The Fisherman’s Trail will take you from the cliffs of Cape St Vincent (Algarve) to the sleepy little fishing village of Porto Covo. On the way you will come across lots of rocky coves, golden sands and amazing sunsets. The Historical Way takes you along part of the ‘Way of St James’ pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Starting at Cape St Vincent the trail takes you along the coast, passing ancient villages and beautiful countryside along the way, to Santiago do Cacem just to the north of Porto Covo.
Mertola is the southernmost town of the Alentejo and is well worth a visit. This walled town is located on a hilltop at the edge of the Guadiana National Park, overlooking the Guadiana River and the Oeiras River and is as if time has stood still. The narrow streets lined with majestic buildings lead up to the ruins of a 13th century castle. There are several museums in the town which are well worth a visit, especially the Islamic museum. There are many more cultural attractions in the region including the UNESCO World Heritage site of Evora with its amazing palaces and marble buildings, Estremoz with its hilltop castle, the village of Arraiolos which is famous for its tapestries and carpets, the medieval
village of Evoramonte and many more.
Photographers and artists will be in their element with the many opportunities to practice their art. From quaint old white-washed villages to castles perched on the hill-tops, fields of flowers and distant views, there is no end of choices of photogenic scenery to choose from.
For water sports enthusiasts there is surfing on the Atlantic coast. Covering an area of 250 sq kms, Alqueva Lake is the largest artificial lake in Europe. For a totally relaxing break you can stay onboard a houseboat on the lake and leisurely explore the waterside villages, enjoy a meal in the local restaurants and marvel at the amazing bird life.
With row upon row of leafy vines, don’t forget to visit one of the many vineyards in the Alentejo region. Many of these vineyards still press the grapes in the traditional way by foot. Although the region has only been a major producer since the 1990′s, there are more than 250
independent wineries in the region, many of which offer tours of their vineyards and tasting of their award-winning Portuguese wines!
Don’t forget to sample some traditional Alentejo food which is served in the regions many great restaurants. Try the fresh locally caught fish, the locally reared lamb and beef, the creamy sheep’s milk cheeses and not forgetting the world famous ham from the black pigs fed on acorns from the cork trees. Named after saints, are the regions delicious traditional sweets which are not to be missed on your visit to the area. Sample Elvas da Serica served with ripe plums and Pao de Rala which is a cake made with almonds and pumpkin, delicious!
The region has a diverse climate of hot summers and cold winters.