Alentejo, a stone's throw from Lisbon
19 November, 2014
Only an hour’s drive from Lisbon, we discovered an area little known in Portugal, but one that is certainly worth visiting. It’s a place to get lost in whilst taking in the incredible landscape. Alentejo has become a refuge for celebrities such as Valentino, Christian Louboutin and Sarah Ferguson. Even Spain’s Queen Letizia has been spotted around these parts.
In Portuguese, Alentejo means ‘Beyond Tajo’. It was the furthest point reached beyond the Tajo River during the reconquista. It’s a beautiful region blessed with endless planes, heavenly beaches and lots of sunshine. It is the perfect place to escape from the hustle and bustle and enjoy its local food and unique character.
With well-maintained historic streets and dozens of incredible shops where you can purchases artisan products, Évora is the most visited city in Alentejo. If travelling to Alentejo from Spain via Badajoz, the first city you encounter is Elvas, which is also well worth visiting. Builton high ground, its old military fortifications remain, reminding us of Spanish-Portuguese skirmishes over the centuries. Between Elvas and Évora lies Évora Monte, a tiny yet utterly charming village. Other destinations for the visitor include Portalegre, Monsaraz and Marvão, as well as the fascinating Estremoz and Vila Viçosa. It’s here that we make a stop to seek out the highly recommended Joao Portugal Ramos winery.Famous all over Europe, this bodega houses a number of wines of exquisite quality, and here you can see how they are made.South ofÉvora, in lower Alentejo, take a detour to Beja, Serpa, Moura, and above all the incredible town of Mertola.
One of the major reasons to visit this gorgeous part of the world is the beaches. In reality, they are an extension of Algarve, but a lot less crowded.Alentejo has remote beaches, where you can sunbathe, surf or simply get lost. Vila Nova de Milfontes isknown as ‘The Princess of Alentejo’ for its crystalline waters and sand dunes. It is a place you won’t want to leave. Instead, lose yourself in this slice of paradise.
WHERE TO SLEEP
If you do come to Alentejo, take the opportunity to sleep in one of the famous Pousadas Portugusesas and especially the Pousada Flor da Rousa in Nisa. This beautiful town is famous for its ceramic work, cheeses and local stew. But it also has a curious connection with France (in fact it is named after the French city of Nice). In 1199, after the conquest of the Sancho I and the Templars, a fort was built where Nisa now stands. Its first inhabitants came from Nice, and still today French culture seeps throughout this beguiling town.
If travelling from Lisbon, the Pousada da Nossa Senhora da Assunção in the village of Arraiolos, the Pousada Convento dos Loios in beautiful Évora or the Pousada Raínha Santa Isabel in Estremoz are good options. All are reasonably priced and all possess a certain type of magic.
Alentejo's local food is not complicated. On the contrary, it’s simple, somewhat humble, yet delicious and abundant. It tends to be flavoured with herbs and other earthy produce. A good example of this is the typical açorda alentejana – a dish made with breadcrumbs, eggs, garlic, coriander and olive oil. It’s an explosion of flavours that everyone loves!
In Alentejo you will find exceptional bread, very good olive oil and mouth-watering pork. There is also a certain Arabic influence in the local cuisine, a sign of the long Moorish occupancy in the region. This can be appreciated in dishes such as migas à alentejana (paprika-spiced pork with breadcrumbs,) lamb stew and in the soups and local bread. Fish is also on the menu, best enjoyed at the fishermen’s bars situated close to the beaches.
Standout desserts include Pan de Rala from Évora or Sericaia con la Ciruela, a local speciality in Elvas. Or really any one of sweet treats from ovens of the local convents – abundant in this region! If you like good food, Alentejo is the place for you.
So there you have it, a fantastic plan for a short break. What are you waiting for? Book your seat now with Vueling.
Text : Tensi Sánchez www.actitudesmgz.com
Photography : Fernando Sanz
19 November, 2014