Alentejo, the “new Tuscany” as it has been called in one of Condé Nast Traveller’s latest editions, is surely one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Nearly all rural and in the hands of a few landowners – hence the extension of its hardly inhabited plains – Alentejo might be the most peaceful spot in Portugal (and in Europe). And Alentejo gastronomy is the best!
Also you have cork oaks everywhere, plains of undulating wheat, vineyards, some cattle and white-washed buildings which are hard to look at under the blinding Summer sun.
There is lots you can do in Alentejo’s interior (as there is the coastal Alentejo too): sightseeing, hiking, cycling, water sports in dams… but here is our suggestion: a gastronomic holiday. An hedonistic trip based on your taste buds and soothing nights in charming getaways! Why so and why here? Because the Alentejo boasts from being home to probably Portugal’s most distinctive gastronomy. Though slightly heavy, it could not be tastier. The North of Africa and Spain’s influences are notorious. Namely the use of tomato, which was brought from Mexico by the Spaniards in 15th century, nowadays the main ingredient in this cuisine. Other ingredients are sweet corn, pepper, beans, potatoes, aromatic herbs (loads of coriander and pennyroyal), olive oil, all types of fish, lots of pork … a gastronomy which is an accomplished blend of Atlantic and Mediterranean cuisines. Local bread, olives and cheeses (try Nisa, Évora and Serpa cheeses) are also perfect, not to mention its desserts and wines, which are strong and distinctive. The best known are the reds, then the whites, but lately some experiments with the rosés are producing very interesting nectars. Try these gastronomic surprises in smart restaurants or at little, typical “tascas”, which all Portuguese love to discover!
When in Évora, the beautifully preserved Roman capital of the Alentejo (a Unesco site), visit restaurants “Fialho” or “O Grémio” or the great “Tasquinha do Oliveira”. Nearby, for your overnight stay, check the Casa do Governador guesthouse. Set in a 20 he property it includes 7 rooms and a cuisine of high reputation.
Because some of Portugal’s most famous wines are made in this region, wine tastings and visits to wine cellars are a popular activity. We recommend the following: Herdade do Esporão, Comenda Grande or the Quinta do Quetzal.
Further South, lies the proud, medieval city of Estremoz, famous for its wines and its steep, cobbled-stone streets around the castle, where you should not miss the “Cadeia” (set in a 16th century jail) or the “São Rosas” restaurants. For your stay try the Monte da Fornalha estate. Surrounded by olive trees, vines and cork oaks and with a pink swimming pool, this is a must in the region.
Now, if you would like to burn off those calories gained in your gastronomic feasts, one of the best ways to do it is hiking. Make the São Mamede mountains your terrain and discover little gems such as Marvão, the oldest fortified village in Portugal, with breathtaking views over Spain and a Gothic castle worth every travelled kilometre. Or Castelo de Vide another favourite of ours: lots of trees, a mild climate, gardens and fountains everywhere and lots of preserved charm, make this village a unique, romantic location. And since you are in the São Mamede mountains region check the accommodation we have found for you: the lovely Quinta da Dourada guesthouse, with its warm colours and many charming corners inviting one to a dolce far niente! For leisurely strolls, visit the nearby historical city of Portalegre, whose origins remount to Roman times. Or check the eco-friendly Quinta das Lavandas farmhouse. 6 he of biological lavender plantations surround 7 bedrooms in a renovated old building. Only 4 km away from Castelo de Vide.
Alentejo is all this and so much more….