Alentejo, Portugal, an unknown region waiting for your visit.
If we look at Portugal’s map, we see that Alentejo is the region between the most southern region of Portugal, which is the Algarve, up to a few kilometers north of Lisbon.
The Alentejo region is often separated in Alto Alentejo and Baixo Alentejo, as we can see on the map. It occupies 33% of the national territory.
For reasons I am unaware of, this region is not highly promoted for tourism purposes. I really can’t understand why.
We can think that the Douro Valley was not promoted until recently and, when it started to be known, it became one of the most visited regions in Portugal. Maybe that will also happen to the Alentejo so, now is the best time to visit this region before it becomes crowded.
In general terms, I can say that the Alentejo is characterized by:
- hot and dry weather;
- vast plains;
- Alentejo’s “montes”;
- many cork oaks;
- peculiar monuments;
- Cante Alentejo;
- Fascinating History linked to the Moorish occupation;
- singular gastronomy;
- and it is one of the best wine regions in Portugal.
Hot and dry weather
It is said that good weather is constant at Alentejo because it rains very little or almost nothing in some areas.
Throughout the year, you can have a wide thermal range, with hot and dry weather being much more frequent.
Because it rains so little, in the short, but intense winter in Alentejo, it never snows, even with temperatures that would allow it to happen.
It is only during the summer that it becomes more challenging to travel in the Alentejo, due to the high temperatures we can find there, which frequently exceed 40ºC/104ºF.
In the vast Alentejo plains, wheat, other cereals, and cork oaks are the most frequent crops.
These cereal fields are like a vast green blanket, sprinkled with cheerful colors from the thousands of wildflowers spontaneously born in the fields during the spring season.
When summer sets in, and the heat is felt in all its strength, these fields turn golden.
At the end of hot days, in addition to the red sky, you can also fell a unique aroma in the air, caused by the scent of rockrose, a fragrance I can identify as the smell of Portugal.
In the Alentejo, it is customary to say, “if you think the Alentejo is flat, then come here to ride a bicycle.” It is a way of contradicting the idea of flatness in this region.
Portugal is a country with a lot of relief and has few plains. It is in the Alentejo, where we find the broadest plain areas in the country.
However, as the overwhelming majority of locations are ancient, for military reasons, they were born in higher places. In times of war, they were better defended if they were in higher ground.
The Alentejo “monte”
If you translate the word “monte” literally, it means hill. However, the term is used with the meaning of the set of land and the traditional Alentejo house isolated on a hill.
In Alentejo, the properties are more extensive than the properties in the north of the country. The populations are more concentrated, as opposed to the towns and villages of Minho, which are more spread out.
Alentejo houses are traditionally painted white, from lime, with small windows. The floor of these houses is made of terracotta bricks.
Outside the houses, you can frequently find benches made of the continuation of the walls. We can sit and enjoy the shade in the late afternoon, and socialize with neighbors and passers-by.
The cork oaks
The cork oaks s are the most common tree in the Alentejo and the rest of the country.
It is, by law, the national tree.
I will ask you to consult this text about this tree, paying particular attention to what is referred to as the “montado”. It largely explains the rural landscape of Alentejo.
In this region, there is a lower percentage of medieval monuments than the northern areas such as Minho. The reason is that the country was conquered from the Moors, from north to south, and most of the families who had these monumental structures built were in the north.
Also, if we compare the Alentejo monuments with the monuments of the center of the country, we can say that in Alentejo, the monuments are not so exuberant, except the Cathedral of Évora.
However, in Alentejo, there are many monuments that, not having the dimensions of the before mentioned monuments, are unique or rare and with fabulous stories.
It is the case of the Capela dos Ossos in Évora, the military structures in Elvas, or the Cromeleque dos Almendres that has no parallel in Portugal.
These are the typical songs of the Alentejo.
Vocal groups of men, who sing without instruments, and perform in a very particular way.
Cante Alentejano is an intangible World Heritage classified by UNESCO in 2014.
Fascinating History linked to the Moorish occupation and much more
Wherever we go in Portugal, there is a lot of History, dense, diverse and very interesting. In Alentejo, it is not different in this aspect, but it is peculiar in the kind of historical events.
Having been a region won to the Moors in the 12th, and 13th centuries, naturally, the History of the Alentejo has a lot of medieval battles. It also reveals the results of a Moorish culture that lived here for a long time.
But not for that reason, medieval and renaissance times are less represented.
It is the case of Évora, considering that it was a subject of considerable attention by some Portuguese kings. For this reason, it has many ancient structures.
In Évora, it is also where we find one of the oldest Portuguese universities and, consequently, of Europe.
In this city, Évora, there is also a lot to say about the History of the Jews in Portugal and the Inquisition process.
Concerning the strong Portuguese Jewish heritage, which Portugal is proud to have, it is inevitable to speak of Castelo de Vide Jewry.
As Alentejo is traditionally a very poor region, and where cereals are grown, bread is essential in everyday life as it is in the local gastronomy.
In Alentejo gastronomy, we find many dishes that are made including bread and dishes where bread is the main ingredient.
If the bread does not make part of the dish, it cannot be missed to accompany the meal.
It is also common to have pork, garlic, coriander, tomatoes, lard, and olive oil.
In my opinion, the Alentejo’s wine region, along with the Douro and Dão wine regions, is one of the top three wine regions of Portugal.
In this region, there is no shortage of extraordinary wine cellars with visits and tastings. I say extraordinary in terms of wine quality but also in the architectural spectacularity of its buildings.
In terms of architecture, see the example of Herdade do Freixo, in Redondo.
Anyway, I hope I could arouse interest in Alentejo, and maybe one day, I can count on your presence on one of my tours.