Alentejo, Portugal, is an unknown region waiting for your visit.
If we look at Portugal’s map, we see that Alentejo is the region between the southern region of Portugal, the Algarve, up to a few kilometers north of Lisbon.
The Alentejo region is often separated into Alto Alentejo (High Alentejo) and Baixo Alentejo (Low Alentejo). As shown on the map, this region 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.
This is not an isolated case. The same happened to the Douro Valley some years ago.
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.
If that were the case with the Douro Valley, maybe that would also happen to the Alentejo. So, now is the best time to visit this region while it is still pristine.
In general terms, I can say that Alentejo is characterized by the following:
- hot and dry weather most of the year;
- vast plains;
- Alentejo’s “montes” (local country houses);
- high concentration of cork oaks;
- peculiar monuments;
- Cante Alentejo, the local way of singing;
- fascinating history linked to the Roman and Moorish occupations;
- singular gastronomy;
- and it is one of the best wine regions in Portugal.
Hot and dry weather most of the year
It is said that good weather is constant at Alentejo because it rains very little or almost nothing in some areas.
You can have a wide thermal range throughout the year, with hot and dry weather occurring more frequently.
Because it rains so little in the short but intense winter in Alentejo, it never snows, even with below-zero (0ºC) temperatures.
Most of the times the weather in Alentejo is great for traveling. 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 feel a unique aroma from the scent of rockroses, 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, they were born in higher places for military reasons. These are the exceptions to the rule.
The Alentejo “monte”
If you translate the word “monte” 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. Late in the afternoon, we can sit here, enjoy the shade, and socialize with neighbors and passers-by.
High concentration of cork oaks;
The cork oaks s are the most common tree in Alentejo and the rest of the country.
It is, by law, the national tree.
I will ask you to check this text about this tree, and pay particular attention to what is referred to as the “montado”. It essentially explains the rural landscape of Alentejo.
This region has a lower percentage of medieval monuments than the northern areas such as Minho. The reason is that the country was reconquered from the Moors, from north to south, and most of the families who had these monumental medieval structures built were in the north of Portugal.
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 for the Cathedral of Évora, which is the exception to the rule.
However, it is in the Alentejo that we can find the most peculiar monuments in Portugal.
The Capela dos Ossos in Évora, the military structures in Elvas, or the Cromeleque dos Almendres have no parallel in Portugal.
“Cante Alentejano”, the local way of singing
These are the typical songs and ways of singing in the Alentejo.
Vocal groups of men 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 and Roman occupations
Wherever we go in Portugal, there is a lot of dense, diverse, and fascinating History. In Alentejo, it is not different in this aspect, but it is peculiar in the kind of historical events.
Having been a region won by the Moors in the 12th and 13th centuries, the History of the Alentejo had a high concentration of medieval battles between Christians and Moors.
Also, after the reconquest of this region by the Christians, some places gain some attention by the kings.
It was the case of Évora. For this reason, it has many ancient monuments.
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 Portuguese solid Jewish heritage, which Portugal is proud to have, it is inevitable to speak of Castelo de Vide Jewry.
Alentejo is traditionally an impoverished region where cereals are grown. Being so, bread is essential in everyday life as it is in the local gastronomy.
In Alentejo gastronomy, we can find many dishes, 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 common to have pork, garlic, coriander, tomatoes, lard, and olive oil.
One of the best wine regions in Portugal
I think Alentejo’s wine region, along with the Douro and Dão wine regions, one of Portugal’s top three wine regions.
This region has no shortage of extraordinary wine cellars you can visit and enjoy some tastings. I say extraordinary in terms of wine quality but also the architectural spectacularity of its buildings.
In terms of architecture, see the example of Herdade do Freixo, in Redondo.
Anyway, I hope this could arouse your interest in the Alentejo, and maybe one day, I can count on your presence on one of my tours.