Reasons to fall in love with Alentejo Portugal
If you like the hustle and bustle of big city life, noise, traffic, and fog, then the Alentejo is definitely not for you! But if you enjoy slow-living, plenty of sunshine, and the calm of hills with endless fields of grain and cobblestone streets of whitewashed houses, then you have come to the right place!
If there is a place in Portugal where everything is done calmly, that place is the Alentejo. So much so that when someone in Portugal takes their time to do something, there is always someone who says: “deves ser filho de um alentejano” (“your father must be from the Alentejo”)!
Popular Portuguese culture is filled with this type of regional stereotypes: the northerners are feisty, the Algarvians are cheerful, the Lisboners are "fresh as a lettuce", and the Alentejanos are slow. But this is more than just popular culture, these stereotypical images are also the celebration and acceptance of each region’s rich history, accent, customs, and traditions in a country that is painted in many shades of colour. The Alentejo region is no exception!
This sense of collective identity is inseparably linked to the region’s landscape and climate, two of the reasons why life in the Alentejo beats to a different pace. And it’s not only the summer heat that is intensified when we pass the southern bank of the Tagus. It's the accent and slow melody in which its people speak. The aroma of wines that taste of land sprinkled with fields of wheat, cork oats, and olive trees. The variety of herbs that are present in its food.
Within the Alentejo, there is a whole of Portugal to discover and a lot to fall in love with!
Between Lisbon and the Algarve, and yet a world apart…
The most iconic image of the Alentejo is perhaps that of a "chaparro" (cork oak) with a man in the shade, but the region is so much more than that. It is a mix of plains and hills, endless fields, and wild beaches, where the connection between man and land is always present.
Although it is less than one hundred kilometres from Lisbon, Alentejo is, still today, an essentially rural and sparsely populated region, divided into two large areas:
The "Alto Alentejo”, which includes the districts of Portalegre and Évora;
And the “Baixo Alentejo”, which includes the district of Beja and a few municipalities that belong to the district of Setúbal (Alcácer do Sal, Grândola, Santiago do Cacém and Sines).
It is in this immensity of different landscapes that we find a lifestyle deeply connected to the land. Especially towards the interior, where there is no maritime influence and summers are especially hot and dry.
The natural characteristics of the territory also plays a huge role in its economy, namely its mining traditions and agriculture. The Mediterranean climate allows for wheat, rye, sunflower, and tomatoes to be grown in its vast fields. However, it is cork, wine, and olive oil that have put the Alentejo region amongst the world’s top producers.
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Cante Alentejano: The voice of a region, passed on from generation to generation
Life in the fields and in the mines has also influenced the customs and traditions of the Alentejo, starting with its best-known artistic expression: the beautiful Cante Alentejano.
Recognized as an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, Cante Alentejano is a unique musical expression in the world. Traditionally, it was sung in the Baixo Alentejo region, during work in the fields, in the mines, or during celebrations, in chorus and without any use of musical instruments. The lyrics of the songs are a tribute to everyday life in Alentejo, with stories of work in the fields, love and daily struggles to survive the land’s hardships.
If you visit the region, check with local tourist offices to see if any performances are planned. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a spontaneous demonstration of Cante Alentejano! In any tavern or recreational association, in a moment of relaxation after a day's work, sometimes the men of the village come together and the air is filled with deep voices that celebrate the Alentejo’s way of life.
Between the plains, the hills and the sea
The Alentejo also presents this authenticity in its landscape, which varies greatly as we move away from the sea towards the interior, or descend from the greener north to the sun-painted south.
The Alentejo plains are known for their open and wide horizons, shaped by farming and coloured by a mosaic of vineyards, cork oak groves, olive plantations, and golden wheat fields as far as the eye can see.
However, the Alentejo also has hills and mountains, namely in São Mamede and Marvão from where you have a breathtaking view of the region.
If you prefer the sea to the mountains and plains, the Alentejo also boasts plenty to choose from, featuring rivers, lakes and beaches that are perfect for resting or enjoying water sports such as stand-up paddling, canoeing or fishing:
Barragem do Alqueva (the largest artificial lake in Europe);
River beaches of Avis in the Maranhão reservoir, Tapada Grande, Monsaraz and Mourão, amongst many others.
Towards the coast, known as "Costa Vicentina", here you will find several wild beaches with endless stretches of sand and coves framed by schist and limestone cliffs. The coastline on this part of Portugal is known for being rough, however the tranquillity inspired by the natural landscape makes it perfect for those who prefer less crowded beaches full of natural beauty.
Famous beaches on the Alentejo coast:
Samoqueira, Porto Covo
Zambujeira do Mar
Furnas, Vila Nova de Milfontes
A table filled with the flavours of the land
Alentejo's connection to the landscape is also present in the region's traditional cuisine, rich in flavours that are based on regional products such as the wonderful “pão alentejano” (traditional bread), olive oil and aromatic herbs.
Amongst the large variety of traditional dishes, the most noteworthy are the "açorda alentejana”, the “migas", the lamb stew and the pork loin with clams – dishes that despite being typically "Alentejanos", can be found in many other places in Portugal.
Along the coastline, it’s all about seafood. There are plenty of wonderful restaurants in the Costa Vicentina where you can try classic summer favourites such as clams, goose barnacles or octopus salad. Other regional delicacies include "feijoada de búzios" (shells bean stew) or "arroz de lingueirão" (razor clam rice).
There are, however, others that you will hardly find in other regions of Portugal, such as the Alentejo version of “gaspacho”; asparagus, pennyroyal, and purslane soups; dogfish soup; and the wonderful “sericaia”, a dessert made with plums from Elvas.
Good food and even better wine!
In the Alentejo you can expect delicious food, but also a large selection of Portugal’s best wines!
With more than 250 wine producers and eight wine regions, vineyards in the Alentejo benefit from generous amounts of sun and heat, fertile soils, and traditional grape varieties that all contribute to producing wines with a unique terroir.
You can visit several “quintas” and wineries, many with guided tours that include complementary experiences. From accommodation, to the possibility of participating in the grape harvest or unforgettable gastronomic experiences that join wine tastings to the Alentejo's cheeses, sausages and hams, there is plenty to see, do, and taste!
Famous Alentejo wineries:
Adega da Cartuxa, Fundação Eugénio de Andrade - Évora
Adega José de Sousa - Reguengos de Monsaraz
Adega Mayor - Campo Maior
Adega São Lourençod do Barrocal - Reguengos de Monsaraz
Casa de Santa Vitória - Beja
Herdade da Malhadinha Nova - Beja
Herdade das Servas - Estremoz
Herdade do Esporão - Reguengos de Monsaraz
Herdade dos Grous - Beja
Herdade do Sobroso - Vidigueira
João Portugal Ramos - Estremoz
Land Vineyards - Montemor-o-novo
Monte da Ravasqueira - Arraiolos
Quinta do Carmo - Estremoz
If you are not yet familiar with the Alentejo, we invite you to discover this wonderful region. But remember to take your time, after all this is the Alentejo...