Introduction to the Alentejo
The Alentejo area is commonly known as the
"bread basket" of Portugal. This is a fitting title for
this vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich
fertile soil. With very few exceptions all the major towns
are mainly reliant on agriculture, livestock and wood.
Typical products from this area are grain, sunflower, carthame, fruit, vegetables, olives, wines, cork, eucalyptus,
lamb, pigs, kid, granite, schist and marble. This richness
of produce has been taken from the land for thousands of
years as visitors may encounter throughout most of the region
signs of human existence from thousands of years ago
Topographically the countryside varies considerably, from the
open rolling plains of the south of the Alentejo to the
granite hills that border Spain in the north-east. To feed the
water needs of this considerable area a number of public dams
have been constructed. In the heart of the productive
agriculture zone of Moura, there is the largest dam in
Portugal named "Alqueva", and also and one of
the largest water surface areas in Europe.
Starting in the north-west there is the town of
Santarém which has been the
seat of historic events besides being an agriculture centre
as it lies alongside the fertile valley of the River Tagus.
Developed in the Roman occupation in 2nd Century as an
administrative capital for the district it was eventually
taken from Moor possession in 1147 by King Afonso
Henriques. This once proud city with its many monasteries
and royal palace were partially or completely destroyed in
the 1755 earthquake. However, some fine examples of medieval
architecture still can be found in parts of the city.
Moving to the north-east their is the attractive town of
Castelo de Vide
perched on the hillside of the Serra de Marvão with
its ruined castle and its steep and charming Jewish Quarter.
This charming town has acted as a melting pot of cultures
over the centuries between that of Portugal and of
With equal but different fascination is the nearby walled
town of Marvão. This plays a special part in
Portuguese culture due to its stark character perched on
top of a high hill and exposed to the elements,
particularly the strong winds that can blow off the
plains of central Spain - a town that due to its apparent
romanticism often features in many of past and present
Portuguese poems and literature. In contrast and in the
same area is the town of Portalegre
lying on the south side of one of the hills making up
the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede which
in itself is a fascinating Nature Park and an area that
includes charming villages that have changed little from
To the west of these two towns is a particularly
interesting location for horse lovers. Nearby the small
town of Alter do Chão is a renown horse stud
farm named "Coudelaria de Alter" for
the Lusitanian breed of horse and also an interesting
military museum. This was a Royal Stud founded
originally by Dom João V in 1748. Raided in the
past by both the French and English army officers, its
magnificent stud has now been built back to much of
its former glory.
Central Alentejo runs from the
small coastal town of Sines in the west to the
historic fortified town of Elvas
on the Spanish border in the east. This town has
suffered greatly in the past from the many conflicts
and battles that raged between Portugal and Spain.
The almost flat topographical surface of the central
Alentejo lent itself from the Middle Ages as a
natural corridor for invading armies from Spain to
the coast and the capital of Portugal. Many times the
region was inundated by soldiers wearing either
Spanish or French uniforms. Many fine castles and town
walls on this route now are in ruins from the ravages
On this route is the City of Évora
and "a must" for visitors to the region.
Here, a visitor will find the remains of the Roman
"Temple to Diana" and many architecturally
interesting medieval buildings such as monasteries and
a once upon a time royal palace. The town is also
renowned for its culinary excellence and a meal in this
town is something close to "a feast" in its
amount and variety of local dishes.
Moving west Estremoz,
is Montamor-o-Novo and the town of Vila Viçosa, all of
which have played their part in historic battles
against the invading armies. The last town has a
splendid Royal Ducal Palace with many interesting
features which remains a possession of the House of
The capital of the "Baixa Alentejo" is
Beja, whilst the capital of
the Alta Alentejo is Évora.
Both these cities are rich in their history, ruins and
historic buildings. Their stories reflect the turbulent
backgrounds of invasion, battles and occupation, either
by Romans, Vandals, Moors, or feuding royal families
In the south-east near Mértola is another Nature
Park Area named Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana.
This area is now mainly uninhabited but it was once a
thriving copper mine source dating back to the Roman
occupation. On the western side is the coastal strip
that runs from the port of Sines down to
Cape de São Vicente and is sparsely populated.
This strip is also treated as a nature reserved area
with many kilometres of wonderful sandy beaches.
An very interesting way to see and feel the true culture
and history of this region is to stay in some of the
most of which are steeped in local atmosphere and with
historic architecture of the region.
Distances between each Tourist Town in Kms.
Distances in Kms.
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· Roman Temple
· Harvested Cork Trees
· Sheep in Olive Grove
· Poppy Field
· Wild Hog
· Alentejo Village
· Castelo de Vide