Travel Guide to Alentejo in Portugal
Alentejo Perfect Roadtrip
Let me inspire you for a perfect roadtrip in Portugal with my Travel Guide to Alentejo. For a long time Alentejo has been one of the best kept secrets in Portugal. This extensive flat region in the centre of the country stands out by its beautiful natural landscapes of olives and cork oak groves, never-ending wheat fields and picturesque cities and villages characterised by castles, white houses and a slow pace of living that is ideal to relax.
Things have changed in the last few years and Alentejo has become a trendy and exquisite destination attracting local but also a lot of foreign visitors. It is also a famous wine-growing region and it has been recently called by Conde Nast Traveller “Portugal’s secret wine country”. It has 2 main regions, Upper and Lower Alentejo.
I have to confess that Alentejo is one of my favourite regions in Portugal. Not only because my mum was born and raised there so I still have a bit of Alentejo running in my veins, but also because I’m in love with the relaxing quietness and the wide fields as far as the eye can see.
2020 was an unprecedented year due to covid-19 and most of my travel plans abroad had to be postponed. That’s why I’ve decided to rediscover Alentejo going back to places I had visited a long time ago and discovering new ones.
I will share with you in this blog post some of my top places to visit in Alentejo. Pick the ones you prefer according to the time that you have available. To explore it to the fullest I recommend to go by car and spend at least one week staying in different places and enjoying Alentejo’s unique pace of life. But if you only have a few days you can also select only a few spots and have a great time there.
Be aware that in Summer it can be extremely hot with temperatures that can easily reach almost 40 degrees, but in Winter it gets very cold. Anyway it is a great destination all year round and regardless of the season, you will always have a great experience.
Alentejo is also known by its typical cuisine and wherever you go, you will find many options to try the rich and tasty gastronomy that is truly mouth-watering. Traditional dishes are based on pork and lamb, flavoured soups, bread kind of stews and crumbs. Pair your meal with one of the famous regional wines and end it with a yummy dessert. My favourite is sericaia. Don’t really know how to translate it, so my advise is to try it and enjoy.
Considered World Heritage by UNESCO, Évora is the capital of Alentejo and a great city to get lost in its streets of cobbled stones and its many monuments from different historical periods revealing an inheritance full of History.
You can easily spend a few days exploring the city and the surrounding villages and natural landscapes.
I will share some of the places not to be missed while in Évora:
- Agua de Prata Acquedute, outside of the city walls, is an impressive architectural structure in the city. It was built in the 16th century and its name means “Silver Water”.
- King D. Manuel Palace, one of the most beautiful buildings in the city, is also worth a visit. It is located in the Public Park and it is also known by the relaxing atmosphere of the gardens.
- Roman Temple is probably the most iconic landmark in the city. Dating back to the Roman period more than 2000 years ago, it is one of the best preserved Roman temples in the Iberian Peninsula. It is also known as Diana Temple, due to a legend which associates the temple with the roman hunt goddess.
- Giraldo main square at the heart of the city, is also a must visit place offering many options of shops, restaurants, bars and terraces. Start observing the beautiful fountain in the middle of the square and visit Sao Francisco Church. Then take some time to get lost in the streets of the old town around the square and you will feel that you are back in time.
- Sao Francisco Church and Capelas dos Ossos – Bone Chappel. Sao Francisco Church was built in the 15th century in a Gothic style, and it is one of biggest in the country. But the main reason why it is well-known is by the fact that it has a chapel decorated with human bones.
- Loios Convent which is now a historical hotel
- Évora Cathedral is probably my favourite sight in the city and I highly recommend to visit it. Located next to the Roman Temple, it is the largest medieval cathedral in the country mixing Romantic and Gothic styles. If it is impressive from outside, its indoors are absolutely stunning. Don’t miss the three big naves in the interior, the beautiful cloisters and the stunning terrace with the greatest views to the city and with towers that seem to be part of a fairytale.
Just half an hour driving from Évora, Montemor-o-Novo is another beautiful city to explore in the middle of scenic green hills and cork oak trees.
Start your visit to Montemor-o-Novo exploring its castle at the top of a hill dominating the city. It is believed the castle was built over the ruins of a Muslim fortress and ir has been rebuilt several times throughout the years, playing an important role in the history of the country. It hosted the discussions for planning the sea crossing to India and it was also an important military settlement during Portuguese Restoration War and the French Invasions.
There are three doors to the Castle and it’s worth to spend a few hours inside the walls visiting places like the Guard House, the Clock Tower, a Dominican convent or the ruins of the Governor’s Palace. Explore the surrounding natural area in the hills, you will find some beautiful viewpoints to the castle and interesting ruins.
In another hill around Montemor-o-Novo there is a sanctuary from the 16th century called Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Visitação that is also worth a visit.
Walk around the city centre to experience this typical Alentejo city with interesting places like Igreja Matriz (the main church), the Public Garden or the Archeological Museum which used to be a Convent.
If you like pre-historic art visit caves, don’t miss Gruta do Escoural in the outskirts of the city. The cave are an important showcase of Upper Palaeolithic art, up to 10,000 years ago.
At the heart of Alentejo, less than 30 minutes driving from Évora, Arraiolos is a picturesque village surrounded by countryside landscapes with a stunning circular castle overseeing the old houses that still preserve the traditional characteristics of this region.
It is famous by its rugs and tapestries embroidered with wool of varied colours on a jute or cotton canvas. This artwork is part of the village tradition for centuries and it is an important part of its history.
I recommend to spend a day in Arraiolos as there are several places worth to visit:
- Arraiolos Castle
- Historical Centre of the Village
- Igreja Matriz and Igreja da Misericórdia (churches)
- Pousada da Nossa Senhora da Assunção which is also an historical hotel
- Typical shops that sell the famous rugs and tapestries and other traditional artworks
There are many accommodation options around, from local guesthouses to historical hotels (Pousada da Nossa Senhora da Assunção) and small boutique hotels located in the middle of the countryside. I stayed in Villa Extramuros which I highly recommend.
When in Alentejo, don’t miss Monsaraz. This village inside a fortified wall at the top of a hill is one of the oldest and most beautiful ones in Portugal. It played an important role in the history of the country since prehistoric times as a military settlement.
Park you car in one of nearby parking areas, wear comfortable shoes and get lost in this magical village which is an open museum.
Walk around the ancestral streets with typical old white houses, visit the main church (Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa) at the village centre and climb at the castle tower to admire stunning views of Alentejo never-ending fields and Alqueva Dam.
Even though Monsaraz is a small village, it is also known (as by the way all Alentejo) by the rich and tasty gastronomy. This is definitely another reason to spend some time there.
Located in Guadiana river, Alqueva Dam is the largest artificial lake in Europe, surrounded by one of the most stunning natural landscapes in the country. It has been built not only to provide electrical power, but also to create an irrigation system to the region and leverage agriculture.
It is now a beautiful area to explore, with several villages and cities to visit around the dam like Monsaraz, Mourao, Amieira or Alqueva village.
But nature is probably the biggest attraction of this area, so take some time to enjoy the outdoors and to try some of the activities available like hiking, water sports, boat rides, horse rides or hot air ballon flights (this one is still in my bucket list). There are also some beaches and islands worth to explore.
You will also find also some remains from ancient times in this area, Xerez Cromlech a megalithic complex near Monsaraz dating to the 4th or the 5th century BCE.
Alqueva is also internationally famous for stargazing and it is considered the first starlight tourism destination in the world. The sky viewing in this region is absolutely stunning and when the nights come, it covers the sky with a blanked of bright stars that are not seen anywhere else. For a unique experience, its possible to visit Dark Sky Observatory near Monsaraz, equipped with cutting-edge telescopes for astronomical observation.
There are many accommodation options in the area from boat hotels, to local accommodations and boutique hotels. I have recently stayed in Montimerso which I highly recommend, it has one of my favourite infinity pools ever.
Beja is the capital of Lower Alentejo region and it is worth a visit. With a rich history that dates back to the Bronze Age, it had also influences from the Roman Empire.
Strategically located in the middle of the plain with its castle overlooking Alentejo landscapes, it offers several interesting places to visitors:
- Beja Castle with its imposing tower, considered the tallest tower of this gender in Iberian Peninsula.
- Regional Museum Queen Dona Leonor and Nossa Senhora da Conceição Convent. This convent dates from 15th century and it became known by a forbidden love story of a nun, Mariana Alcoforado, and a soldier that felt in love.
- Museum Visigótico which was built in an old church from the 6th century.
- Pisões Roman Ruins at the southwest of the town.
- Explore the surrounding countryside and other typical villages like Vidigueira, Cuba or Serpa.
Not far away from the Spanish border, Estremoz is another white city of Alentejo at the top of an hill, protected by a fortified wall and a castle.
It is famous worldwide by the deposits of white marble in the region, which have turned Portugal in the second largest exporter in the world of this raw material. It is possible to visit one of the marble deposits. I didn’t have time to do that, but it seems to be quite interesting.
Estremoz has also a rich historical heritage and it has been the house of one of the most known kings of Portugal, D. Dinis, and his Queen, Holly Queen Isabel that lived in the 14th century. She has been named Holly Queen because according to the legends, she was very devoted and she was known to save food to give to the ones in need.
One day the Queen was trying to leave the castle with bread to feed the hungry without her husband’s permission and accidentally was caught in the middle of her mission. When questioned about what she was carrying in her apron, she said it was roses. She revealed the content of her apron to her husband and, as by miracle, it turned into roses. This is one of the most famous legends in Portugal and there is is still statue of the Queen with roses in the centre of Estremoz.
There are many things to visit in this city that is divided in two different areas, the lower and new commercial area in the flat area of the town, and the old city at the top of the hill inside the fortified walls.
- City Centre at the lower part. On Saturday mornings there is a famous fair in the main square with dozens of local artisans and farmers selling the traditional handcraft artwork and organic natural products from the region.
- Estremoz Castle at the upper part where you find the old village with a labyrinth of narrow streets and old houses reminding us of ancient times.
- Chapel of Holly Queen Isabel
- Couracas Tower
- Misericordia Cloister
- Pousada do Castelo de Estremoz which is also an historical hotel
- Nossa Senhora da Convenção Convent inspired in Baroque style with a facade in pink marble. It has a beautiful church and now it also hosts the Public Library and a Religious Art Museum.
- Shops that sell the typical handicrafts of the city, pottery figures called Bonecos de Estremoz
Located at the top of a hill in Serra d’Ossa, Evoramonte is a small village in Alentejo countryside with one of the most unique and beautiful castles I’ve ever visited – Evoramonte Ducal Palace. The castle, with four circular turrets and a quite unique shape, is considered one of the Portuguese military architectural gems.
Only 10m driving from Estremoz, it is worth to stop by and spend a few hours wandering around and getting lost in the ancient streets of the fortified walls of the village with the typical white houses painted in white lime.
You will feel that you have stopped in time and you are back many centuries ago. Look down at the street floor and focus on the details. You will find embroidered in the street stones small houses pointing out the number of the house.
Closer to the halls, stop by the small and picturesque church – Igreja da Misericordia, and try to find the house where back in 1834, Evoramonte Convention occurred, signing off the end of the Portuguese Civil War. Indeed, this small village has played a key role for centuries in the History of the country.
Last but not least, enjoy the spectacular views of the Alentejo landscape from several viewpoints in the village. It is particularly beautiful at sunset.