"No other Portuguese landscape is as beautiful as the combination of cork oak and holly oak fields, where pigs and cows graze, or the olive tree plantations that shine in the plains by the endless wheat planted fields. This is the emblematic image of the Alentejo countryside." This summary was written by Urbano Tavares Rodrigues, revealing everything about this Portuguese region, at least in terms of its rural side.
An immense landscape, dynamic cities
However, Alentejo is not only this. Its surface is about a third of the Portuguese mainland territory. Everyone knows each other in the bright streets of whitewashed walls, welcoming visitors with friendship. In recent years, the properties are being bought by a new type of inhabitants, who come mostly from coastline cities or even from abroad, fascinated by the beauty and the peacefulness of a plain that remains untouched, at least to our eyes.
The main cities are alive and dynamic, offering services and culture, apart from benefiting from tourism flow. This is real in World Heritage city Évora, as well as in Elvas, Portalegre, Beja or Estremoz. Some localities have thrived economically, because they have valued their historical heritage, museum-town Mértola being the most significant example, along with Castro Verde and Montemor-o-Novo, among other good examples.
Protected paradises and preserved traditions
Man-built heritage is indeed very rich in the Alentejo: fortresses that used to protect the border, urban and rural churches and archaeological vestiges. What about the natural heritage? Two natural parks were built to preserve such valuable and diversified treasures as a Mountain (São Mamede Mountain) or a schist valley crossed by a big river (Guadiana). It is also worth mentioning that Europe's purest river flows along these lands, Mira River, flowing from Caldeirão Mountain to Vila Nova de Milfontes. Its valley, stretching from Odemira to the estuary, is integrated in the Southwest Alentejo and Vicentine Coast Natural Park.
Heritage does not end in these two aspects. There is a wide range of traditions from singing to handicraft that has been preserved. Gastronomy deserves a special attention. Alentejo cuisine is one of the most remarkable in Portugal, achieving a true alchemy miracle by creating rich diversified consistent flavours from apparently poor ingredients: olive oil, bread, country herbs, garlic and above all the creativity of succeeding generations and the strength of popular craft in a permanent mix and reinvention. Other ancient production - wine production - was reborn in recent years, reaching international recognition and fostering regional economy.
Alentejo is par excellence the kingdom of walking, a vast territory with few inhabitants. Here you can enjoy every kind of holidays and weekends either on foot, by bike or riding a horse; resting in a pousada or a land house; surfing in the cold Atlantic waves or watching the landscape in a cruise along the Guadiana; walking in streets and squares where time still seems to escape the rush of modern clocks.