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Plan Your Évora and the Alentejo Vacation

The Alentejo, which means "the land beyond the Rio Tejo" (Tagus River) in Portuguese, is a vast, sparsely populated area of heath and rolling hills punctuated with stands of cork and olive trees. Here you’ll find a wide variety of attractions—from the rugged west-coast beaches to the Roman and medieval architecture of Évora, and the green northern foothills dotted with crumbling castles that form the frontier with Spain.

Portugal is the world's largest producer of cork, and much of it comes from the Alentejo. This industry is not for people in a hurry. It takes two decades before the trees can be harvested, and then their bark can be carefully stripped only once every nine years. The numbers painted on the trees indicate the year of the last harvest. Exhibits at several regional museums chronicle this delicate process and display associated tools and handicrafts.

The undulating fields of wheat and barley surrounding Beja and Évora, the rice paddies of Alcácer do Sal, and the vineyards of Borba and Reguengos de Monsaraz are representative of the region's role as Portugal's breadbasket. Traditions here are strong. Herdsmen tending sheep and goats wear the pelico (traditional sheepskin vest), and women in the fields wear broad-brim hats over kerchiefs and colorful patterned dresses over trousers. Dwellings are dazzling white; more elegant houses have wrought-iron balconies and grillwork. The windows and doors of modest cottages and hilltop country montes (farmhouses) are trimmed with blue or yellow, and colorful flowers abound. The best time to visit the Alentejo is spring, when temperatures are pleasant and the fields are carpeted with wildflowers. Summer can be brutal, with the mercury frequently topping 37°C (100°F). As the Portuguese say, "In the Alentejo there is no shade but what comes from the sky."

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Top Reasons To Go

  1. Travel back in time. Wander amid megaliths erected 2,000 years before Stonehenge, Roman ruins, Moorish forts, and medieval monasteries in the province where Portugal’s history is best preserved.
  2. Wide open spaces. With a third of Portugal’s land area and only a 20th of its population, Alentejo offers pristine open space even in one Europe’s smallest countries. Stand atop a well-preserved medieval fortress and gaze out at undulating cork and wheat fields on every horizon. Even the more densely populated coastline has all of the Algarve’s charm with none of its tourists.
  3. Traditional rural festivals. From Portuguese-style flamenco along the border with Spain to autumn chestnut roasts in northern hill-town squares, and sardine festivals on the coast, every weekend offers another reason to celebrate in rural Alentejo.
  4. Food and wine. Alentejano cuisine is considered Portugal’s best, with centuries-old farming practices that were organic long before it was trendy. The highlight is porco preto, free-range black pigs that graze on acorns under Alentejo’s ever-present cork trees.

When To Go

When To Go

Spring comes early to this part of Portugal. Early April to mid-June is a wonderful time to tour, when the fields are full of colorful wildflowers...

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