This week I’m thinking back to my stay at the fantastic Herdade dos Grous (Estate of the Cranes), a working vineyard and farm in the incredible region known as the Alentejo, in Portugal. The estate dogs followed me around as we hiked the property in the early morning, shrouded in mist. The afternoon sun warmed up the lake enough for kayaking and boating.
We biked to and from breakfast on provided bicycles and explored the vineyards with a picnic tucked in our bicycle baskets. I had a wonderful private riding lesson at their stables. We took an off-road jeep tour of the property that ended in a sampling of regional snacks and drinks. And every evening we feasted on sumptuous local fare at the property restaurant that serves its own beef and wine produced a stone’s throw from the dining room.
Introducing…the Alentejo region of Portugal
This area is truly a place where you feel like time stood still. Choose this destination for relaxed travel, rural scenery, farm to table cooking experiences, sweeping plains of olive groves and cork trees, horse riding on traditional ranches, and stays on gorgeous estates with wine-tasting, bird watching, hiking, and other activities included.
The Alentejo is the region between Lisbon and the southern area known as the Algarve, but is one of the largest regions in Portugal, comprising 30% of the whole territory – yet only 7% of the population.
Here in the Alentejo, golden grains wave languidly in the breeze, farmers still herd their flocks with their traditional methods, cork trees line the roadways, and olive groves dot the flat, straight plains. It’s a slower way of life here, with rich opportunities for immersive experiences.
Due to its size and shape, it’s quite diverse, and while many people think of it as a dry inland area, it also has a substantial coastline with tourist-free beaches.
This is a region for those who love rural-based vacations, who want to eat the fruit of the very lands they’re staying in, who wonder what Tuscany was like before the crowds arrived.
For a city-stay in the Alentejo: Evora
Its best-known city, Evora, is considered the gateway to the Alentejo due to its proximity to Lisbon (90 minutes by car). It well deserves its UNESCO World Heritage Site status. Evora is a perfect city-stay for those who want to dip their toes into an Alentejo stay but who lack the transportation or the time to reach the more rural areas.
Evora has over 2,000 years of history within its walls – notably the Roman ruins of the Temple of Diana in its center. If you’re not too spooked, check out the eerie “Chapel of Bones”. Visit local marble quarries or sample Alentejo wines either in town or on a daytrip outside to the countryside. The Alentejo is fiercely proud of its wines, notably the red ones, and feel they are just as important a region as the Douro wine valley. The old town is a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, with history around every corner.
Archeologists may be interested to learn that the “Stonehenge” monoliths of Almendres Cromlech are just outside Evora as well.
For rural tourism in the Alentejo: the countryside
After your stay in Evora, head into the deep countryside to fully experience the Alentejo. Many are in the Beja area but as the region is quite large you have a great choice of geography. Stay for a few days at one of the many estates (often called Herdades) designed for you to relax and enjoy the scenery around you. Typical amenities include: farm-to-table cooking, horseback riding, bird watching, wine tastings, biking around the estate, day-trips to local castles or towns if you have a car, jeep tours, lake kayaking and/or boating.
Insider tip: Summers in the Alentejo, particularly inland, are extremely hot. I recommend making sure your accommodation has a pool if you’re traveling in July or August.
Due to the Alentejo’s size you have a wonderful array of options where to stay: a luxurious 500-year-old convent turned into 5-star hotel, a castle-like hotel in the northern Alentejo with a spa and fantastic pool overlooking the plains, a 19th century farmland estate owned by the same family for the past two hundred years, wellness boutique resorts near the seaside, and more.
The Alentejo is also a perfect destination for travelers who may have fallen in love with Portugal on their first visit and ready to expand their explorations beyond just Lisbon and Porto.
If you only have a day-trip from Lisbon:
Evora, mentioned above, is reachable on a daytrip from Lisbon if you can’t spend the night, as it’s quite easy to access either by car or public transportation. Tours here can also include a stop at a Lusitano horse farm as well as special wine tastings in addition to exploring the historical center of Evora.
Arrabida Natural Park is technically in the Alentejo and easily reachable on a daytour from Lisbon. This beautiful area with secret beaches and lush forests surrounding lagoons feels different from the deep Alentejo but is a wonderful area to explore, full of biodiversity.
Where to stay:
- Convento Do Espinheiro, Evora – luxurious 500-year-old convent turned into 5-star hotel
- Pousada Mosteiro Crato – castle-like hotel in the northern Alentejo with a spa and fantastic pool overlooking the plains
- Sao Lorenco do Barrocal – located near Monsaraz, 19th century farmland estate owned by the same family for the past two hundred years. Farm to table dining, horse back riding, vineyards, family-friend activities, cooking workshops, watersports on the nearby lake, and more.
- Quinta da Comporta – sublime, contemporary escape on the coastline, focusing on sustainability, relaxation and wellness
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