|Cromeleque dos Almendres|
The Alentejo is an extensive region covering almost a third of Portugal. The boundary in the north is the River Tejo, and in the south, the hills of the Algarve. In the east, it shares a frontier with Spain, and in the west it opens onto the Atlantic Ocean. Essentially rural and sparsely populated, it offers a landscape that is uncommonly well conserved. Its scenic beauty, and the abundance and quality of the heritage found in its archaeology, its monuments, its architecture and its ethnography, make it an exceptional place for the kind of discovery provided by nature tourism and cultural tourism.
Motorways and main roads make this reason easy to reach. However, the character of the Alentejo requires you to leave these highways when you arrive in favour of secondary roads and country lanes (the "municipal" roads). The latter, which are nothing more than ancient rural byways, now surfaced, offer the best means of enjoying a landscape made up of cork-oak woodland, wheat-fields, vineyards and olive groves, of discovering the beaches and cliffs which lead us to the sea, of becoming familiar with the traditional ways of living and working, to discover the most hidden of its cultural heritage, and to make contact with a people who are friendly and hospitable by nature.
On a par with the landscape, the architectural heritage, both rural and urban, which continually offers itself to the eyes of the traveller, is one of the greatest attractions of the Alentejo. It is as much the beauty and the fine proportions of the historic centres of towns and cities as the simplicity of the houses in tiny villages that fully justify their discovery in detail, which can only be properly achieved on foot.
At each step emerge important examples of structural and cultural heritage, which offer numerous lessons about the history, which, throughout millennia, has left its mark on the region. A substantial part of this history is of a religious nature. Many churches and chapels can only be found open during the hours of services, where these exist, or on the occasion of popular festivals and pilgrimages. But a closed door does not mean that a visit is impossible. Tourist information offices and/or town halls will tell you what to do. In the three district capitals, Portalegre, Évora and Beja, there are regional museums. These close on Mondays and public holidays, as is the practice nationally for places classed as National Monuments. Most local councils have municipal museums, diverse in their quality, and there are museums of sacred art in various churches. In some places there are local Ethnographic and Village Museums.
The value in terms of geology, landscape and flora and fauna, of certain zones in this area has brought about their classification as "Protected Areas". This is the case with the Nature Reserve of the Sado Estuary (Estremadura / Alentejo) and with the Nature Parks of Serra de S. Mamede, and of the Guadiana valley, the south-west Alentejo and the Costa Vicento (Alentejo/Algarve).
At the moment they offer free access and a warm welcome to lovers of nature and to those who respect it, who are conscious of its value, sensitivity and, at times, fragility. As well as the beautiful coast, anyone seeking water and sun will find them through out their interior of the Alentejo, with its more than twenty lakes, some of which offer leisure amenities such as accommodation, restaurants and the hire of equipment for water sports. As almost all of them are primarily used to supply water to the inhabitants of the region or for irrigation, and since there are no established rules for their use in terms of tourism, visitors should avoid motorised water sports. Except where the contrary is indicated and during the closed season, fishing is free.
Hunting tourism is developing rapidly. There are more than 400 hunting zones for tourists, occupying an area of 600,000 hectares. Between 15th August and 28th February it is possible to hunt, in accordance with the stipulated rules in the hunting calendar, thrush, pigeon, turtle dove, duck, rabbit, hare, partridge, deer and wild boar. Tourist information offices can supply information about companies that provide hunting services.
Traditional arts and crafts are still very much alive in the Alentejo. Tourist offices have lists of working craftsmen, and information about the location of the workshops that can be visited. Besides wicker-work, rustic furniture and work in cork, wood, horn and rushes, which can be found throughout the region, certain crafts stand out: the embroidery and sewing of Nisa; the patchwork of Castelo de Vide, the carpets of Arraiolos, the blankets of Reguengos de Monsaraz, Almodôvar, Castro Verde, Odemira and Mértola, the pottery of Flôr da Rosa, Nisa, Estremoz, Redondo, S.Pedro de Corval, Viana do Alentejo, Melides and Odemira, the ceramics and tiles of Santiago do Cacém; the work in leather and/or hide of Terrugem and Santa Eulália, Nª. Sª. de Machede, Montemor, Pinheiro da Cruz, Almodôvar and Cuba; the saddlery of Alter do Chão, Montemor and Alcácer do Sal, the hand-made footwear of Vimieiro, Montemor, Alcácer do Sal, Cuba, Beja and Almodôvar; the work in tin of Santa Eulália and Vila Viçosa; the copper work of Beja, the painted rustic furniture of Évora and Redondo; the wrought iron furniture of Campo Maior and Ferreira do Alentejo; the work in forged iron of Moura, Pias and Grândola, the tin-work of Beja, Moura and Vila de Frades, the lace and the work in shells of Sines.
|Fields in Alentejo|
Similar information can be found in Tourist Offices about regional gastronomic products. The cheeses, hams, sausages, honey, olive oil, olives and pine nuts, among others, are of excellent quality. When these are subject to European standards, they are marked DOP ("of denominated and protected origin") and IGP ("of indicated and protected geography"). With reference to the wines, there are eight wine-producing zones of high repute in the Alentejo: Portalegre, Borba, Redondo, Reguengos, Évora, Vidigueira, Granja /Amareleja and Moura, The classification of wines with the designation DOC ("denomination of controlled origin") is standardised under the common designation DOC Alentejo. Wines produced from other areas in the regions of Portalegre, Évora and Beja are able to use the geographical indication "Vinho Regional Alentejo", with the exception of those produced in the Grândola Council area (Pinheiro Da Cruz), whose geographical indication is "Vinho Regional Terras do Sado".
The basis of traditional gastronomy is pork and lamb, together with certain game such as wild boar, hare and partridge, and, on the coast, fish and seafood. Bread, olive oil and aromatic herbs are the fundamental ingredients which give body and taste to soups, migas (bread purée), ensopados (stews) and açordas (ragouts), while eggs, pumpkins and almonds or pine-nuts are the subtle ingredients of delicious desserts, some traditionally originating from convent cuisine. Each area has its own specialities and, as gastronomes will attest, no-one visiting the Alentejo will be able to resist the pleasures of tasting, in the right place, a genuine cardos (cardoon) or sarapatel (haggis) soup, a garlic açorda, a poejada de bacalhau (traditional cod with pennyroyal), borrego assado (roast lamb) from a wood-burning oven, lebre com fejão branco (hare with white beans), ensopado de enguias (eel stew), massa de peixe (fish with pasta), or a delicious plate of fresh seafood bringing you the taste of the sea.