Alentejo is the place where time and space meet. Here your spirit will slow down and you will gladly mingle with the locals, breathing the local calm and happiness!
It’s an open space that appears to have no end. The colors and smells that burst from the earth while the night falls upon the planes are inebriating. And when finally the night is installed it’s the moment to stare at the skies and watch the stars with the naked eye. It is the unmistakable outline of rural architecture, present in the “montes” (farm complexes) of the great estates, in the oldest rows of houses in the cities, or in the chapels, which paint in white the tops of the undulating hills. It is the arts and skills that are conserved and renewed, the tradition that is maintained and recreated, the “choral chanting” that, with heart and soul, only the Alentejanos know how to sing.
However the 21st century Alentejo is not exhausted in its rurality. The region today preserves what will be the promise of a bright future: the smallness and environmental quality of its urban centers, the vanguardism of Alentejo universities, the human scale, the silence, the peaceful character of its people, the freedom, the freshness of the air you breathe. And the time… The Alentejo has a very specific way of experiencing it; so much so that it is common for Portuguese people to tell countless jokes about this subject. However, when you feel time passing slowly almost as if caressing you, you will feel that it is something rather unusual, that gets under your skin and makes you forget your hectic day-to-day lives. You end up feeling it as one your most precious possessions.
Enogastronomy in Alentejo
Wine and Food & Eating, drinking, and snacking (petiscar) are rituals, ways of socializing, entertaining friends and guests, of celebrating. In Alentejo, you eat and drink so well…
It is customary to say that, in a true Alentejan’s house, whether rich or poor, the table is always set. It is true. And this truth confers a very special flavor on the discovery of gastronomy and wines. They are part – and a happy part – of the most authentic daily life of the Region.
In Alentejo, there is no haggling over the honor to be paid to Bacchus. The wines are emblematic of the Region. There are more than 250 producers, with an area under cultivation in the order of 22,000 hectares.
The typical quality of the wine comes from various factors: the perfect marriage between the grape varieties used and the various types of soil (granitic in Portalegre, derived from crystalline calcareous in Borba, Mediterranean grey and red soils in Évora, schist in Redondo, Reguengos, and Vidigueira); the thousands of hours of sunlight that benefit the whole of the Alentejo; the discipline of the growers who understand that good wine begins to be made on the vine; and finally the skills that the oenologists have revealed in the art of making wine, bringing together tradition and modernity.
The white wines are aromatic, fresh, harmonious, and sometimes complex, the result of the blending of varieties. The reds, ruby or garnet in color, have intense bouquets of well-matured red fruits and are smooth, slightly astringent, balanced, and full-bodied. Although they gain in complexity as they age, they can also be drunk young.
Eat what the Earth provides
From traditional recipes to recent innovations in gourmet cooking, from the delicious petiscos (tapas) and strongly aromatic dishes to the traditional sweets and puddings created in convents, in the Alentejo, you will find everything, created and recreated with the finest products of the land, a lot of imagination and that mysterious thing called “mão” (“touch”). There are new projects for organic products. When it comes to discussing table issues, there is a curious and common understanding between generations. The Alentejan cuisine, highly rich in flavors, has always been connected to the products of the countryside and has in its base a fundamental trilogy: bread, olive oil, and aromatic herbs. Bread is eaten as an accompaniment to every petisco; it is present in açordas (traditional soups and stews) as well as in dozens of other soups made here, such as gaspachos, fish (peixe) soups, thistle (cardo) soup, purslane (beldroega) soup and it is the great ingredient of migas, which can be made from cauliflower, codfish, green asparagus. Olive oil, today is recognized by dieticians as a factor in healthy eating, is the touchstone that distinguishes the excellent from the good or bad. Aromatic herbs –coriander, pennyroyal, water mint, rosemary, laurel or bay, savory, oregano, to name only the best known – are crushed, chopped, or placed in sauces according to the dish they are going to flavor. When the products are genuine and of high quality, as happens in the Alentejo, the seasonings exist not to hide but to enhance the flavor as much as possible.
Heritage in Alentejo
In Alentejo, the strength of the earth marks the time flow, and cities like Évora and Elvas, classified World Heritage by UNESCO, show the tenacity of the people.
Walls to scan the Horizon
The whole landscape of Alentejo is dotted with castles, forts, watchtowers, and fortified towns and villages, bearing witness that, with the Christian Reconquest firmly established in the south, it was necessary to continue to defend the frontiers of the country to the east, responding to wars with Spain, to prevent attacks by sea from the west and, throughout the interior, to slow down any advances not contained by the frontier defenses.
The Moorish Ambience
The period of Arab occupation, begun in the 8th century, lasted in the south of Portugal for almost 500 years. From this long period of shared occupancy, we have inherited agricultural tools and techniques, systems for capturing and storing water, culinary customs, hundreds of different words, construction techniques, decorative tastes, artistic styles, urban environments. The archetypes of many of our castles from the Reconquest are Moorish in character and several Christian churches were built over earlier mosques.
The Convent Ambience
Everything begins, once more, at the time of the Reconquest, when kings and military religious orders joined forces to put to an end the occupation of the “infidels”. From the origins of Nationality to the 19th century, first with the help of the military, then with the mission to evangelize, educate, and (in the dark times of the Inquisition) to defend the orthodox Catholic faith, the Clergy, ordained and secular, have played a very important part in Alentejo history. For centuries, the church and the religious orders were the major landowners in the Region.
Évora a World Heritage Center
Évora is the inevitable reference point for anyone coming to the Alentejo inspired by the theme of Heritage. Classified by UNESCO as A World Heritage Site, Évora justly occupies an important place in any Cultural Tourism itinerary.
Its architectural and artistic heritage is so omnipresent and impressive that this alone guides the steps of anyone who loves strolling around with no fixed direction: from the Roman to the Baroque, all the epochs of history are documented with works that fully satisfy the eye and the soul.
Traditional Arts and Crafts
Handicrafts in the Alentejo are changing. The time has gone when they were identified only with the rugged faces of the old masters, who worked in clay, iron, pewter, wood, cork, leather, horn, and with the skilled hands of women who painted everyday dishes, made lace, did embroidery or spent endless hours in front of their looms.
Among the Arts that are establishing the right to have a future, we highlight three: pottery and painting, and finally textiles (the famous carpets of Arraiolos). They are linked to two well-defined centers of production/creation, which nowadays provide hands-on training for curious visitors.
Nature in Alentejo
A unique and delicate system whose balance is responsible for much of the biodiversity of fauna and flora.
Nature in it´s pure state – Serra de Ossa
Oaks, holm oaks, and olive trees are the most common forest trees in Alentejo and constitute a very unique and delicate system whose balance is responsible for much of the biodiversity of fauna and flora. Alentejo is also largely dependable on its water resources and that´s why the greatest lake of Europe was built: to ensure the existence of a strategic water reservoir, as well as to enable the agricultural watering process. The plains characteristic of Alentejo and the corresponding lack of orographic barriers prevent condensation of moisture coming from the ocean, denying a more marked Atlantic influence. However, the few orographic points that arise on Alentejo, are the main ones responsible for the regulation and identity of its wine sub-regions. It´s curious to observe how potential problems were solved by nature and Alentejo people. No wonder they are so proud of their culture…
Through Alqueva magic lands
The immense expanse of water has an area of 250 km2, extends for more than 80kms up the course of the Guadiana river, and with its thousand inlets, has a perimeter of 1,160 kms. The new beauty that resulted from this construction has mingled perfectly with the traditional one: made up of thousands of olive trees, corks, holms, and also the notable heritage of fortified towns and villages which have defended the border throughout centuries.