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Beautiful Alentejo covers around a third of Portugal, but it’s one of the country’s best-kept secrets. This rural haven in the south of Portugal borders Spain and sits between the Tagus River and the Algarve. Home to breathtakingly stunning landscapes, outstanding wineries (and incredible wine country resorts), delicious local dishes, and plenty of sunshine, it’s a top spot if you’re visiting Portugal but don’t want the hassle of crowds.
With only five percent of Portugal’s population calling Alentejo home, it’s easy to grab your own slice of beach or wander for hours through the fields without coming across too many other people. Life here is a little more traditional, from the sustainable materials used to craft hotels and Airbnbs to the recipes and wines served in the region.
Alentejo has a lot to offer, and its wide roads and colorful landscapes make this part of Portugal a dream to drive through. It’s a place best explored slowly. Hire an electric car (or motorbike, if you’re feeling brave) and take to the roads: it’s a place you’ll never forget.
Not sure where to start? Read on for all of our favorite things to do in Alentejo.
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What Is It? Évora is the capital of Alentejo and sets the scene for a lovely few days of exploring in one of the most beautiful small towns in Portugal. This charming city offers a little of everything, and its central location means you’re never too far from exploring its surrounding areas either.
Why Do It? There’s plenty to see and do here, from the historic center filled with Roman ruins to the converted convents-turned-hotels that offer a relaxing home base, to the majestic Cathedral of Évora and the relaxed, al fresco dining options all around.
Good to Know: Visit Évora in the evenings and you’ll see everything from wine tasting events to live music and street performances.
What Is It? The Alentejo as a region is big on flavor and comfort food-esque dishes. Visit any traditional restaurant here, and, among other things, you’ll almost definitely find meat, fish, stews, and soup. If you’re a fan of tapas, you’ll love the Alentejo platters, traditionally bringing together different cured meats, cheese, olives, and nuts.
Why Do It? Food is a huge part of Portuguese culture, and once you’ve tried it, you’ll probably want to recreate some of these dishes yourself. Expect plenty of cod (or, as it’s known here, bacalhau) alongside beef cheeks, comfortingly thick tomato soups, heapings of potato, and plenty of fresh bread.
Good to Know: The Portuguese say they have 1000 ways to serve cod, and you’ll want to try at least a handful of them.
What Is It? It doesn’t take long to come across a pottery shop in this region of Portugal, and, with plenty of family-run, independent shops producing handmade pieces, you’ll almost certainly leave with a few gifts in hand. Pull over, wander inside one of the many stores, and feast your eyes on a rainbow of intricately decorated ceramics.
Why Do It? It’s a wonderful way to experience the artsy side of the country first-hand. The best spot in the Alentejo for pottery shopping is the quaint village of Sao Pedro do Corval, a place you could easily drive through without stopping if you somehow missed all of the gorgeous plates hanging on the walls of the houses.
Good to Know: If you arrive at the right time, you may even get to watch them being hand-painted.
What Is It? As you explore the Alentejo, you’ll probably notice the strange-looking trees dotted throughout the forests on either side of the roads. Looking a little like they’re wearing coats on their bottom halves, these cork trees are stripped every decade and sold before the cork regrows.
Why Do It? The Alentejo covers around 30 percent of Portugal, and a lot of that land is untouched, so you’re free to wander through these fields for as long as you like.
Good to Know: You never know what you’ll stumble upon when walking, too, like The Cromlech of the Almendres – otherwise known as Portugal’s Stonehenge – just outside of Évora.
What Is It? “The Chapel of Bones” isn’t just a spooky name for this famed spot; it’s a literal description of what you’ll find inside. Located in Évora, this 16th-century chapel is made from human skulls and other bones, with around 5000 people’s worth in total,
Why Do It? You’re free to explore the chapel with its unusual artwork (and even more unusual structure), but it can get busy during peak hours, being one of the best places to visit in Portugal.
Good to Know: Be warned: Capela dos Ossos, as it’s officially known, is spooky from the get-go. Before you’ve even entered the chapel, look upwards, and you’ll see a message: “Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos” (“we, the bones that are here, await yours”).
What Is It? Alentejo’s castle and palaces take you back in time, and many of them have been preserved with the rooms inside still fully intact. History buffs: this one’s a definite must-see. Check out the Royal Palace of Évora, a former royal residence of the Kings of Portugal with wonderfully tranquil gardens all around. Inside, walk around the palace and see its original artworks, bedrooms, carpets, and more.
Why Do It? Elsewhere in the region, check out Castillo de Viana do Alentejo, a small but perfectly preserved Gothic castle, and the mountaintop Monsaraz Castle, a fairytale Portuguese castle offering spectacular views across the region.
Good to Know: Hang around until sunset for the most magical shots.
What Is It? Alentejo’s chilled-out beaches may get busy during the summer months, but they’re still far quieter than the beaches of Portugal in the southernmost region. Comporta Beach in the Sado Estuary Nature Reserve has a long line of shaded sun loungers, while Carvalhal Beach is a top spot for surfers.
Why Do It? With white sand, azure waters, and plenty of beach bars and restaurants, they’re the perfect backdrop for relaxing days spent soaking up the sunshine.
Good to Know: Melides Beach is the largest in the area if you’re determined to find a quiet spot to relax without distractions.
What Is It? This small island is accessible as a day trip from Lisbon via ferry or by driving parallel to the sea for a couple of hours. A popular spot for families, it’s home to multiple resorts with all the amenities necessary for a peaceful few days.
Why Do It? If you’re looking to chill out in the sunshine, swim in a pool, gaze out at the water, and dig into delicious food without stepping outside of your resort, Tróia’s the place to go.
Good to Know: The coolest part about Tróia? Its nearby dolphin family frequently pops out of the water as the ferries drive past. Book a dolphin-watching tour if you’d like to get a little closer.
What Is It? With their colorful buildings and unique architecture, these picturesque spots are brilliant for photographers and wanderers alike. Stop by blue and white Santa Susana, a tiny village with a Santorini-esque color scheme throughout. Portel is another wondrous spot, filled with a rainbow of houses punctuated by orange and lemon trees.
Why Do It? Alentejo’s tiny villages offer beautiful insight into Portugal’s more traditional way of life. Here, you’ll find a handful of locally-owned cafes (a great place to grab a beer or, if you’re a little more daring, a serving of freshly-caught snails) and gorgeous views in every direction.
Good to Know: Climb the steps up to the medieval Castelo De Portel for mesmerizing views over the whole town.
What Is It? Howard’s Folly, a boutique winery in the historic town of Estremoz, is one of the most delicious places to develop a taste for Portuguese wine. This restaurant/art gallery/winery ticks a lot of boxes, offering a behind-the-scenes look at how wines in the region are made and then preparing mouthwatering dishes to sample with each bottle. If you’re mostly Évora-based for your trip, head to Adega da Cartuxa for your sipping experiences. Or, on the plains of Campo Maior, you’ll find the beautiful Adega Mayor.
Why Do It? If you’re a wine lover, Alentejo is a must-visit wine region in Europe. Here you’ll find not only a large number of vineyards but also wonderful places to sip and enjoy a meal with your wine.
Good to Know: Heads up: you’ll want to save room in your suitcase to bring at least one bottle home.
What Is It? Alentejo has Europe’s largest man-made lake, and it’s a popular spot for swimming, boating, fishing, or camping if you don’t fancy driving all the way to the coast. This huge lake, called the Alqueva Dam, comes to life during the summer months when families from Spain and Portugal (and further afield) set up camp temporarily for a few days of pure relaxation.
Why Do It? It’s the definition of tranquility. There are also houseboat rentals, cafes, and bars to ensure you’re always suitably fed and watered throughout your stay – you’ll never want to leave.
Good to Know: It’s hard to picture the entire size of this lake when you’re close to it, so, before you leave the area, drive upwards to the walled medieval village of Monsaraz – one of the world’s dreamiest hiilltop towns – where you can gaze out at the sheer volume of this stunning spot.