Mini guide to Alentejo, Portugal
Igreja Matriz is an example of Alentejo's historic charm. (David Borland/LPI)
The Alentejo region, which covers a third of the country, is a captivating landscape characterised by dry, golden plains, rolling hillsides and a rugged coastline. Its rich past offers Paleolithic carvings, Moorish villages and wealthy medieval towns, and the local population preserves its craft traditions to this day.
Inside Évora’s 14th-century walls, narrow, winding lanes lead to a medieval cathedral and cloisters, the cinematic columns of the Roman Temple and a picturesque town square. Aside from its historic and aesthetic virtues, Évora is a lively university town with dozens of good restaurants.
High above verdant countryside, Castelo de Vide is one of Portugal’s most attractive towns. The castle of the same name contains a village and even its own church. Take in great views over the town’s red roofs from its ramparts (9.30am- 12.30pm and 2pm-6pm; free).
Vila Nova de Milfontes is located in the middle of the Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina national park. This low-key village has a whitewashed centre and astonishing beaches. Head out to the unspoilt Praia do Malhão beach, backed by rocky dunes and fragrant scrub.
The Convent of São Francisco in Mértola, owned by Dutch artist Geraldine Zwanikken, has an extraordinary garden and art gallery. The organic garden is full of herbs, rare plants and flowers, watered by a restored Moorish irrigation system (00 351 286 612 119; Mértola; by appointment; £4.50).
Amid ancient olive and cork trees, west of Évora, stands the Cromeleque dos Almendres, the Iberian peninsula’s most important megalithic group. The site contains a huge oval of around 95 rounded granite megaliths, some engraved.
Eat and drink
Dom Pedro V serves hearty helpings of regional specialities such as lamb stew, tomato and herb soup, grilled steak and seafood rice (00 351 245 901 236; Praça D. Pedro V, Castelo de Vide; lunch and dinner; mains £6-£13).
Locals believe Botequim da Mouraria, in the old Moorish quarter, is Évora’s finest restaurant. Take one of its 12 stools, browse more than 150 local wines and order Portuguese tapas such as scrambled egg and asparagus, spicy chorizo and baked goat’s cheese (00 351 266 746 775; Rua da Mouraria 16A, Évora; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, lunch Sat; mains £10-£12).
Dom Joaquim is an example of fine dining in a contemporary setting: it’s smart and trendy, with modern art lining its walls. The menu comprises robust flavours such as partridge and dogfish (00 351 266 731 105; Rua dos Penedos 6; lunch and dinner; mains £10-£12.50).
Tasca do Celso is rustic, charming and upmarket. It serves lip-smacking pork ribs and an array of grilled fish. Finish with acorn liquor and figs (00 351 283 996 753; Rua dos Aviadores, Vila Nova de Milfontes; lunch and dinner Tue-Sun; mains £12-£18).
Restaurant a Choupana on the beach only serves grilled fish of the day. It’s expensive but top-notch. Eat on the terrace to see the grill master in action (00 351 283 996 643; Praia do Farol, Vila Nova de Milfontes; lunch and dinner; meals around £22).
Casa da Eira is housed in a refurbished building above the Mira Estuary and offers a range of contemporary rooms and apartments. Each is decked out in a bright seaside colour scheme and fun décor. The barbecue in the garden adds to the atmosphere (00 351 283 990 010; Rua Eira da Pedra, Vila Nova de Milfontes; from £40).
Enjoy the tranquil gardens and Guadiana River at the Convent of São Francisco. Converted from stables, the apartments have been decorated by owner-artist Geraldine Zwanikken (00 351 286 612 119; conventomertola.com; Mértola; apartment from £60).
Home to a sculptor and an architect, Quinta do Barrieiro, just outside Marvão, is made up of ochre-coloured casinhas (small houses). The garden is full of the owner’s sculptures, there are great walks around the property and the studios have countrified charm (00 351 964 054 935; Reveladas cx 10, Marvão; from £75)
Elegant and unpretentious, Albergaria do Calvário has a perfect ambience: lounges full of books, classical music in the background and a walled garden patio. Breakfast is a feast of local produce (00 351 266 745 930; Travessa dos Lagares 3, Évora; from £95).
In a former convent, opposite the Roman Temple in Évora, Pousada dos Lóios has extravagant interiors and a pretty cloister. The public rooms are grand and baroque (some have elaborate frescoes); the bedrooms are understated and modern (00 351 266 730 070; Largo Conde Vila Flor, Évora; from £240)
How to go
Lisbon, 65 miles west of Évora, is served by British Airways and TAP, plus low-cost providers such as easyJet. Fly direct from Bristol (from £140) and Liverpool (from £125). For car hire, see Getting Around.
Trains run between some of the region’s towns, but buses – Rede Expressos and Rodalentejo – are better for small towns and villages. To get to remote places, including the Alqueva Dam, hire a car (from £25 per day).