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.
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.
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
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
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).
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).
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;
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
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).
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)
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
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
The article 'Mini guide to Alentejo, Portugal' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet Magazine.