On the vast golden plains of Alentejo, the peaceful landscape is but a curtain that opens on to an unimaginable heritage.
One is first taken by surprise by the remarkable traces of successive cultures: dolmens and cromlechs, Roman and Arab vestiges mingling with the most recent signs of Christianity, of which the numerous medieval castles that stand out in the vast plain are but one example.
To the northeast are the beautiful villages and towns which make up the so-called Rota dos Castelos (Castle Route): Nisa, Castelo de Vide, MarvÃ£o, Portalegre and Alter do ChÃ£o. Further south, the landscape becomes warmer and flatter; around Ã‰vora (one of the most beautiful towns in Portugal), are Monsaraz, Vila ViÃ§osa, Estremoz, and Arraiolos (renowned for its hand made tapestries, based on traditional drawings from the 17th and 18th centuries). Driving on to the south, the vast plains become less inhabited and sunnier, the only shade being provided by olive trees and oak trees, and the only amenity being provided by refreshing dams. A trip to Alvito, Beja (where one can stay in historic pousadas), Serpa and MÃ©rtola will be worth your time. The coastline to the west offers the visitor magnificent Atlantic beaches.
As the region with the highest thermal amplitude (going down to 5Â°C or up to 33Â°C), Alentejo is a scarcely populated region with quite open horizons, where the rhythm of life follows the idle sound of regional songs.
Ancient Roman town, it was a Muslim cultural centre later on. In the Queen Leonor Museum are valuable archeologic finds. Other legacies: churches of Santo AntÃ³nio (Visigothic) and Santa Maria; convent and castle of SÃ£o Francisco (currently a pousada); chapel of Santo AndrÃ© (Gothic-Moorish), and MisericÃ³rdia Church (Renaissance). Roman ruins at PisÃµes.
Accommodations in Beja
Castelo de Vide
Thermal spa, with medieval castle and Jewish quarter (15th century synagogue). A special reference to the chapel of SÃ£o Salvador do Mundo (Visigothic) the two PaÃ§os do Concelho (medieval and 18th century), and an ancient church.
Fortress town, with Roman-Arab castle, Amoreiras Aqueduct (15th-17th centuries). Other places of interest: mother-church (Manueline), churches of Nossa Senhora da ConsolaÃ§Ã£o (Renaissance) and Santa Clara (17th century), and Archeology and Ethnography Museum.
Town crowned by a 13th-century castle, with a citadel (currently a pousada) and Santa Isabel Chapel (18th-century). special reference to the Gothic Dom Dinis Palace, SÃ£o Francisco Church and Convent (Romanesque-Gothic), PaÃ§os do Concelho (14th-century), Maltesas Convent (16th-century), and the Municipal Museum.
Museum town of Roman origins, with historic center classified in UNESCOâ€™s International Heritage list. The town ex-libris is its Roman temple, located close to the Cathedral, which houses an important Sacred Art Museum (Roman-Gothic). Among its many convents and churches, the following can be visited: SÃ£o BrÃ¡s Chapel (Gothic-Moorish); SÃ£o Francisco Church (with its Capela dos Ossos, a chapel walled with human bones) and SÃ£o JoÃ£o Baptista Church (Gothic-Manueline); churches of Nossa Senhora da GraÃ§a (with-convent), Santo AntÃ£o and SÃ£o Vicente (Mannerist). Palaces: Archepiscopal, Dom Manuel and Dukes of Cadaval. A special reference also to: PraÃ§a de Giraldo, with 16th-century arches; Aqueduct; convents of Santa Clara, Santa Helena do CalvÃ¡rio and LÃ³ios (this one currently a pousada); University; ancient Jewish quarter; Ã‰vora Museum.
To the south of Castelo de Vide lies the town of MarvÃ£o, which is notable for its impressive castle (13th-14th-centuries) and the wonderful views that affords. Once outside the city walls, visit the convent of Nossa senhora da Estrela (15th-century), with-ceramic tiles dating from the 18th-century. Here too is the crucifix of Estrela, from the Manueline period.
This tower sits over the right bank of the Guardiana river. The townâ€™s main attraction is its castle, built by the Moors, with a guard tower from the 13th-century. The main church, with its sculpted faÃ§ade, contains elements from the Manueline period, occupies the site of what once was an ancient mosque. MÃ©rtola has three important museum sites as a consequence of the intense archeological activity there. The Roman museum occupies the Town Hall building. The Islamic collection includes the countryâ€™s most important archive of ceramic objects (9th to 13th-centuries). Here too is one of the rarest early Christian basilicas in the entire Iberian peninsula (dating from the 5th-century).
Beautiful medieval village, with castle, walls and fortifications. Special reference to the Santa Catarina Chapel, mother-church, PaÃ§os do Concelho, PaÃ§os de AudiÃªncia and Porta da Vila. In the nearby village of Reguengos there is a megalithic nucleus, with over 100 dolmens and cromlechs.
Accommodations in Monsaraz
Amongst the towers and walls of the medieval castle stand the PaÃ§os do Concelho and Hospital da MisericÃ³rdia. Worthwhile visiting: the Cathedral, SÃ£o Bernardo Convent, the church of SÃ£o Francisco Monastery (13th-18th centuries), and the Regional, Sacred Art, Municipal Library and Casa de JosÃ© RÃ©gio Museums.
Santiago do Cacem
This is a village lying to the south of SetÃºbal. Its majestic castle of Arab origin was completely rebuilt by the Christians in the 12th-century. Beside the castle is the SÃ£o Pedro Chapel, which dates from the 7th-century, while the main church dates from the 8th-century. Near Santiago do CacÃ©m one should visit the archeological site of MirÃ³briga, which was an important urban center in Roman times. The site contains a hippodrome, houses decorated with mural paintings, an acropolis, a forum and a very rich bathing complex, which is one of the best preserved in the country.
Accommodations in Santiago do Cacem
Set on a peninsula overlooking the south bank of river Sado, TrÃ³ia has a number of important Roman remains, especially of an important industrial complex used for salting fish, an activity in this region in Roman times. The peninsula is fringed by many beautiful sandy beaches that also back onto a challenging golf course.
The Dukeâ€™s palace belongs to the House of BraganÃ§a, the last Portuguese dinasty. It is an imposing building, with a Renaissance faÃ§ade and a museum-library. Other places of interest: Castle (13th-14th centuries, with Santa Maria Church); Santo Agostinho Church (13th-18th centuries); Chagas de Cristo Convent; Nossa Senhora da EsperanÃ§a Monastery; Castelo Novo (Renaissance).
Other places of interest
Alcacer do Sal (Alcacer Pousada), Alcacovas, Aljustrel, Alter do Chao, Alvito (Pousada Castelo de Alvito), Arraiolos (world renowned handmade rugs and Pousada Nossa Senhora Assuncao), Avis, Borba (Casa do Terreiro do Poco Manor House), Campo Maior, Crato, Escoural (archeological park), Evoramonte, Flor da Rosa (Crato Pousada), Monforte, Montemor-o-Novo, Moura, Nisa, Ourique, Redondo, Santa Clara-a-Velha (Santa Clara Pousada), Serpa (Casa da Muralha Manor House), Sousel (S. Miguel Pousada), Viana do Alentejo, and Vila Nova de Milfontes.
- Carne de porco Ã alentejana (pork with clams and cilantro) and migas
- Cilantro bread soup
- Rabbit and hare
- Soups (fish, tomato, gaspacho)
- Kid and lamb stews
- Egg sweets
- Cheeses: Nisa, Serpa and Ã‰vora. Red and white wines: Borba, Redondo, Reguengos, Vidigueira, Granja-Amareleja and Alentejo
- Arraiolos rugs
- Portalegre tapestries
- Nisa embroideries
- Wrought-iron workss
- Hand-painted furniture
- Leather goods
- Glazed and painted pottery and earthenware