The lesser known southern and central region of Alentejo is one of Portugal’s most magnificent and endearing, boasting dramatic, horizon-stretching scenery, rolling countryside and impressive fortified hill towns.
Strikingly located across the hillsides, the crusader-style fortified towns and villages were built to spot and stop any wannabe 17th century Spanish invaders. Commanding views across the surrounding countryside ensure that to this day any visitors, passers-by or likely invaders are seen a long way off.
Whether visiting during the heat of summer, or during colder, winter months with their clear views, you are in for a treat. I was immediately swept away by the calm friendliness of the people and the traditional cuisine and unique culture. From the maze of streets lined by whitewashed houses, the panoramic views, local cuisine and rivers of local wine, to the unique polyphonic singing groups, Alentejo soon gets under your skin.
Running between vineyards, wheat fields, olive groves and cork plantations, the stork’s-nest lined roads are largely free of traffic.
The further you explore, the more impressive the fortified towns become. Castles, ramparts and hilltop fortifications give the inland areas a medieval atmosphere, enhanced by the impressive collection of architectural wonders, from the remarkable 16th century Amoriera Aqueduct to the UNESCO Heritage towns (Elvas and Evora) and their Roman temples, grandstanding ramparts and cathedrals.
Although I have previously blogged on Evora, I have chosen now to focus on three of my other favourites Elvas, Estemoz and Reguengos de Monsaraz.
Elvas, with gigantic ramparts and distant fortresses, is the former frontier fortress town, exhibiting one of the region’s most outstanding star-shaped forts, which was recently made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011.
Estemoz, famous for its sovereignty in facing down Spanish armies, as much as for its local marble quarries, is dominated by the hugely impressive 13th century ramparts and Tore das Tres Coroas castle tower.
Reguengos de Monsaraz – the 2015 European Wine City – with typically commanding views across the local countryside, was historically renowned for its sheep and wool. It is still well worth a trip today, not least as visits to well-renowned wineries such as Herdade do Espoao, can be combined with an interesting choice of historical buildings.