LOVE Portugal, but tire of the maddening crowds in the school holidays? Then how about swapping the Algarve for the Alentejo? Covering one-third of Portugal, but with just 6% of the population, the Alentejo is a beautiful and vast region of magnificent plains, cork forests, medieval hilltop towns and unspoilt beaches, perfect for travellers seeking genuine get-away-from-it-all relaxation. Rosanna Melaragni, discovery product manager at Sunvil holidays, says: “The Alentejo is full of surprises. There is so much for travellers to do and see in the region. Whether looking to be pampered in a spa, visit medieval castles and Roman forts, taste authentic Portuguese cuisine, sample regional wines or stretch out on a deserted beach, the Alentejo has a huge amount to offer travellers in search of a relaxing and rewarding summer break.”
Here are just a few highlights of the region:
Star gazing at Lake Alqueva
The 3,000km sq Alqueva Dark Sky reserve has been granted official Starlight Tourism Destination status by Unesco and the World Tourism Organisation UNWTO. Visit ancient villages dotted around the edge of the lake, sample the region’s gastronomy. You can hire a houseboat and spend a few days gliding around the lake, star-gazing from the deck after dark.
Cookery courses at the Malhadinha Nova
Not far from the medieval city of Beja, this family-run estate offers guests the opportunity to learn to cook traditional Alentejo dishes, join in the grape harvest during September or borrow a bicycle for a ride through the vineyards. Horse riding tours can also be arranged along hidden trails in the estate.
Sunbathe on the deserted beaches of Tróia
Swap the Algarve for the unspoil shores of the Costa Alentejana. With 65km of continuous white sand, there’s no need to fight for a spot. On the tip of the Tróia peninsula, the northernmost point of the Alentejo’s Atlantic coast, the Aqualuz is a stylish modern resort which looks out over Blue Flag beaches.
Hike the Rota Vicentina
Opening this summer, the Rota Vicentina is a pair of hiking routes which run along the southern half of the Costa Alentejana. TheFisherman’s Trail starts at the most southwesterly point in Portugal, the cliffs of Cape St Vincent and ends 122km later at the sleepy fishing village of Porto Covo, which lies 100km south of Lisbon. Walkers get stunning views of the deserted, craggy coastline with its rocky coves, golden sands and beautiful sunsets. Further inland, the 222km Historical Way covers part of the Way of St James pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain, finishing at Santiago de Cacém, north of Porto Covo.
World famous wines at Évora and Estremoz.
Visit the Cartuxa winery in Évora, home of the Pêra Manca – one of the top three wines in Portugal, and Pedro Álvares Cabral’s wine of choice for his transatlantic voyage in 1500, during which he discovered Brazil. Then head north to the Encostaz de Estremoz vineyard and dine in the restaurant with its floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking row upon row of vines.