For many, Portugal is defined by Lisbon — the bustling capital on the country’s coast. But just outside the city lies a hidden gem just waiting to be discovered.
The region of Alentejo takes up about a third of the country and creates unlimited options for entertainment and relaxation. In Alentejo, life moves at a slow and steady pace. Any stress you’re carrying from big city life quickly slips away as you sip on wine, eat, and gaze off into the endless sky.
In the summer, Alentejo is known for its extreme heat. But by September, the weather starts to cool and the roads are less crowded (which is nice, because most are very narrow!).
Photo: Brittany Jones-Cooper
Many of the small towns feel isolated and even frozen in time, providing a calming silence one can experience only in the countryside. While much of the region is steeped in history, for first-time visitors, it can feel like you’re stumbling on something new and undiscovered.
So take a deep breath, roll down the windows, and drive through the rice fields, vineyards, olive orchards, cork farms, and beaches of Alentejo.
Before you go:
Chances are you’re heading to Alentejo after spending a few days in Lisbon. The best way to get there is to rent a car, which you’ll also need to get around once you arrive. The drive will take 1.5 to 2 hours depending on your destination.
You can also fly in to southern Alentejo (Beja) and drive from there.
Évora is the capital of Alentejo and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with all the history and charm you would expect from a city that dates back to the Middle Ages. Visitors spend their days strolling down the quiet streets, taking in the ancient architecture, and buying handcrafted goods from the locals.
Where to stay:
Photo: Convento do Espinheiro Hotel and Spa
Built in the 15th century, Convento do Espinheiro has been a staple in Évora for centuries, and was originally a convent. The five-star, 92-room hotel has since been completely restored, and achieves modern luxury while still maintaining its historic and vintage style. The entire hotel is a work of art, but the true star of the show is the small chapel located just off the lobby. This small and colorful place of worship is stunning, with incredibly detailed tile walls and an ornate alter draped in gold. The best part — they still use it regularly for Mass and weddings. After a day of sightseeing, relax by the pool and watch the beautiful Alentejo sunset over the century-old olive trees.
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What to do:
After driving through the city walls of Évora, your eyes will immediately be drawn to the ruins of the Temple of Diana. Years ago, Évora was an important Roman trading town, and this temple is widely regarded as the best preserved Roman structure in the Iberian Peninsula.
Spend the morning strolling through the quiet streets of the old quarter. The tiny cobbled streets are home to ancient churches, shops, and traditionally whitewashed houses with yellow trim.
The red roofs of Monsaraz. (Photo: Brittany Jones-Cooper)
A trip to Évora wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Monsaraz — a walled Medieval city that sits proudly atop a hill overlooking the Alqueva Dam. Follow the narrow streets, and take a trip back in time as you explore the ancient castle, churches, and museums.
Where to eat:
This restaurant may be small, but it leaves a big impression. (Photo: Maria Rebela Photography)
This place is amazing, but blink and you might miss it. Located in Évora’s old Moorish quarter, this tiny restaurant sits just 12 people and is the definition of charm. The restaurant is run by a family, so from the moment you walk in, it feels like home. Snack on the homemade chips before ordering up some some veal steak, sausage, and shrimp. And wine — don’t forget the wine!
Comporta is the definition of under the radar. This beach town is popular with locals but often unheard-of in international crowds. Located just an hour from Lisbon, it’s filled with small fishing villages, pristine beaches, and a laid-back lifestyle you’ll want to take home with you.
Where to stay:
A Serenada is located about five miles from Comporta and is the perfect location for a quiet getaway. (Photo: Brittany Jones-Cooper)
Staying at A Serenada feels like staying at the home of a friend. The small property has been in the same family for centuries and features a main house where guests dine on home-cooked Portuguese fare, read, or sip wine by the fire. Speaking of wine, A Serenada has two vineyards that produce about 17 different wines for you to sample during your stay. If you’re seeking relaxation, this six-room oasis is just what the doctor ordered.
What to do:
- Surfing at Carvalhal Surf School
Catching some appropriately sized Portuguese waves. (Photo: Carvalhal Surf School)
Alentejo is home to 62 miles of beautiful Portuguese coastline, 7 of which are in Comporta. If you’re looking for a little adventure, the Carvalhal Surf School is calling your name. This laid-back operation makes for a worry-free experience, and is perfect for surfers at every level. The instructors are awesome and make it their goal to get you standing up at least once — even if you wipe out shortly after!
- Biking Tour
Portugal is the largest exporter of cork in the world. (Photo: Brittany Jones-Cooper)
Get in touch with nature on a bike tour of Comporta and the surrounding area. Depending on what tour you choose, you can explore the cork fields of Alentejo, see birds in rice fields, ride through the Carrasqueira fishing village, or bike up a mountain.
Where to eat:
Photo: Armazém Central Restaurant
There are a couple of great beach spots to pop into after a long day of rest and relaxation. Armazém Central restaurant is a fan favorite, serving up authentic Portuguese meals accompanied by live music.
Located inland, Beja is known for its cool winters and blistering summers. Home to plains of wheat fields and orchards, the natural beauty of this region is unrivaled. There are also numerous castles in Beja, making it the perfect place to explore Alentejo’s rich history.
Where to stay:
Pousada Castelo de Alvito (Hotel Castle of Alvito)
The royal courtyard at Hotel Castle of Alvito. (Photo: Pousada Castelo de Alvito)
We may never be royals, but we can sleep like them — at least for a night. Pousada do Alvito is a 15th century castle that has been converted into a luxury hotel. It was designed with Islamic and Portuguese influence, and contains 20 rooms, a swimming pool, and a bar. While it’s considered a luxury hotel, the decor is simple and vintage, giving it a rustic and comfortable feel. Rooms start at a super affordable 104 euros a night.
What to do:
- Hot-air balloon
The only way to really experience a new place is to see it from above. UP Alentejo operates hot-air balloons and takes care of everything. After boarding, you’ll spend about 45 minutes flying over cork trees, vineyards, hotels, and farmland. In the early morning hours, all you’ll be able to hear is your heartbeat and the occasional sound of the pilot heating up the balloon.
Once you land, the pilot lays out a picnic blanket and serves breakfast in an open field draped in sunlight. It’s perfect for a romantic getaway or for a group of friends looking to get away from it all.
- Explore Cuba
Yes, we said Cuba, but not the one you’re thinking of. Nestled in Alentejo’s Beja district is the little village of Cuba, home to just under 5,000 people. While the city dates back to prehistoric times, it’s also rumored to be the birthplace of Christopher Columbus, who later discovered America and, you guessed it, the island of Cuba.
Don’t expect a lot of action. Like much of Alentejo, the pace is slow. But it’s the perfect spot to enjoy an evening bike ride or stroll.
Where to eat:
A view of the relaxing interior of Arrufa Tavern. (Photo: Valter Bento)
Located outside the city of Cuba is Taberna Do Arrufa (Arrufa Tavern). This tapas restaurant is a solid choice for lunch or dinner, and the outdoor patio creates a welcoming and cosy environment. Sample the barbecued sausage, fried fish, and snails as you gaze out on the beautiful Alentejo sunset.
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