Head straight east out of Lisbon on the A2 Autoestrada do Sul, staying to the east by transferring to the A6, Autoestrada do Alentejo and you’ll soon come upon the Alentejo region’s chief city, Évora. You’re at the very center of a region with very ancient roots, fine wines, and interesting terrain.
Evora is perhaps the best known of Alentejo towns. The historic center of Evora is designated as a world heritage site, and features a pretty complete Roman temple dedicated to Diana, as well as a famous bone chapel. Evora has a nice ambiance, and spending three days here wouldn’t be too much.
Monsaraz was built to keep eye on the Spanish border and the River Guadiana. It’s called the “jewel in the crown” of the Alentejo for good reason; the hilltop town is gorgeous in white. Property values have soared recently for this reason.
The water that seems to be oozing out of Mansaraz on the map is Alqueva, an artificial lake created by a recently constructed dam. It’s Portugal’s largest reservoir; part of the lake is in Spain. Does a houseboat adventure in Portugal sound good to you? Perhaps the best place to start is checking out Amierira Marina, where you can rent the boat and get some information on the lake.
Elvas is known for its brandy and pottery production, and features the impressive Auqueduto de Amoreira and the 17th Century Fort de Santa Luzia.
Borba is known for its ceramics and its marble; visit the Museu de Cerâmica (Ceramics Museum), walk around the ruins of the medieval castle, and peek inside the 15th century Church of Nossa Senjora.
Estremoz has a medieval castle which is now Pousada de Estremoz – Rainha Santa Isabel, and one of the best in Portugal. On the castle hill you can visit several chapels and ethnographic and art museums. Don’t miss out on the “Black Pork” over at the Adega do Isaias Restaurant.
Evoramonte has a medieval castle and you can see permanent exhibitions on the town in the Torre de Managem. 2006 was the celebration of the 700th anniversary of the castle.
Beja in the southern Alentejo had many of its historical features destroyed in the 19th century, but the town is a pleasant one to stroll in, and has a fabulous Posada in which to stay, the São Francisco. Beja’s best known attraction is its Torre de Menagem. Climb the 138 steps for a panoramic view of Beja and environs.
To the northeast of Beja is the town of Vidigueira. Vasco da Gama acquired the town from the King in 1519.
Just outside of Vila de Frades you’ll find the 2nd Century Roman ruin São Cucufate, a Roman villa with frescoes dating between the 1st and the 17th Century. In the tascas, homes and restaurants around Vila de Frades you’ll find the practice of making wine in the Roman way called Vinho de Talha.
In Serpa you’ll find the famous Serpa cheese (made in nearby Brinches). You’ll wander among 15th century single-story houses, be drawn to the castle, and learn what life was like in the old days in the Ethnographic museum. The most unexpected museum in Serpa may well be the Museum of the Watch, which records 350 years of watchmaking with 1600 pieces on display. The drive from Serpa to Mertola along the N265, shown in green on the map, is one of the most scenic drives in Porgual.
Moura is a town of abundant water and some of Portugal’s best olive oil. Visit the Museu do Azeite, with its olive oil press and olive oil tasting, and the Mouraria (Moorish Quarter). Visit Noudar castle that defended Moura, preferably at sunset.
Enjoy planning a trip to the Alentejo of Portugal. It’s rural, and you’ll probably need a car to see everything efficiently.