When you think of Portugal, you soon think of the Algarve or Lisbon or Porto. But there is so much more to see, such as the special Alentejo region. This region is nice for a road trip, where you can drive for hours without meeting other people or cars. Nature, history, vineyards, olive trees, charming villages …. Alentejo is the undiscovered gem of Portugal. A road trip through Alentejo: what are the best sights in Alentejo?
A road trip through Alentejo! Where do you need to go?
The region Alentejo
Alentejo is the region that starts east of the city of Lisbon and extends over the coast to the interior above the Algarve. It is the largest region in Portugal and is about the same size as the whole of Belgium. But there are only about 700,000 people living there, so you can imagine how vast, quiet and sparsely populated it is. Countless olive and cork trees, extensive vineyards, rolling green hills and sleepy villages are the things that this region is known for. It is one of the warmest regions in all of Europe. You can be very active and endlessly walk on the more than 1,000 km of hiking trails in the region. The “Rota Vicentina” walking route is very beautiful: a 400 km signposted walking route with a route along the coast (the Fisherman’s Trail) or a route inland (the Historical way). But you can also do great cycling, horse riding among the vineyards and practice various water sports such as surfing, sailing and canoeing. There are numerous castles, monasteries, small charming villages and large farms.
A road trip through Alentejo is the best way to experience, experience and also feel the region. In Alentejo you will completely relax at all and you will automatically switch back. The landscape consists of rolling hills and it reminds me a bit of Tuscany from years ago. It is a sustainable destination where you will soon notice that everything comes from the region itself. The Alentejo wines, olives and cheeses are proudly recommended by the local restaurateurs. No meal will pass without a good glass of wine from our own region!
The experience is authentic and the people give everything they have. Alentejo has no need to be trendy, but is just itself. How nice is that!
A road trip through Alentejo! Where should you be and what are nice sights?
1. The old village of Mértola
Mértola is a beautiful village and it breathes the Middle Ages. Everywhere you walk you can taste and experience the historic atmosphere. The walled town is built on a rock, exactly where the Oeiras meets the Rio Guadiana. Historically, Mértola is a strategically important place and from the port of Mértola various products from agriculture and mines were transported to the Mediterranean. All the peoples who played a role in Portugal have clearly left their mark on this village. Fantastic is the Igreja Matriz, which was built in the 12th century as a mosque, but nowadays serves as a church. Unique in Portugal! The castle of Mértola is also of Moorish origin and the view you have from the top of the castle is amazing. You see the fantastic town, the winding river Guadiana, the special church and the most extensive natural park Vale do Guardiana. The streets in Mértola are winding, narrow and stylish! In the surroundings of Mértola you will find several great marked hiking trails and it is a paradise for lovers of bird watching. Did you know that from Faro (the Algarve) you can reach this village within an hour?
- Restaurant tip Mértola: Casa Amarela. From the terrace of this restaurant you have a great view of the castle and the food is divinely tasty.
- Festival tip Mértola: The Islamic festival takes place here in May every two years. I was lucky enough to be precise during the days of this festival. Everywhere in the village there are performances, there is a souk with all kinds of nice stalls with various Moorish products.
- Looking for accommodation? Look here for nice accommodations in Mértola.
- Curious about Mértola? Look here for more information about Mértola.
2. The charming village of Serpa
Serpa is a small, but mostly picturesque, beautiful village with only around 600 inhabitants. The village is charming and the streets here are narrow, with boulders and all the houses are white. There is a botanical garden full of banana trees, various plants, a playground, cafeteria, fountain and benches where you can sit and enjoy. The central square in Serpa is beautiful and atmospheric, but the church and the castle are also worth a visit. there are a number of nice museums. Wandering in the narrow streets of Serpa is wonderful and takes you back in time. In the surroundings of Serpa you can make various beautiful hiking trips.
- Restaurant Tip Serpa: The restaurant O Zé is located on the central square and this is highly recommended! The food is very tasty and the restaurant is cozy and authentic.
- Festival tip Serpa: The cheese festival is held once a year in the last week of February in Serpa. Where the local cheese, but also the other products from the region are central.
- Looking for accommodation? Look here for a nice accomodation in Serpa.
- Curious about Serpa? Look here for more information on Serpa.
3. The pretty village of Monsaraz
In the east of Alentejo lies the perhaps most beautiful village in the region: Monsaraz. This village has 1,000 inhabitants and is best known for the perfect opportunities for stargazing. The Melkweg is guaranteed to be seen 250 nights a year above the nearby Alqueva lake. The dark skies with low light pollution make this place so suitable to admire the starry sky. The hotels and accommodations even adjust their dinner and breakfast times for these astro tourists. The Alqueva lake has an area of 250 square km and is one of the largest man-made lakes in Europe. In addition, the best wines from the region come from here. This is also the only place in the region where bullfighting is still allowed. The picturesque village lies at an altitude of 342 meters, on top of a hill and the view is beautiful. The houses are white with red roofs and wrought-iron balconies, the streets are narrow, the castle is beautiful and time has really stood still in this fortified town. In the village you can admire a changing art collection all year round on the walls of the houses. Also don’t forget to have a coffee or wine in one of the atmospheric restaurants!
4. The capital Évora
Évora is the capital of the Alentejo region and it is the most touristic and also busy city of the region. The center of Évora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is characterized by narrow streets, whitewashed houses with yellow-rimmed doors and windows. Very beautiful is the Roman temple, the large cathedral and the São Francisco church including the impressive Bone Chapel. In Evora you can wander, buy souvenirs, grab a terrace and enjoy Portuguese cuisine. In the center is the square Praça do Giraldo and the marble fountain from the 18th century. Evora is a student city and that creates a cozy atmosphere!
- Restaurant tip Évora: Mr. Pickwick is close to the central square and here they serve the tastiest local dishes for a good price. This restaurant is popular with locals and tourists.
5. Dolphin spotting at Setúbal
Setúbal is a charming fishing village where you can spot dolphins swimming here off the coast. It’s so nice to see these amazing animals swimming in the sea! A group of 28 dolphins live in the Sado River and in the bay of Reserva Natural do Estuário. You have a very big chance to see them, either in the river, the open water or in the river delta. Good to know is that they have strict rules for the tourist boats that are going to spot dolphins. This is not to disturb the dolphins too much. For example, only a maximum of 3 boats can reach the dolphins, the other boats have to wait. After 30 minutes the boats have to leave the dolphins again and the next 3 boats are close by. Every boat must also have a permit. The coastline that you see from the boat is beautiful and you see, among other things, Praia dos Galapinhos. This beach was voted the best beach in Europe in 2017. After approximately 3 hours of sailing and spotting dolphins, the boat returns to the harbor. If you are in Setúbal, do not forget to visit the local market.
- The price for a boat trip of approximately two hours is € 30 for adults and € 15 for children.
- The boat leaves 5 times a day (from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.).
- I arranged the boat trip via SadoArrábida and I liked that.
- Setúbal is at half an hour drive from Lisbon.
6. The beaches at Alentejo
The coast of this region is called Alentejo Litoral and there is a coastline of approximately 125 kilometers. The beaches are characterized mainly by steep cliffs, small and quiet beaches, azure blue sea and picturesque fishing villages. The seaside town of Vila Nova de Milfontes is a must because of the numerous restaurants, markets and a charming fishing port. Porto Covo is a charming seaside town with beautiful bays and beaches and surrounded by low cliffs. You will find vast and amazing sandy beaches at Costa de Santo André and Fonte do Cortiço.
7. The kitchen of Alentejo
Traveling through Alentejo is a culinary highlight and it is therefore recommended to also taste the region. Wine, delicacies, cheese, fresh olives and ham are recommended. It is therefore nice to visit the local market to buy the best products from the local farmers. The kitchen is best known for its simple, honest cuisine with Iberian pork and typical Portuguese bread soup. So wonderfully prepared! The desserts and cakes are also delicious and with lots of egg yolk. Alentejo is a real wine region and there are more than 250 winemakers with large hectares of land on which they grow grapes. You soon notice that the Portuguese love red wine. During a road trip through Alentejo, it is also highly recommended to stop in a random village and enjoy the local dish in the local restaurant!
Accommodations in Alentejo
The region is not very touristy yet and there is plenty of choice for accommodation in Alentejo. There are small-scale hotels, luxury hotels, pousades (hotels in old monasteries, castles and other historic buildings), you can do glamping in various places. A suitable accommodation can be found for all ages and budgets! During a road trip through Alentejo, it is of course also very nice to spend the night at different places and to vary the type of accommodation where you sleep!
These are the accommodations that I have slept in and that I really enjoyed:
Barradas da Serra: This is a very beautiful old farmhouse that is now used as a hotel. It is located on a large estate where you can walk and cycle. There is a very cool swimming pool and the breakfast is very extensive and delicious. The standard rooms are large and fully equipped and you even have a small garden. The owners are very friendly people and the atmosphere is very pleasant.
- Check here for the availability and prices
Vila Galé Clube de Campo: This beautiful hotel is situated in the middle of the vineyards and surrounded by nature. It is a large complex with an indoor and outdoor swimming pool. The rooms are nice and big, the restaurant is great. In the hotel you can visit the organization Emotion Portugal for arranging various activities such as a hot air balloon ride, a jeep safari on the estate, bike rides etc.
- Check here for the availability and prices
Practical information for travelling and a road trip to Alentejo
Alentejo is located in south central Portugal and can be reached from the airport in Faro or Lisbon. The best travel period is between April and the beginning of June and September and October. The temperature is then around twenty degrees. In the high season (July / August) it is often very hot with temperatures of around 30 to 35 degrees. From Amsterdam you fly directly with Tap Air Portugal to the nearest airports of Lisbon and Faro. A flight takes about 3 hours and from Lisbon it is about 1.5 hours to Alentejo and about 2.5 hours from Faro. As mentioned before, making a road trip through Alentejo is the best way to discover the region.