Enjoy a journey across the most fascinating, well-preserved region of Portugal, known for a heritage enriched by a variety of cultures and landscapes of unique beauty. Art, local traditions, timeless villages, rewarding walks, good wine and traditional food as well as a variety of hands-on experiences await you.
Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1986, is the door to Alentejo – an ancient city of narrow streets, unforgettable monuments and white, sun-washed houses. Our hotel is set in the former Convento dos Loios, a cluster of medieval, monastic buildings that testify to the architectural wealth of the region, next to the Roman temple of Diana and the Gothic cathedral. Enjoy a guided tour of this veritable open-air museum featuring a large number of well-preserved buildings. Then, you will visit the secluded University of Évora which dates from the 16th century and enter the ageless class rooms, where the walls, covered in baroque white and blue tiles, reproduce the themes which were taught in the courses –mathematics, astronomy, physics, fine arts. These are fully-fledged lessons!
From the decorative arts, we move to the arts of the table, as you are welcomed in a traditional kitchen from Alentejo for an unforgettable cooking experience: your host adores telling stories about traditional local cookery and the products used in its unique confection. With her, you will learn to make soups, açordas (made with bread) meat dishes and fish dishes. Get immersed in the local culinary culture and spend the evening in a relaxed way relishing an exquisite dinner! This living lesson will introduce us to special methods authentic to the regional culture, giving us the chance to take a culinary journey very different from the norm.
This morning you will start the day as a local, by making your own regional bread. Dona Joana has been working in her traditional bakery in Vidigueira for a long time: she will be happy to introduce you to the genuine art of baking.
In Beja, an ancient town of roman origin, the Convento da Conceição is a jewel of late Gothic period in Portugal. A taste of the traditional conventual (convent) pastry at Maltesinhas will add an even sweeter flavor to this experience. An interesting wine producer worth a visit in this part of Alentejo. The estate, set in a natural rural landscape with lakes, fields, olive groves and vineyards, is the perfect place for nature-lovers, photographers, bird-watchers and, of course, wine and food enthusiasts… The herdade has a strong sense of environmental responsibility and preserves the true characteristics of Alentejo in making their superb wines in tune with Nature. Wine tasting will be followed by a regional lunch: organic lamb, beef and black pork farmed on the estate along with organic fruit and vegetables are the ingredients of the menu.
Your taste trail continues onto the village of Serpa. From the ramparts of the Moorish castle dating from the end of the 13th century you will enjoy fantastic views over the town and the surrounding countryside. Along the beautiful, paved streets, elegant 19th and 20th century bourgeois houses were built beside the small workers houses and their monumental chimneys. This town is also famous for its traditional rouparias, where the mouthwatering Serpa’s cheese is produced. At a local adega you can have a taste of the different kind of these regional cheeses in a truly authentic ambience.
At the medieval town of Monsaraz, where time seems to stand still, the verdant landscape is tinged with the blue of Alqueva’s Dam waters. Explore the town on your own: you will love to loose yourself in its winding streets. Then visit the oldest winery in the region, José de Sousa winery, where wine is still fermenting in Roman jars, according to an ancient roman tradition.
Monsaraz is also the birthplace of the warm and beautiful Mantas de Monsarraz, one of the strongest symbols of the culture of Alentejo. These woolen blankets – made in wooden looms – were originally used by the shepherds to protect against the extreme cold. These hand-made works have featured the same traditional patterns for centuries, and are now used as bed covers.
Our next stop is at one of Portugal’s top wine and olive oil producers and the largest privately held wine company. The estate’s original borders date back to 1267. A medieval tower and chapel from the 15th and 16th centuries, respectively, and a detailed archaeological site (with museum) of a pre-historic settlement that existed on the property some 5,000 years ago, are some of its highlights, so it’s no wonder that the land is nationally recognized for its historical importance. Here, we have a treat of olive oil tasting and gourmet lunch. After lunch you can relax and enjoy the views from the estate terrace facing the Alentejo plains. Before we leave, we join a guided visit to the estate wine cellars followed by a talk and wine tasting. Not far from here is São Pedro de Corval, where our journey continues. This village is a like a living museum for pottery, with several workshops where clay is made into art. Local craftsmen will open the doors of Olaria Mufla where you will be welcomed by the owners and invited to observe all the different stages of their work.
A visit to the royal palace of Vila Viçosa, a sumptuous Alentejo retreat, is the starting point of this day. In the kitchen – one of the palace’s most emblematic rooms – we see how popular dishes received touches of refinement before being served at the tables of the nobility.
We leave historical Vila Viçosa just to get to know another site bursting with history –and romance. For lunch, we will be received at a magnificent baroque villa, an exquisite mid-18th residence, which was once a gift from a king to his mistress, fragrant with history and now dedicated to the production of a refined local wine.
The town of Estremoz, our next stop, makes a strong impression the moment we arrive, with its imposing ramparts and 17th-century castle dominating the surrounding, peaceful countryside. The history of this place takes us back to the origins of the kingdom of Portugal itself. The grounds of the castle – transformed into a warmly welcoming Pousada – are intimately connected to the legend of the miracles of Queen Isabel.
Estremoz is also famous for the crib statuettes original from the 18th century whose tradition is continued by two sisters. We will get a chance to observe them at work.
On the way back to Lisbon the day still offers the time to stop at the Megalitic monument Cromeleque dos Almendres, a mysterious prehistoric collection of standing stones, that bare witness even today of an ancient and mythical civilization.