It is open space that appears to have no end. It is colours and smells that burst from the earth. It is the unmistakeable outline of rural architecture, present in the "montes” (farm complexes) of the great estates, in the oldest rows of houses in the cities, towns and villages or in the chapels, which paint with white the tops of hills. It is what is gleaned from the ways of being and doing, from the arts and skills that are conserved and renewed, from the tradition that is maintained and recreated, from the "choral chanting” that, with heart and soul, only the Alentjans know how to sing.
But the rural quality of the Alentejo of the 21st century is not exhausted in simply "country matters”. Through the not always positive changing fortunes of its history, this Region has preserved what today confers on it a value full of future promise: the smallness and environmental quality of its urban centres, the human scale, the silence, the peacefulness, the freedom, the freshness of the air we breathe. It is time. A way that is so peculiar of understanding time, making us feel under our skins that, finally, it is possible to live time in this dizzying world, allowing it to be exactly what it is: the most precious of our possessions.
The Alentejo and Ribatejo are the two regions in Portugal with a recognised tradition for breeding the Lusitanian Horse and for rearing fighting bulls, bringing fame to the equestrian arts and to national bullfighting activities. In respect of the latter, the bullfights held throughout the year in many bullrings in the Alentejo are various. They are spectacles that are widely reported and highly competitive. It is noteworthy that only one bullring – that of Barrancos – is, exceptionally, allowed to kill the bull, a practice that is prohibited in other Portuguese bullfights.
To visit the fighting-bull studs, all situated on private property, you need to use the services of local enterprises.
For the horse-breeding studs, the situation is different, There is one whose doors are open to the public and which should not be missed: the Coudelaria (stud) de Alter Real, 3 kms from Alter do Chão.
The Lusitanian Horse – The Alter Real Stud
At the Coudelaria de Alter Real, there is an interesting and varied programme of guided visits for those interested in equestrian arts.
These visits, depending on the days of the week and the season of the year, include the Cavalariça da Eguada (mares’ stable), the Falconry, the Pátio D. João VI, the Depósito de Garanhões–Reprodutores (the stallions’ depot), the Casa dos Trens (carriage and harness museum) and the Museu do Cavalo (horse museum). The visits last about 1½ hours.
Among the most spectacular attractions of the Coudelaria are particularly the release of the mares into the open pasture and the displays of falconry.
In Pátio D. João VI, you can attend the selection and testing activities as well as the diverse activities of the riding school.
The Coudelaria de Alter Real breeds the Cavalo do Sorraia, considered to be the first Iberian breed of horse, which is in danger of extinction. It is one of the trustee institutions of a nucleus dedicated to the Prezewalski horse, the last species of horse found in the wild (in 1880), and participates in the international programme for its conservation.
The complex is closed to the public on Mondays. You need to pay for guided visits. With prior booking, it is possible to ride a horse or travel in a carriage at weekends and on public holidays. In April, the Coudelaria Week takes place, when there are various equestrian activities and it includes the famous Leilão de Equinos (horse auction) on the 24th. In May, there is the Horse Festival.