ALENTEJO

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In our whitewashed houses

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.

During your travels you will discover the great example of wisdom that makes up traditional architecture. The buildings are integrated into the landscape as if they make up part of it, using materials and solutions to problems adapted to the climate and to their function. They assume groupings which are naturally balanced and which, still today, are the source of inspiration for contemporary planning and building.

Travelling through the Alentejo is a constant encounter with this reality and with the two types of architecture that express it: the erudite or formal, sometimes of great value from the point of view of architectural heritage and clearly visible in the manor houses of the great estates and houses that once belonged to nobles in the urban centres: and the popular or vernacular, which reveals to us other faces of heritage, of genuinely rural taste, which is found in the oldest rows of houses in the villages, towns and cities.

This encounter is not only made up of perfect moments. But in this time of change, when there are contemporary building ventures of quality, justifiable modernisation of traditional habitations and excellent examples of restoration, it is architectural form and outline that identifies the Alentejo, that continues to dominate the landscape and that catches our eye. For this reason, we invite you to visit, now from this perspective, some of the locations that remain essential references. We suggest only a half dozen examples because, from these, you will learn everything that you need to continue your discovery independently, in other places.

In North Alentejo, the towns of Marvão and Castelo de Vide are unmissable, the latter with a Jewish Quarter that is the most astonishing in the whole Region. But also look at Alegrete, inside and outside the castle, and at the tiny Flor da Rosa, at the Historical Centre of Cabeço de Vide and at Alter Pedroso.

In Central Alentejo, it is essential to get to know the three jewels, which are Evoramonte, Terena and Monsaraz. As an example of a town that is lively and well cared for, visit Redondo. A paradigm of the restoration of a totally abandoned village is S. Gregório, at the foot of Serra d’Ossa, the first Tourism Village in the Region.

In Lower Alentejo, the Historical Centres of Alvito, Serpa and Mértola are outstanding, each with its own specific atmosphere, but you should also look at the ancient rows of houses in small places such as Vila Alva, between Alvito and Cuba, Casével and Aivados, near to Castro Verde, and the beautiful Messejana, a short distance from Aljustrel.

On the Alentejan coast, three small villages, with very different layouts, are sufficient to demonstrate to those who spend their holidays in this area for the sun and the sea that it is worthwhile giving the beach a rest from time to time and making a trip into the interior: Santa Susana (Alcácer do Sal), Lousal (Grândola) and, in the hills of the Serra, Vale de Santiago (Odemira).

Whenever you visit a village, look for the most striking characteristics of the rural architecture: the single-storey houses; thick walls with few openings, traditionally built of lath and plaster, a solution well known for keeping in the heat in the winter and the cool in the summer while using few means; the enormous chimneys, sometimes higher than the house, whence exit the fumes from the hearths that heat the cold nights and cure the home-made sausages and prepared meats; the privileged place the kitchen occupies; the bread oven, sometimes common to the whole village, with its unmistakeable arched roof; the texture of the outside and inside walls which, every year, the women cover with a layer of fresh whitewash; and the coloured edges and skirting which, in olden times, were predominantly painted yellow-ochre or blue.

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