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Europe’s Newest Lake Country is in Portugal

Lakes and Rivers in Europe are historic draws to those who seek adventure and beauty. Lake Como and Garda are major destinations. But, mention Alqueva Lake - and many may be unaware of this compelling new lakes region. Why? Well, it only became Europe’s biggest artificial lake 10 years ago. But, this new lake country, set in the cork forests and plains of the Alentejo, has now come into its own, and has all the potential to become a major new destination. And, the lake is spread over almost 100 square miles. The Alqueva region has a Mediterranean-like climate, being warm and dry for most of the year, with summer temperatures over 80 °F and mild winters in the 60s and 70s.

Here’s why it is the next big place:



The Big Lake "Alqueva” is a term from dry lands — as the region was before the new lake. Alqueva Lake covers 5 Alentejo towns – Portel, Moura, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Mourão and Alandroal – and also several Spanish towns across the border. You can navigate the lake from Alqueva to Mértola.

And, at the new Marina de Amieira you can rent house boats by the day or week. With plenty of bumpers and a few easy boating lessons, you’re all set. The cabin cruisers come with all you need to feel comfortable, just like home. They also have areas to sunbathe and fish. And, to rent a boat, you don’t need to have a boater permit. The lake is easy to navigate with simple docks all around it. 

Or take a boat trip on a small cruise boat at the Nautical Center of Monsaraz and explore the big lake for a quick one-hour tour and up to a half day cruise to explore lakeside villages of Alqueva.

Nearby Towns


Mourão: Perched over the Alqueva Lake, the town is historic and well preserved. Mourão Castle is a national monument with great views of the lake and surrounding towns.

Aldeia da Luz: With the building of the dam the original Aldeia da Luz was submerged. So, a replica of the village was rebuilt just 2 miles from the old village. All residents were relocated to the new village.

Monsaraz: high above the lake is the walled medieval village of Monsaraz. The cobblestone streets and ancient castle are a time machine, and well worth exploring.

Moura: This is one of the best-preserved historic towns in the region. Moura’s castle and beautiful homes invite you to explore.


Wine and Cuisine



The Alentejo is known for its fresh local flavors and great regional wines. From migas, gazpacho, lamb, porco preto, coriander and pork and clams — the food changes from town to town, and all rooted in local crops. Accompanied by a good local red wine, the cuisine is rich and healthy.

Alentejo pasties are the perfect end to the meal, as are the local sheep’s cheeses. Reguengos de Monsaraz covers an area of 465 km², for comparison, this is more than double the area of Amsterdam. That is a lot of land to plant grapes and it shows. Monsaraz wines draw on a large number of grape varietals – Touriga Nacional, Alicante Bouschet, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.

Serpa cheese is made from raw, pure ewe's milk - and the cheese is aged for at least 30 days.

Historic Sites


Around the lake there is a vast cultural heritage, explored through castles, churches, chapels and numerous sites from prehistory.

The Night Sky


The Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve is a unique feature of the big lake — and it is built with lodging, restaurants, producers of regional products and tourist entertainment companies. It is from this Route that tourists will be able to enjoy the activities associated with the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve.
With the partnership of the towns that make up the lake region, the stars come out at night when everyone makes the effort to end light pollution by dimming the lights between 11 pm and 5 am. Alqueva was the first place in the world which received the "Starlight Tourism Destination Certification” by the Starlight Foundation. Few places in the world have such a spectacular sky to observe. No light pollution allows for night-time moments of real wonder.

* Jayme H. Simões is a travel blogger on Portugal. He grew up in Chicago but spent summers exploring Portugal with his family.


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