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Hidden Places of Amazing Beauty in Portugal’s Alentejo

Covering more than 30% of Portugal - spread across the Atlantic coastline, plains, cork forests, olive and wine groves, and river plains - the Alentejo holds some wonderful surprises for the visitor. Here are a few of our favorite things to discover.

Chapel of Bones, Campo Maior

Many guides send visitors to the famous Capela dos Ossos in Évora. But it is not unique. Just 60 miles to the east, a similar 1766 monument may be found in Campo Maior’s main church. But the story here is much darker… In 1732 an accident in the town’s powder magazine killed more than 1,000 residents. And, this chapel is a monument to those victims, as the chapel’s interior is covered with the bones of those who died in the tragedy.

The Castle of Belver

This ancient fortress stands high above the Tejo River, and is one of the loveliest in all of Portugal - but on few travel itineraries. Belver was part of the Lines of the Tejo - the front lines of a young Portuguese Nation. Built and defended by the Order of Hospitallers in 1194, the fortifications were completed by 1212. Today, the rectangular keep is encircled by parapets on a peaked hilltop. Fun to explore this castle and the charming town it still defends are well worth the drive.

Alcáçova do Castelo

Mértola is a true museum-village on the Guadiana River. Mértola is an important river port. In and around the castle of Mertola the northern slope of the fortified hill, visitors can explore millennia of history.  Here stood the forum of the Roman City of Myrtilis. See it remains well as later religious buildings, including a chapel from the 5th century, and ruins from the following Islamic period. Start at the Visitor Center, right at the entrance of the town, and discover this.

Porto Côvo Beach

Celebrated in the 1987 hit song Porto Côvo by Rui Veloso, Porto Côvo beach and Pessegueiro Island (island of the Peachtree) are wonderful. Pessegueiro is a small island just off the coast of Porto Côvo. Small, sandy but with a name that is misleading, as you won't find any peach trees here. The name comes from the Latin "piscatorius" referring to a fish salting facility that once stood on the island. All that is there today is the ruined Forte do Santo Alberto, and dreamy vistas.


Travelers love the quaint walled towns of Marvão and Monsaraz, but not as many explore the walled village of Évora Monte (also called Évoramonte). Too bad.  Set high on a hill, this town is centered on a massive castle. Building of the current castle began in 1160, and it lasted for almost 4 centuries. The massive keep looks like a wedding cakes, as it is the site of the Convention of Evoramonte in 1834, a treaty that ended the Portuguese Civil War. Today, the town is full of history and charm, just not so many visitors…

Redondo wine and pottery!

Redondo is a double threat: a wine and a pottery town! Redondo’s hand-made pottery is prized around Portugal for its bright floral colors and country life scenes. The clay in the region is resistant to heat, and so the pottery of Redondo is hard core. The pottery features natural themes, the sun, the rooster, a typical house, the cork oak and shepherds. But, Redondo is also well known for its wines, which tend to be on the bold side. So with wine and pottery, Redondo is well worth a visit, not to mention its historic castle, and medieval walls and pretty setting. The region is bordered by the Borba subregion to the Northeast, the Evora subregion to the West and the Reguengos subregion to the Southeast. Wine trip!

Serpa is Olive Country

Ask anyone in Portugal about the olives of Serpa, and you will get a smile. That is because Serpa is one of the most appreciated olive oils in Portugal. Today, the Alentejo produces more than 70% of all Portuguese olive oil. In the bright town of Serpa, the importance of the olive grove culture is hard to miss, and olive groves seem everywhere. And, the follower is hard to miss on the local cuisine. Serpa oil is produced from traditional regional varieties — including Galega, Cordovil de Serpa, Verdeal and Cobrançosa. Serpa is a monumental town, with walls, palaces, and a massive aqueduct. And the olive oil is pretty good too…

From Salt to Rice…

The historic city of Alcácer do Sal was once all about its salt pans.  It was once called Urbs Imperatoria Salacia in honor of Neptune's wife, Salacia, for its importance in the salt trade the salt routes off of the Sado River. Alcácer’s port shipped not only salt, but fish sauce made with salt. But, as the salt trade diminished, the demand for rice boomed, and many of the traditional salt pans were converted to rice fields in the 19th century. And, then Alcácer became famous for its rice. Today, the dal trade is coming back, and the rice trade is booming. From the castle, looking south, there is a sharp bend in the River Sado, irrigating the smooth green plain that rises over the great Alentejo plain. Recently restored to take in a pousada (manor hotel), the castle is named after its Christian conqueror: Afonso II. From here, laid out below, around the four points of the compass, are magnificent panoramic views over the rivers and fields, ideal for reminiscing over the heavy and varied traffic that used to pass by below. Today, Alcácer do Sal is a charming city on a river, crowned by a castle.

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