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If the Alentejo is not on your list, then you are really missing something

For months I have been reading Facebook forums on relocating and traveling to Portugal. While there has been a general longing among North Americans – there seems a growing desire to live, retire and spend more time in Portugal. The motivating factors are many, but seem to be based on the peace and lifestyle, affordable and excellent healthcare, and cost of living.

The thing that stands out to me is what so many are missing in the best part of Portugal.  Top of mind for so many seems to be Lisbon, followed by the Algarve, followed by Porto, with the Silver Coast high on the list. Now these are all great places –But to many the map of Portugal seems to have gap between Lisbon and Faro – and that’s too bad.

As a Luso-American I have been spending time in Portugal since the late 1970s. My family is from the Coimbra area- and I was lucky enough to be able to travel all over the country and explore.

While I loved every corner– there was one place that was just special. The Alentejo to me was a country all its own – and so different from the rest of Portugal. First there was the landscape – rolling plains, cork forests, endless bright blue sky.  

Then there were the people – honest, friendly, kind and welcoming with a slight sing-song way of speaking.

And, there were the places: Walled towns, blue and white farms on hilltops, timeless ruins dating back to the dawn of human history, and relics of the Roman and Moorish pasts.

Lastly, the food and wine (and cheese and bread) are so good: Innovative tasty and fresh – bread stews, flavors of the land from coriander.  

I fell in love with the Alentejo, and still love it for all it is, and all it is not.

So, part of me does not want to share this bit of advice – but I am stuck thinking of those maps from the 1980s entitled a New Yorker’s View of the World. So, with that in mind, I am just going to say it: If you are missing the Alentejo, you are missing the best part of Portugal. Not only is it 30% of the country – but it probably has all or most of what a traveler or someone thinking about relocation should look at.

With no large cities, but so many wonderful small hotels and villa rentals, the Alentejo is a not only an affordable place to visit, but a very affordable place to live. Then, you have the variety of experiences. A long, sandy and well-conserved Alentejo shore with great, sandy beaches and dunes – the Costa Vicentina has fine sand beaches, fresh seafood, amazing hiking, and all kinds of watersports.

The Northwestern Ribatejo area is horse country, with great farms, green fields, and some great breads and wines. There are lots of little farming towns set on rivers.

The Northeastern corner of the Alentejo, set around the São Mamede mountains is full of places to explore. Walled towns like Marvão, bright cities like Portalegre, and cheese towns like Nisa.

The hilly plains between Evora and the Tejo is a cool place full of horse farms, and busy market towns like Ponte de Sor and Aviz. The line of castles on the Tejo River set on hills running to the Spanish Border.

Then there is the Raia, the long strip of land that forms the border with Spain, with lots of forts, castles, palaces, wineries, lakes, cork forests, and some of the best olives anywhere.

The Evora area is full of ancient sites, historic small cities, and bustling pottery and wine towns. 

Lastly to the south, the Beja region is set just north of the mountains that define the Algarve, and is full of cork forests, fields of sunflowers, and bustling towns rich in history.

The Alentejo is no place to spend just 2-3 days, but a week or more and even a lifetime. It has a very good road network, and modern rail lines, good roads for cycling, paths for hiking, lakes for swimming, and some of the most untouched beaches in Europe on the Atlantic, rivers and lakes... 

It may be the best-kept search in Portugal, so if you don’t go - you will really miss something very special.

* 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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