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Town & Country Traveler

Evora and the Alentejo

“(The streets of Portugal) are leading to a place inside myself I haven’t yet located.”
-Philip Graham, writer

The sun-drenched Alentejo is a thinly populated area occupied by everyone from Phoenicians to Celts to Romans to Moors.

To us, it evokes a world nearly lost in the rest of Europe. Here sleepy stone villages lie untouched, white storks nest in church belfries, and old men play cards all day in front of the local bar (with others choosing to park themselves all day on their stools inside).

Amidst tiny country roads winding through endless plains of golden wheat fields, springtime wildflowers, and towering cork oak trees, this world is still a place of deep-seated traditions. It is characterized by small scale farming and, more and more, interesting local vineyards whose harvests are creating some of Europe’s most interesting low-production wines.

At the heart of the Alentejo is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Evora – a textbook example of the layers of civilizations and history in Portugal. The hilltop city was founded by the ancient Lusitanians. A magnificent 2nd century Corinthian temple dates to the Romans. The Visigoths slept there. You can see the Moorish legacy in its castle and its narrow whitewashed alleys. The Gothic Cathedral (the largest in Portugal) was built as a reminder of the permanence of the Catholic Reconquista. The Renaissance left its mark with elegant stone palaces and mansions.

While a springboard for the rest of the Alentejo, Evora is also a gateway to eastern Portugal with its market towns, Renaissance castles, prehistoric sites and the wealth of other goodies that dot the Portuguese landscape.

We can arrange for you to have a cooking lesson in a 17th century private home in the heart of Evora.

An hour from Evora and close to Lisbon, Palmela celebrates the September grape harvest during the Festa das Vindimas, with grape stomping, fireworks, and a running of the bulls.

More than any other area in Portugal, the raw coastline, the miles and miles of sleepy countryside, and the time-stood-still villages of Alentejo bring to mind a sleepier Europe of yore; a Europe of golden fields, of fisherman wandering back to their homes after a long day’s work, and of a slower way of life.