Exploring the Alentejo, a land rich in culture, tradition and fine wine

08 October 2021

Picture yourself among sprawling colourful plains and undulating vineyards, discovering a historical winery lined with oak barrels, or hiking up to an ancient castle town to sit down to a rewarding meal with a glass of local wine. This is the Alentejo, a unique destination where winemaking traditions go back centuries.

The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region. Known as the country’s breadbasket, it has vast fertile plains that stretch beyond the horizon, occasionally giving way to lush vineyards, olive groves and extensive oak forests. This beautiful landscape that changes colour with the seasons is known for its rich winemaking culture. This is where wine was first made by the Tartesians and Phoenicians and is most likely where the first wine exported to Rome originated over 2000 years ago. With such a deep-rooted heritage, it’s no wonder the region produces some of the country’s top vintages. Ancient techniques are now making a come back; producers are rediscovering the art of making wine in large clay amphoras, which has become a new trend in the region.

The Alentejo’s DOC (Protected Designation of Origin) region spans over 27,000 square kilometres with borders at the river Tagus, to the north, and the Algarve, to the south. Between these two lines, you can discover eight winemaking sub-regions - Reguengos, Borba, Redondo, Vidigueira, Évora, Granja-Amareleja, Portalegre and Moura -, each one known for its particular terroir, which results in different styles of wines. Inland, the warm and dry climate results in rich, full-bodied wines, while up in the Portalegre hills, close to the Spanish border, wines are fresher with more acidity thanks to the cooler climate.

Make the most of a trip to the Alentejo by tasting some fabulous blends and learn about its most iconic grape varieties. Look out for whites made with Roupeiro, Antão Vaz and Arinto, and reds made with Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Aragonez. Both experts at wineries and knowledgeable locals will be delighted to tell you about their origin and unique characteristics.

Whether a day trip is all you have time for, or if you want to spend several days exploring the region, wineries are waiting to be discovered right across the Alentejo. Wine tourism is experiencing a boom in the region, and so are the activities that go hand in hand with it. From straightforward winery tours and tastings, which will give you a chance to witness the winemaking process, to hot-air balloon rides over the vines at dawn, and stargazing at Dark Sky Alqueva, the world’s first starlight tourism destination, there is something to leave everyone in awe.

The region is a genuine one-stop-shop for wine tourism, as it produces excellent vintages to be paired with local cuisine and even produces its own cork. In fact, it is the country’s largest cork producing region, producing around 83.000 tons of cork annually, which equals almost 41% of the world’s cork production.

Options are endless when planning a wine tasting trip in the Alentejo, ranging from traditional wineries, like the illustrious Herdade do Mouchão, where winemaking techniques haven’t changed in over a hundred years, to high-tech productions set up in modern buildings designed by famous architects, some even featuring contemporary art galleries, while others are part of larger estates with a hotel.

Step back in time and discover some of the region’s most spectacular historical wineries, such as the famous Cartuxa in Évora, which takes its name from an ancient Carthusian Monastery. While you’re in town, wander through the streets and discover the gothic cathedral, a chapel entirely lined with bones and the Roman temple of Diana. Stop off at one of the local restaurants to taste the flavourful traditional cuisine made with seasonal ingredients, such as pumpkin and chestnuts in the autumn and tender grass-fed pork and lamb.  

The best way to get a taste of the local culture is through its gastronomy; it is the essence of the Alentejo, bringing people together to share food and wine, the fruit of their labour. If you’re lucky, at one of these joyful gatherings, you may get the chance to listen to some Cante Alentejano, a traditional type of song from the region, originally sung by groups of campinos, Alentejo cattle herders.

Take another step back into history at the medieval hilltop town of Monsaraz, overlooking the Alqueva lake. Nearby you will find one of Portugal’s most reputable wineries; the Herdade do Esporão. A world in itself, this vast estate, sitting on the edge of a lake, organises tours of its extensive winery and oak barrel cellars filled with exquisite wines, which can be tasted in a peaceful setting overlooking the vineyards. Or why not cycle through the vineyard, preferably before the tasting!

Close to the town of Arraiolos, known for its intricately handwoven, colourful carpets, you will find Monte da Ravasqueira, a family-run estate which produces outstanding wines, olive oil and also boasts its own carriage museum, as its founder was a keen horseman and carriage driver. Horse lovers will also enjoy visiting Herdade dos Grous and Herdade da Malhadinha in the lower Alentejo. On top of their magnificent stables, with both Lusitano and Belgian horses, both of these estates are known for their award-winning wines produced by acclaimed winemaker Luis Duarte.

No matter where you go, you are guaranteed a warm welcome and a taste of the best the Alentejo has to offer: hospitality, good food and excellent wine. Lots of excellent wine!

 

To book a trip that includes visits to some of Alentejo’s finest vineyards, contact your Travel Counsellor today and take advantage of exclusive benefits including full financial protection and a 24-hour duty office ready to assist you before, during and after your stay.

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