The Alentejo lies less than two hours east of Lisbon. Vast, windswept plains are dotted by bright whitewashed farmhouses and stands of olive and cork trees. Visitors come to see the spectacular fortress villages notable for their ancient architecture and colorful markets. Evora, a World Heritage site, is the unofficial capital of the Alentejo. The walled town is filled with an impressive array of structures, some dating to Roman times. Renaissance palaces and medieval mansions line the narrow streets that radiate from a vibrant market square known as the Praça do Giraldo.
Winemaking in the Alentejo region predates the Roman Empire and is now in the midst of a major renaissance. The wines are distinctive because they are made from local grape varieties — Touriga Nacional, Aragonez, Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira and Periquita for reds and Antão Vaz, Arinto and Roupeiro for whites — that give them real character. The best place to arrange a wine tour is at the office of the Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo (Alentejo Wine Route) in Évora. Among recommended estates are Esporão; Quinta do Carmo near Estremoz, owned by Bacalhôa Vinhos de Portugal; and Adega Mayor.
Hearty Country Cooking
A fine place to discover the hearty country cooking of the Alentejo is Restaurante Afonso, a simple spot in the pleasant village of Mora. It specializes in dishes such as partridge cooked with rice, grilled local pork with garlic sauce, and the delicious little almond cookies known as queijinho do céu de Mora. In Évora, try Restaurante 1/4 Prás 9, hidden in a side street. This pleasant, old-fashioned establishment with a vaulted ceiling serves excellent Portuguese comfort food. Start with some melon and Chaves ham, then try the arroz de tamboril (rice with monkfish), or the pork stewed with clams, before flan or homemade semolina cake for dessert.