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.
Like Évora, charming Elvas is a UNESCO World Heritage site with intact defensive walls. Its impressive fortifications date largely from the 17th century, and they protect a relatively unspoiled town of pedestrian-friendly lanes and squares. Be sure to visit the splendid interior of the Igreja de Nossa Senhora da Consolação and the immense aqueduct near Elvas’s entrance, both dating from the