The Allure Of Alentejo From Cork To Cellars
When we’re all allowed to wander and explore again, post-pandemic, we highly suggest adding Portugal to your bucket list. It’s arguably Western Europe’s most under-discovered county – still a relatively untraveled and unhurried destination. Beyond the big three tourist hotspots – Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve – the unspoiled countryside holds the promise of charming villages, sun-drenched landscapes, wild coastlines, undiscovered wines and authentic local cuisine.
Through the years, we’ve explored different parts of the country including Madeira, a Portuguese island off the northwest coast of Africa. By far, our favourite experiences and travel memories in Portugal were in places off the main tourist trail.
Since we’re all indulging in more armchair travel at this time, we’re happy to share our picturesque perspective on Portugal in a 3-part photo-essay, combining several self-drive road trips. The first part showcases the alluring wine region of Alentejo. Hopefully our travel photos will give you a glimpse of Portugal’s enticing heartland and its many charms. Sit back and see why Portugal, especially Alentejo, should belong on your bucket list!
Travel Far, Explore More! – Kathy, Kake2Kale
Why We love The Alentejo Wine Region
Alentejo may not be the first – nor second or third – area that comes to mind when planning a trip to Portugal but it should be! Its raw beauty, underrated food/wine experiences, medieval villages and blazing sunshine are exactly why you need to go and the reasons we love the region.
Within a short drive from Lisbon (~1.5 hours), the province of Alentejo (meaning “beyond the Tejo”) covers 1/3 of the country’s land size. Map Initially, we went there for the wines but returned and stayed longer for the bewitching landscape. Undulating hills punctuated with cork oaks and olive groves, sprawling vineyards, and sweeping plains of sun-scorched wheat are just a few of alluring scenes of the region. It’s a predominantly hot, arid and sunny area where dry spells are influenced by Sahara Desert, according to the locals. Our favourite time of year to visit is May when the meadows and pastures are exploding with spring wildflowers.
Alentejo is one of the largest wine regions in the country and a highly regarded, emerging wine region in Europe. We’d come to discover that Alentejo offers new world wines with old world charm and a long history of winemaking. Most importantly, there are plenty of quality, well valued wines.
Main native grape varietals:
Vinho Tinto (red wine): Aragonês (Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet, Trincadeira, Alfrocheiro and Castelão. Known for their intense, voluptuous, and plummy flavour profiles.
Vinho Branco (white wine): Roupeiro, Fernão Pires, Antão Vaz and Arinto. Providing a smooth, refreshing, and aromatic flavour experience.
Like all wine regions, there’s a range of wine estates – small to large and historical to modern. We visited a variety but enjoyed the smaller, unpretentious wineries the most.
Interestingly, Alentejo is more well known for its beautiful cork oak trees than its wines.
10 Fun Facts About Cork:
- Cork oak is the National tree of Portugal and dates back 10 million years in the country.
- Half of the world’s cork supply and production is from Portugal with 30-40 million corks made a day.
- Cork is hand harvested (extracting the bark or stripped off the tree) once every 8-10 years after maturity. Harvest takes place May to September.
- It takes 25 – 30 years for a cork oak tree to mature. The tree can live up to 200 years and up to 17-20 harvests. Each harvest yields 40-60 kg of cork per tree.
- The number painted on the harvested tree indicates the year it was last stripped.
- Once extracted, cork can dry for up to 6 months before being processed.
- The bark grows back from the inside out. Cork oaks are a highly renewable and sustainable resource.
- A harvested cork tree absorbs 10 tons more CO2 than one that is not harvested
- The Englishman Robert Hooke invented the ‘cork’ for wine bottles around the mid-1600s.
- The acorns of the tree are used to feed pigs that make some of the best cured ham in Portugal.
Mountain-top Medieval Villages: Reguengos de Monsaraz, Marvao, and Castelo de Vide
Local Dishes: Açorda à Alentejana de Alho (sliced bread with garlic, eggs, olive oil and coriander), Sopa de Cação (Dogfish Soup), Cabeça de Xara (Head Cheese), and Bolo Podre (Honey Cake)
Wine Shop: Ervediera Wine Shop in Monsaraz is housed in an old school
Outdoor Experiences: Cycling and horseback riding in the vineyards, fields and trails at São Lourenço do Barrocal.
Artisan Experience: Visit the weaving shop – Fábrica Alentejana de Lanifícios – in Reguengos de Monsaraz for Alentejo’s famous wool products. Visit Sao Pedro Do Corval, a village with 20+ artisanal pottery houses.
Market Day: Estremoz (Saturday Market)
The capital city of Alentejo is Evora, a UNESCO World Hertiage Site. The historic center is quaint but generally overrun with tourist, and parking is a challenge. It’s worth a day visit but we do not suggest staying in the city center unless your focus is on shopping, dining, and sightseeing (eg Roman structures and the cathedral). Our recommendation is to stay in the idyllic countryside for a more tranquil stay.
Our favourite country Inns or B&Bs:
Herdade do Sobroso (Classic country house & winery near Vidigueira)
Quinta de Lavandas (Lavender farm near Castelo de Vide)
Imani Country House (Boutique farmhouse surrounded by fruit orchards + olive groves near Evora)
São Lourenço do Barrocal(Upscale estate & winery, formerly an ancient farm village, near Reguengos de Monsaraz).
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All photographs and images are copyrighted © 2014 – 2020 Kake2Kale Photography.