Written by Hugh Collins
Read an interview with Alex Robinson, author of our new guidebook to the Alentejo, an undiscovered region of Portugal.
How did you first stumble upon the Alentejo and what were your initial impressions of the region?
I first came en route to Venezuela. TAP Air Portugal were offering a free stopover (as they still do) and I took full advantage. I remember sitting in a café sat in one of Évora’s beautiful winding cobbled streets and reading about the prehistoric monuments nearby. I had no idea how to get there, and when I asked the waitress in my stumbling Portuguese she offered to take me on a driving tour the next day. The following day was delightful – I was bowled over by how friendly and cultured my extemporaneous guide was, and the ruins were stunning – lost in cork oak woodland grazed by wild boar and busy with floating butterflies. Alentejo boasts some of Europe’s most beautiful coastline © Dmitry Kornilov, Shutterstock
What would your ideal day in Evora look like?
Wake early for a pre-breakfast walk when the light is soft and golden on the church towers and the columns of the Roman temple. Stop off for a creamy coffee and pastel de nata on the way. After breakfast drive out to the prehistoric ruins or one of the craggy hill top castles or spend the day wandering the cobbled streets and popping into the churches and wonderful little city museum. Take an evening meal in one of the city’s traditional Alentejo restaurant. My favourite is Fialho.
Évora Cathedral is one of the highlights of a visit to the region’s capital © Migel, Shutterstock
Where was the most memorable place that you stayed in the Alentejo?
I love the pousadas – set in castles and historic houses. All of them are good but I particularly like Beja and Estremoz. It’s hard to find a warmer Alentejo welcome than those offered by João and Rita in the Casa do Terreiro do Poço in Borba or Elsa and her family in Herdade Barradas da Serra near Grândola.
Where’s the best place to get a sense of the region’s history?
Anywhere in the Alentejo is redolent with history. Base yourself in Elvas and Évora, walk the Moorish streets, visit the Roman temples and then clamber up the hilltops to the castles that dot the serra nearby.
Where’s the best place to sample seafood on the Alentejo coast?
Vila Nova de Milfontes has a decent seafood restaurant to suite all budgets. Tasca do Celso is the best in town – with an elegant, modern dining room flooded with natural light and contemporary Alentejo dishes like Tiger Prawns with rice and razor clams. Morais is simpler but the fish is so fresh it practically wriggles on the plate.
Which hilltop villages are the most atmospheric, in your experience?
Marvão in Autumn or Winter when the chestnuts are roasting and the clouds sweep over the battlements, Castelo de Vide in Spring when the window boxes are in full bloom. Monsarraz in summer when the whitewashed houses are brilliant against the blue dome of the sky.
Don’t miss visiting the stunning medieval fortified town of Marvão © ARoxoPT, Shutterstock
Where would you recommend for first-time visitors to the Alentejo?
That really depends on taste. But the region is small enough to take in a bit of everything even in a week or ten day visit – a beach, a castle, a national park and a sprinkling of historic towns and villages.
What’s next for you as a travel writer, and what advice would you offer to those interesting in travel writing?
I have a series of articles I will be writing on Thailand and Cambodia in the New Year. After that I will be focusing on Rio and Brazil in general for the Olympics, and the gods of publishing will, I hope penning a new edition of the Bradt Guide to Bahia.
Check out Alex’s Alentejo guidebook: