Your love letter from Portugal
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The Alentejo region is definitely one of my favourite places to explore (and eat), and one that I feel like I’ll never fully cover. Yep, it’s Portugal’s largest covering everywhere south of Setùbal, west of Lisbon and north of the Algarve region.
From the wild, endless coastlines, wind through golden fields dotted with cork trees until you reach the border with Spain. By the sea expect quieter beaches and good surf. Inland expect small fortified medieval towns and some of the best food around. Don’t skip trying porco preto. It’s meat from the special acorn-fed black Iberican pigs.
Find a field with cork trees at golden hour, or stand atop the castle in magical Monsaraz. Don’t miss the pottery in nearby Corval.
These two curious, historic towns are more than the perfect halfway point to Seville.
Food tip… Try a dessert called seracaia. It’s my favourite and you can only find it in the Alentejo. I’m more of a savoury girl, but I often reserve a slice before my mains in case the tasca runs out. The cake, made with eggs, sugar, flour, milk, lemon and cinnamon, is cooked in a big terracotta dish and served with a sticky, sweet Elvas plum.
Where to stay in the Alentejo region depends on where you want to visit. For calm, coastal vibes spend a weekend in upmarket Comporta or Melides, or venture further south to Porto Covo and Vila Nova de Milfontes.
The Alentejo definitely has a soft spot in my heart for not only the landscapes but the food. Black Iberican pigs roam in fields under cork trees feeding on acorns before they become prized presunto ham. What happens to the rest of the pig? Well, look in restaurants for fatty cuts of delicious porco preto on the grill.
The Alentejo has some other unique dishes and produce worth seeking out. The first is pão Alentejano, a type of bread that is simply fantastic. In the Alentejo, they use leftover bread in a dish called Açorda Alentejana, which usually involves a poached egg, garlic and coriander (and if you’re lucky, salted cod). A foreign friend described it as “coriander water”. Another use for stale bread is migas, where the bread is turned into crumbs and then mixed with other tasty things to make what is similar to mashed potato but with bread.
Cheese-wise, keep an eye out for prized DOP queijos from Evorà or Serpa.
Lamb is harder to find here, but in the Alentejo look out for a delicious lamb stew called ensopado de borrego.
And, of course, wine. If you like a rich, tannin-heavy, punch-in-the-face sort of red, this is the region. Most Portuguese wines are blends, resulting in an almost always smooth drop. Don’t be afraid to order the table wine in any restaurant or tasca.
Definitely hire a car if you can. This is a huge area dotted with towns, villages, beaches and castles to pull up at and snap pictures. It takes about 90 minutes to reach Évora.
If you can’t rent a car, there is a train to Évora and Beja, and you’ll find regular buses connecting the towns and villages.
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