Alentejo is open space that appears to have no end. It is colors and smells that burst from the earth. It is the unmistakable outline of rural architecture, present in the "montes” (farm complexes) of the great estates, in the oldest rows of houses in the cities, towns and villages or in the chapels, which paint with white the tops of hills. It is what is gleaned from the ways of being and doing, from the arts and skills that are conserved and renewed, from the tradition that is maintained and recreated, from the "choral chanting” that, with heart and soul, only the Alentejans know how to sing.
In this region, golden plains that disappear out of sight combine with the sun and the heat to impose their own slow, steady rhythm. Inland, the vast golden wheat fields undulate in the wind; along the coast, unspoiled beaches look rugged and unexplored.
The open, ample landscape is peppered with cork-oaks or olive trees that have withstood the ravages of time. Occasionally sturdy fortress walls rise up from hills, as at Marvão or Monsaraz, or you’ll see just a simple dolmen reminding you of the magic of the place. Atop small hills stand white one-story farmsteads, while the castles are reminders of the battles and conquests that once took place here. The patios and gardens bear witness to the influence of the Arabs, who helped to shape the people and the nature.
In the Alentejo, the brute force of the land dictates the march of time. Perhaps this is why the region’s culture has its own particular character. All you need to do is visit Évora and discover its Roman roots and the delightful charm of its heritage to understand why the city has been classified as a world heritage site. When you see the temple of Diana and some of the city’s churches, you’ll regard your time as well spent.
But don’t travel northwards or southwards without exploring the region’s coastline. There the landscape consists of high sheer cliffs sheltering tiny beaches. There are also the sweet smells of the countryside, the herbs and spices used to season fish and seafood dishes.
In the Alentejo the time passes slowly because the region follows the rhythm of the land itself.
In the Alentejo, you travel naturally with and to History. The Cromeleque dos Almendres (cromlech / megalithic enclosure) is a spectacular conjunction of 95 monoliths from a period between the Neolithic and the Chalcolithic, some of which display engravings that are geometrical or astral in character. Although many questions about these types of monuments remain unanswered, it is possible that the theories that relate them to an astral cult have some foundation. The highest point of megalithic culture lies between the 4th and 3rd millennia BC, with hundreds of monuments from this period having been identified in the Region. Setting out into the countryside to discover the dolmens (passage graves), cromlechs (megalithic enclosures) and menhirs (standing stones) is one of the most gratifying of the experiences to be enjoyed in the Alentejo.
The Roman period in the Alentejo began in the 2nd century BC and lasted until the fall of the Roman Empire in the 5th century. From these times, and from their influence on later periods, there remain many memories: mining and agricultural exploitation carried out on great estates crowned by luxurious and richly decorated houses (the Roman villas); ceramics industries, salt mines, fish-salting and ship-building; fortresses, temples, bridges, paved roads and pathways, sanctuaries, theatres, dams, aqueducts; municipalities as the basis for the structure of local administration. And there remains with us, obviously, Latin as the mother tongue of the Portuguese.
The period of Arab occupation, begun in the 8th century, lasted in the south of Portugal for almost 500 years. From this long period of shared occupancy, the region inherited agricultural plants and techniques, systems for capturing and storing water, culinary customs, hundreds of different words, construction techniques, decorative tastes, artistic styles, urban environments. The archetypes of many of the castles from the Reconquest are Moorish in character and a number of Christian churches were built over earlier mosques. Mértola, the most Arabic town in Portugal, is a place where you can really understand this inheritance.
The last interior port of the great river route, the Guadiana, Mértola has been an active center of commerce since the Roman period of occupation and earned the prestigious title of municipium, was the capital of a Muslim kingdom during the Islamic period, and became the main headquarters of the Order of Santiago. Here, in ancient times, settled people were circulating products from the most disparate places in the Mediterranean and exporting bread and olive oil from the storehouses of Beja and minerals from Aljustrel and São Domingos. The mosque, converted to a Christian church, is the only Arab religious space still conserved in Portugal.
After the Reconquest, a lot of Moors accepted the rules that were imposed on them for allowing them to remain in Portugal. This process brought about the creation of Moorish Quarters, at the time situated on the outskirts of the urban centers. These districts, today fully integrated within the general rows of houses in towns and cities, retain some, though few, traces of their presence, but they do maintain the names and layout, as is the case in Évora, Beja and Moura, among others.
The rural quality of the Alentejo has preserved a value full of future promise: the smallness and environmental quality of its urban centers, the human scale, the silence, the peacefulness, the freedom, the freshness of the air you breathe. It is time. A way that is so peculiar of understanding time, making us feel under our skins that, finally, it is possible to live time in this dizzying world, allowing it to be exactly what it is: the most precious of our possessions.
The Alentejo has a clear vocation for Activity Tourism and for Nature Tourism. The beauty of the landscape invites excursions on foot, on mountain bikes and on horseback, and the country lanes known as estradas municipais, despite the absence of cycle lanes, are excellent for cycling-tourism.
On the rivers, the reservoirs and the coast, many water-based activities are possible. The beaches are of the highest quality. And the sky, with this fantastic climate, is ideal for parachuting, paragliding, ballooning and microlight flights.
If you have only a little time, it is best if you explore the Montemor-o-Novo – Évora – Monsaraz axis, where you will find some of the most important cultural monuments. After a visit to the Núcleo Arqueológico do Convento de S. Domingos (the archaeological museum set in a Dominican convent), in Montemor-o-Novo, or the Centro Interpretativo Megalithica Ebora do Convento dos Remédios (the small museum explaining the advent of the Megalithic, in the Remédios convent, next to the cemetery), in Évora, excellent introductions to the theme of the period of the megaliths, you will easily find: in the area around Évora, the Anta Grande (great dolmen) do Zambujeiro, the antas (dolmens) do Barrocal and the menir e cromeleque (standing stone and megalithic enclosure) dos Almendres; in the area around Monsaraz, the antas do Olival da Pega, the cromeleque do Xerez and the imposing menhirs of Outeiro, Belhôa, Barrocal and Monte da Ribeira, the last re-erected inside an adega patrimonial (a heritage winery). Still within the Évora Region, it is well worthwhile making a short detour to the town of Pavia to take a look at the anta-capela (dolmen-chapel) de S. Dinis, a curious example of the Christianisation of a monument that is considered pagan.
On the Castelo de Vide – Marvão axis, you should visit the Centro de Interpretação do Megalitismo (center for the interpretation of the Megalithic), situated in a former magazine of Castelo de Vide castle. You could then visit the Anta da Melriça, the Parque Megalítico dos Coureleiros (dolmen 2) and the Menir da Meada; and, in the village of Aldeia da Mata (Crato/Flor da Rosa), the Anta Grande do Tapadão, one of the most beautiful and best-conserved in the whole of the Alentejo.
Many other monuments can be seen. It is enough to train the eye to spot them in the landscape. Some of the walking nature excursions, which are strongly recommend, are the best way of finding them and also of feeling how they are an example of the way in which there is a thousands-of-years-old alliance between landscape and heritage.
Évora is the inevitable reference point for anyone coming to the Alentejo inspired by the theme of Heritage. Classified by UNESCO as A World Heritage Site, Évora justly occupies an important place in any Cultural Tourism itinerary. Its architectural and artistic heritage is so omnipresent and impressive that this alone guides the steps of anyone who loves strolling around with no fixed direction: from the Roman to the Neoclassical, by way of the Gothic and various expressions of the Manueline, the Renaissance and the Baroque, all the epochs of history are documented with works that fully satisfy the eye and the soul. Referring only to what is essential, you need several hours to visit the Roman Temple, the Cathedral of Santa Maria, the Igreja (church) de São Francisco and the Chapel of Bones, the Palace of King D. Manuel, the Ermida (chapel) de São Brás (St Blaize), the Mirador-Terrace of the Casa (house) Cordovil, the Manueline Window of the Casa de Garcia de Resende, the Colégio do Espírito Santo, now part of Évora University, the Igreja da Misericórdia, Praça do Giraldo (the main square) and the Teatro Garcia de Resende.
To get to know the Alentejo well, you should visit it in all of the seasons. The landscape changes a great deal during the year and the rural activities that are most interesting to observe are seasonal. September is the time for harvesting the grapes and making the wine. You can see this from any road where there are vineyards, but you would gain much from choosing an organized eno-tourism program: you will be able to understand the skills, participate and, at the same time, taste the wines of previous years. In October, stroll with no clear destination to contemplate the palette of colors provided by the chestnut trees where cultivation transforms the Alentejo. Enjoy the sun of the so-called "summer of the Quinces” and, if there are quinces where you are staying, ask your hosts if you can attend the making of home-made marmelada (quince jam). In November, taste the new wine on St Martin’s Day (11th November), a time when the region is again blessed with several days of summer weather. It is an excellent time to visit places that have festivals, such as Marvão, Cabeção, Borba or Vila de Frades. Between November and January, watch the harvesting of the olives (the traditional way, not mechanized) and go inside an olive press.
In the Spring, the countryside is filled with thousands and thousands of wild flowers, which are an inexhaustible subject for photographers. When the first heat arrives, the sheep shearing begins. If there are no flocks where you are staying, ask where you might attend this. On Ascension Day, take part in the ritual called Dia da Espiga (ear of wheat/rye/barley etc). Join the people who go into the countryside and always put together a spray as tradition dictates: 5 ears of wheat, 5 poppies, 5 olive twigs, 5 white corn marigolds and 5 yellow corn marigolds. Hang these outside your front door for a year in the belief that they will bring, for you and for your family, bread, peace and happiness.
In June and July the yellow and gold takes over the countryside. This is cereal harvest time. A time to imagine, at the height of the heat, the life of the men and women who, years ago, did by hand from sunrise to sunset what is now done by combine harvesters and balers. Later, when you listen to Alentejan singing, you will understand it better. But it is not only the yellow of the dryness that you will see in the countryside: in the months of summer you can see the brilliant yellow of the fields of sunflowers and of lupines, the exuberant green of the vines and, around the reservoirs that irrigate the interior of the Alentejo, the strong colors of corn and of horticultural plots. This is an excellent time to see the rice fields in the Sado valley and, above them, the painted pink and white of flamingos in flight. Also in June and July and sometimes in August, don’t miss the cutting of the cork and the surprising orange color of the bare trunks, which suddenly brighten up the montado (oak woodland and pasture). It is one of the most interesting activities in the region, one that demands great skills and provides work for anyone who has them. Since bark of the cork oak can only be removed every nine years, again ask your hosts if they can tell you where you can watch this activity happening.
At every season, whenever you sense in the air the strong smell of burned wood, stop and go to take a look at the traditional ovens making charcoal from holm-oak and olive wood. If you are on the coast, visit a fishing port. There, as in the rest of the world, the fishermen are courageous folk and fail to venture out to sea only when they are prevented from doing so. Go and watch them set out in search of everything that makes the difference in the Alentejan coastal cuisine and, when they return from the sea try attending a fish auction.
During your travels you will discover the great example of wisdom that makes up traditional architecture. The buildings are integrated into the landscape as if they make up part of it, using materials and solutions to problems adapted to the climate and to their function. They assume groupings which are naturally balanced and which, still today, are the source of inspiration for contemporary planning and building.
In North Alentejo, make sure you visit the towns of Marvão and Castelo de Vide, the latter with a Jewish Quarter that is the most astonishing in the whole Region. But also look at Alegrete, inside and outside the castle, and at the tiny Flor da Rosa, at the Historical Center of Cabeço de Vide and at Alter Pedroso.
In Central Alentejo, it is essential to get to know the three jewels: Evoramonte, Terena and Monsaraz. As an example of a town that is lively and well cared for, visit Redondo. A paradigm of the restoration of a totally abandoned village is S. Gregório, at the foot of Serra d’Ossa, the first Tourism Village in the Region.
In Lower Alentejo, the Historical Centers of Alvito, Serpa and Mértola are outstanding, each with its own specific atmosphere, but you should also look at the ancient rows of houses in small places such as Vila Alva, between Alvito and Cuba, Casével and Aivados, near to Castro Verde, and the beautiful Messejana, a short distance from Aljustrel.
On the Alentejan coast, three small villages, with very different layouts, are sufficient to demonstrate to those who spend their holidays in this area for the sun and the sea that it is worthwhile giving the beach a rest from time to time and making a trip into the interior: Santa Susana (Alcácer do Sal), Lousal (Grândola) and, in the hills of the Serra, Vale de Santiago (Odemira).
Whenever you visit a village, look for the most striking characteristics of the rural architecture: the single-story houses; thick walls with few openings, traditionally built of lath and plaster, a solution well known for keeping in the heat in the winter and the cool in the summer while using few means; the enormous chimneys, sometimes higher than the house, whence exit the fumes from the hearths that heat the cold nights and cure the home-made sausages and prepared meats; the privileged place the kitchen occupies; the bread oven, sometimes common to the whole village, with its unmistakable arched roof; the texture of the outside and inside walls which, every year, the women cover with a layer of fresh whitewash; and the colored edges and skirting which, in old times, were predominantly painted yellow-ochre or blue.
In the Alentejo there are dozens of small ethnographical museums (or núcleos de etnografia of municipal museums) which preserve memories of the traditional house, of trades, crafts and skills that have disappeared, of tools and implements that have fallen into disuse, of the life of villages and of their customs.
They have been built up with so much love and devotion, almost always relying on pieces donated by the inhabitants. Whenever you come across one, you should visit it. But among the many that could be called the most interesting, there are three you should not miss: the Museu do Chocalho (livestock-bell museum) in Alcáçovas, with more than 3,000 bells, each with its own sound, installed in the workshop of Sr. João Penetra, a professional bell maker; the Museu Etnográfico in Serpa, with its permanent exhibition ("Workshops of the Land”; and the Museu Etnográfico e Arqueológico in Santa Clara-a-Nova (Almodôvar), which offers an exceptional creation, with life-size figures, of the everyday life of the village. In Santa Clara, also visit the povoado (hamlet) da Mesa de Castelinhos and, in Almodôvar, the unexpected Museu da Escrita do Sudoeste the (Sudlusitanian-Tartessian Writing Museum), believed to be the first written expression in the Iberian Peninsula.
Besides agriculture, fishing, livestock rearing, forestry and quarrying (for marble, schist and granite), the rural landscape is still marked by other activities connected to the earth’s resources which, in golden times, provide people with a living. This is the case with milling and with mining.
The milling of cereals using water mills built on the rivers and windmills set on the hilltops was, from the 1960s on, finally replaced by mechanical milling. The ruins remain, some of them beautiful, such as the mills of the Guadiana. But there were others that came to know other destinies: they were restored, some by private lovers of such art, some by local authorities, who transformed them into living museum pieces. Among the latter, the windmills of Castro Verde, of S. Miguel do Pinheiro (Mértola) and of Santiago do Cacém can be visited an any time; and, with prior booking, the water mill of Alferes, on the Vascão river, the southernmost Alentejan tributary of the Guadiana.
As far as the exploitation of the extensive seams of Alentejan pyrite is concerned, the Aljustrel and of Lousal mines deserve mention as interesting sites of Industrial Archaeology.
The Mines of Aljustrel, in use since Roman times, when the town was known as Vipasca, have had a troubled history, with successive phases of exploitation and closure. This saga has continued until present times, but the grave problems that it has caused should not deter you from taking a look at it from the perspective of its great historical and archaeological value. This is a major reason for visiting Aljustrel. You can get to know about the treasures extracted from the mine in the Municipal Museum and take a Mining Excursion, marked by various points of interest such as the Compressor Center, the White Stones, the Industrial Area of the Caverns, the Vipasca Whim (a kind of windlass), the Trastagana Chimney and the hillock where stands the chapel of Nossa Senhora do Castelo, emblem of the heritage of the town and with a spectacular view.
The Lousal Mine began and ended its activity in the 20th century and is to be the object of a revitalization project, bringing together industrial archaeology and state-of-the-art technology. Appreciate the mining village, a good example of traditional rural architecture; visit the Museu da Central Eléctrica (electricity power-station museum); take a look at the beautiful pieces in the Centro de Artesanato (handicrafts center); and, of course, embark on a virtual voyage, conceived and realized with the advanced technology which allows you access to the depths of the mine while you remain on the surface.
Linked to Marian cults or to devotions to the saints, for those who enjoy benefits or seek mercy, the chapels are a fundamental element of rural life and of traditional architecture itself. Almost all of them date from the 16th to the 18th centuries, although there are treasures from earlier times. Normally they consist of three parts: the chancel, with vaulted dome, the central nave and, on the exterior, a covered porch, well ventilated and lined with benches for pilgrims to rest on. They are located either in or outside villages, on hilltops, or with party walls shared with isolated farms. Some have interesting tile cladding, frescos and extraordinary collections of votive offerings. They are always impeccably whitewashed for the festival days in honor of Our Lady or the Patron Saint.
In the north of the Alentejo, have a look at the granite and bucolic Senhora da Redonda, near to Alpalhão; Senhora da Lapa, with a superb panoramic view, in Besteiros, Portalegre; Senhora de Entre Águas, in Benavila; and the Santuário do Senhor Jesus da Piedade, in Elvas, where an important collection of votive offerings is on display.
In Central Alentejo, there are four important sanctuaries of great heritage value: N.ª S.ª das Brotas, in Brotas, Mora, set among the former houses of the fraternity, is an excellent example of rural architecture; N.ª S.ª do Monte do Carmo, in Azaruja, covered with more than 1,500 votive offerings, is today part of a Rural Hotel installed in the former pilgrims’ houses; N.ª S.ª da Boa Nova de Terena is a fortified chapel of the 14th century; and, in Rococo style, N.ª S.ª d’ Aires, in Viana do Alentejo, also has an important collection of votive offerings in the Casa dos Milagres (house of miracles) and which, every festival year, is the occasion of a major horseback pilgrimage (pilgrimage, 4th weekend in April; fair, 4th weekend in September). For an example of a "mirador” chapel go up to N.ª S.ª da Visitação, in Montemor-o-Novo.
In Lower Alentejo, have a look at Senhora da Represa, on the road from Cuba to Vila Ruiva, with a fantastic interior that can be visited on the day of its festival (Easter Monday) and through the program called "The Fresco Route” (information from the Tourist Offices in Alvito, Cuba, Viana do Alentejo, Vidigueira and Portel); N.ª S.ª da Guadalupe, also known as S. Gens, in Serpa, is a beautiful church of Mudejar appearance; N.ª S.ª de Aracelis, close to the hamlet of Salto, S. Marcos da Ataboeira (Castro Verde), is truly a "roof onto the world” of the south; and N.ª S.ª da Cola, between Ourique and Santana da Serra, is part of the Circuito Arqueológico da Cola, another weighty reason for visiting the place.
Finally, on the Alentejan coast, despite the many chapels to be found there, especially in the villages in the hills, check the ones with religious festivals that include sea or river processions involving decorated fishing boats, such as those at N.ª S.ª do Rosário, in Tróia, N.ª S.ª das Salas, in Sines and N.ª S.ª da Graça, in Vila Nova de Milfontes.
You will find the calendars of festivals, fairs and pilgrimages for each locality in the Tourist Offices. Of the posters you will come across during your stay, take special note of their musical programs and don’t miss those that include "Saias”, characteristic songs and dances of North Alentejo; the popular songs, called "Despique and Baldão”, typical of some of the council areas in Lower Alentejo and Coastal Alentejo; and the activities of choral groups who can offer you the magic of Cante Alentejano.
Handcrafts in the Alentejo are changing. The time is gone when they were identified only with the rugged faces of the old masters, who worked in clay, iron, pewter, wood, cork, wicker, leather, hide or horn, and with the skilled hands of women who painted everyday dishes, made lace, did embroidery or spent endless hours in front of their looms. The tradition passed from parents to children, but the masters became teachers of a wider public. In this way a new generation of artists began to emerge, who invested in what people sought after, leaving the rest to the place to be displayed in museums.
Among the arts that are establishing the right to have a future, three worth mentioning: pottery and painting, work in hide and leather and textiles. They are linked to three well-defined centers of production/creation, which provide training, can be visited and have products for sale, in the workshops themselves and in shops selling regional handicrafts. Begin by going to the Tourist Offices, where good collections are on display, and pick up information about where you can see the artisans at work and can purchase some of their products.
Pottery and Painting
The Alentejo offers an interesting diversity of pottery and painting. The Barros (clays) da Flor da Rosa fulfill all of the requisites to deserve the classification of "artisan handicrafts”: they use the raw material of the region, dug from the so-called "barreiras” (clay pits), and still maintain traditional methods of production.
The Olaria (pottery) Pedrada de Nisa is unique in the Alentejo. After the red-clay pieces are shaped, they are decorated with designs involving small quartz stones, gathered from the Serra de S. Miguel, encrusted on the surface. In Nisa, also take a look at the Núcleo do Bordado (embroidery), situated in the Centro Transfronteiriço de Artesanato e Produtos Tradicionais (trans-frontier center for traditional handicrafts and other products).
In Estremoz, its famous Barrística (figurines in clay) is outstanding. The best way to get to know it is to visit the Museu Municipal Prof. Joaquim Vermelho, which exhibits a notable collection of popular art from the 18th and 19th centuries. The traditional themes continue to inspire the city’s artisans. The niche saints and the nativity scenes are the best known and most sought after, especially by collectors. The nativity scenes include both sacred and profane figures and some of the latter are created and sold separately. But there are other recurrent themes: the whistles and the "nightingales”; the hooks for making socks, lace or mesh; the "Napoleons”, soldiers dressed in uniforms from the time of the French Invasions; the "blacks” with red skirts; the "Springs”, figures of a woman dressed as a dancer with an arc of roses from shoulder to shoulder and a hat decorated with little bows and flowers; and, laden with symbolism, the metaphor "love is blind”, the figure of a woman with eyes blindfolded.
As far as utilitarian and decorative pottery is concerned, although there is production in various locations, there are three names of reference: Redondo, Viana do Alentejo and S. Pedro Do Corval, the biggest center of pottery in the Iberian Peninsula. Pitchers, amphorae, vases, jugs, plates of all shapes and sizes, cups, candle-holders, decorative garden pieces, all can be found in these welcoming places, which deserve a visit for this and other reasons. All the potteries are open to the public, which allows you to follow the process of creation from the shaping of the piece, through the drying, the firing in the kiln and the final decoration.
Work in leather and hide
Harness for animals, saddles for bullfighting and for rides into the country, bags, shoes and boots, padded slippers, clothing for everyday wear and for hunting, these are some of the items in leather and hide which continue to be made and sold in the Alentejo.
In Terugem, near Elvas, and in Nossa Senhora de Machede, near Évora, there are tanneries which, despite some mechanization, conserve a truly mediaeval atmosphere. It’s worth visiting them and having contact with the stages the leather goes through before arriving in the hands of the person who transforms it and produces the final piece of work. Aside from these two places, you can find excellent artisans working in leather and hide in Alter do Chão (belts and straps), in Cuba (footwear), in Almodôvar (footwear) and in Alcácer do Sal (belts and straps).
Blankets, covers, rugs and tapestries
Traditional Alentejan blankets and covers are made on looms, using sheep’s wool, white and black. They are very beautiful pieces. They can be put on beds, hung on walls and, in some cases, serve as rugs. Traditional patterns are joined with others, with new colors, the fruit of the creativity of the designer and the maker. Today, using the same techniques, but also using cotton, are made curtains, pieces to decorate any table, cloaks, ponchos, cushion covers, bags, travel bags, socks and towels … The main centers of production which provide training in this craft and continue to be active are Reguengos de Monsaraz and Mértola.
The carpets and rugs of Arraiolos, embroidered throughout the centuries, are still being created thanks to the work, ingenuity and art of the various generations of embroiderers who, even today, are often to be seen sitting on the doorway to their houses continuing to create, stitch by stitch, the traditional designs.
As far as is known, everything began in the 15th century when, on the orders of King Manuel I, various Moorish families were expelled from Lisbon. On the road to North Africa and southern Spain, some stopped in Arraiolos and stayed there. Faced with a warm welcome from the locals, the artisans of these groups, disguised as "new Christians”, began to work in the manufacture of rugs and carpets.
Arraiolos continues to be the capital of this art which, in June, enjoys a high point of self-revelation in the celebration called "O Tapete está na Rua” (the carpet is on the street). Its shops are often places where the work is carried out and can be visited throughout the year and it is worthwhile watching live the skills of the embroiderers. But it is also worthwhile going up to the castle, the only circular one in the Alentejo, and to stroll along the narrow streets that cut through the rows of traditional houses, to go into the Igreja da Misericórdia whose nave is covered in tiles which tell the story of the Misericórdia’s work. Make sure you don’t miss the local delicacy and taste the succulent pastéis de toucinho (sweet tartlets).
The tapestry of Portalegre, fine decoration for walls, is a special case in the creation of textiles in the Alentejo. It was born in the Manufactura de Portalegre of Guy Fino, a manufacturing process which placed Portugal on the list of the great tapestry producers in the world. Its originality comes from a specific technique invented by Manuel do Carmo Peixeiro in the 1920s, known as "ponto de Portalegre” (the Portalegre stitch). This stitch allowed models to be exactly reproduced, in this case work by some of the great names in painting such as Almada Negreiros, Vieira da Silva or Vítor Pomar. You can get to know the history and see the permanent exhibition in the Museu Guy Fino, installed in the Palácio Castel-Branco, in Portalegre.
Don’t miss a chance to appreciate the painted wooden furniture of Évora, Redondo and Ferreira do Alentejo, always complemented by chairs with rush or wicker seats; the furniture and decorative objects in wrought iron of Campo Maior and Ferreira do Alentejo, among which you will find contemporary pieces that are highly sought after; and throughout the region, the baskets, the objects in cork and horn, and the various expressions of pastoral art in wood.
The Museu de Artes Tradicionais de Évora (traditional arts and crafts museum), situated in the space that was the former Celeiro Comum (communal granary), has on display an excellent collection which brings together rare pieces associated with the heritage of the region, together with interesting contemporary creations. Its inexhaustible documentation center, open to visitors, fulfills well the function of being guide to what is the essence of Alentejan handicrafts.
The Alentejo and Ribatejo are the two regions in Portugal with a recognized tradition for breeding the Lusitanian Horse and for rearing fighting bulls, bringing fame to the equestrian arts and to national bullfighting activities. In respect to the latter, the bullfights held throughout the year in many bullrings in the Alentejo are various. They are spectacles that are widely reported and highly competitive. It is noteworthy that only one bullring – that of Barrancos – is, exceptionally, allowed to kill the bull, a practice that is prohibited in other Portuguese bullfights.
The Lusitanian Horse – The Alter Real Stud
The Coudelaria de Alter Real was founded in 1748 by King João V, with the object of improving national horse breeding and giving to the "Real Picaria”, the equestrian school of the Portuguese court in the 18th century, a necessary quality and dignity. 250 years later, it is still in the same premises – the Tapada do Arneiro – and gives continuity to the tradition of providing the Lusitanian breed of horses for the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arts, heir to the Royal Equestrian School, which today functions in the Palace of Queluz. At the Coudelaria de Alter Real, there is an interesting and varied program of guided visits for those interested in equestrian arts. Among the most spectacular attractions of the Coudelaria are particularly the release of the mares into the open pasture and the displays of falconry. You can also attend the selection and testing activities as well as the diverse activities of the riding school.
As for permanent exhibitions, in the Casa dos Trens is the exhibition of harness and horse-drawn carriages of the 19th century; in The Horse Museum, you can see "The Horse and Humankind – A Relationship of Thousands of Years”, with pieces from the private collection of Rainer Daehnhardt, some around 3,000 years old.
The Coudelaria de Alter Real breeds the Cavalo do Sorraia, considered to be the first Iberian breed of horse, which is in danger of extinction. It is one of the trustee institutions of a nucleus dedicated to the Prezewalski horse, the last species of horse found in the wild (in 1880), and participates in the international program for its conservation.
With prior booking, it is possible to ride a horse or travel in a carriage at weekends and on public holidays. In April, the Coudelaria Week takes place, when there are various equestrian activities and it includes the famous Leilão de Equinos (horse auction). In May, there is the Horse Festival.
In the Alentejo you can eat and drink very well. Eating, drinking and snacking (petiscos) are rituals, ways of socializing, of entertaining friends and guests, of celebrating. It is customary to say that, in a true Alentejan’s house, whether rich or poor, the table is always set.
From traditional recipes to recent innovations in gourmet cooking, from the savories to the traditional sweets and puddings created in convents, in the Alentejo you will find everything, created and recreated with the finest products of the land, a lot of imagination and that mysterious thing called "mão” ("touch”). The wines, the cheeses, the cured meats and sausages are excellent. The sweets and puddings are a divine sin. There has been serious investment in the certification of products including new projects for organic products.
Dedicate time to discovering all of this. Experience an upmarket restaurant, which offers a meal prepared with refined sophistication, as well as genuine popular cooking, which is often found in a village tasca (small restaurant or tavern) where people meet up at the end of the day to enjoy petiscos (snacks). Taste the wines in the adegas (wineries) in direct contact with the producers. Participate in cookery courses, and don’t be worried about your diet: some good walks will burn off the calories.