Alentejo literally means beyond the Tejo (Tagus River). It borders with Algarve in the South, Spain in the East, Tagus river in the North and the Atlantic Ocean in the West. So far the geography refresh.
This wine-growing and olive oil-producing region also has over 60 km of wide sandy beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. Mostly located in natural parks and therefore unspoiled.
Since we partly live in Algarve and are frequent visitors of the capital city Lisbon, we developed a crush on Alentejo while crossing the region. The vast, rolling landscapes with dramatic trees standing solo on hill tops against blue skies.
My tip? Start your next trip to Algarve in Lisbon. Rent a car and make a 24H Alentejo roadtrip detour on your way down to the South and fly back home from Faro airport.
First stop in Alentejo, Troia Resort
They say it’s not about the destination but about the journey, well for Troia Peninsula both qualifies in equal terms. It takes about 35 minutes from Lisbon airport to the fisherman’s village of Setubal where ferry-boat leaves for Troia Peninsula. I love ferries.
The peninsula is a long narrow sandy stretch where the river meets the Atlantic Ocean, part of the Arrábida National Park. Home to a colony of dolphins and with Roman Ruins as important archaeological site.
The Troia resort consists of 2 high-rise apartment/suite hotels called Aqualuz, with stunning views from the top floors and several large townhouses and apartamentos tuísticos for rent. Rent the latter in high season (the ones facing the sea, praia) since the Aqualuz Hotel is also a favourite destination for family holidays.
No kids now, it’s low season. Because of the season it is very quiet (yet we still had 22 C last Friday, yeah) so for dinner I would suggest to head out to Comporta in the evening and enjoy dinner in Museu do Arroz Restaurant, a former rice factory. During the day, rent a bike and discover the semi-island or start with a long walk along the deserted beach. Or play golf.
Troia Golf, a sandy challenge
Golf is the other major attraction of the Troia Peninsula. The Troia Golf course is a seaside dune course – links style – where you don’t want to end up on a surface with any other color than green.
This long, flat sandy stretch along the Atlantic Ocean guarantees stunning sea views with holes surrounded by huge pine trees. Making every area outside the fairway a waste bunker.
Designed by the American golf architect Trent Jones Senior, Troia Golf is elected nr. 20 in UK Golf World magazine’s best golf course on Continental Europe list 2017.
If there isn’t enough sand already, most of the greens are protected by an army of bunkers. An accurate approach shot is a must to land on the dance floor. The answer of golf director António Castelo to the question which hole is his favourite, came without hesitation:
“Hole no. 4 – a short par 3 – does not only a has magnificent sea view with the chance of seeing dolphins while tee-ing off but it also demands a clever iron shot to pass the bunkers who protect the elevated, undulated green”.
__ António Castelo
This is one of those courses that the moment you hear the sound of the golf ball falling into the cup on 18, you immediately want to drive from tee 1 again. It begs for a second round. Too bad the sun already sunk in the sea, leaving us with too less light but stunning views. We’ll be back soon.
Troia Golf – 18 holes – par 72 – 6.317 meter – green fees from 85 €
Oliveira da Serra, Alentejo equals olives
Rise and shine the next morning, Troia beach walk (run?) before breakfast!
Time to hit the road again and drive in the direction of Ferreira do Alentejo. The sea side landscape slowly changes from pine trees into endless fields of cork oaks. White (farm) houses with Alentejo blue – think Yves Klein – details and large crane nests on every empty pole available. So much space, so much nature. To amplify that feeling, turn up the volume of the Best of Amalia Rodriques.
When cork oaks make way for immense olive groves, you know that you’re close to the next stop.
Oliveira da Serra is an enormous olive oil factory, largest grove of Portugal, with a modern design and state of the – technical – art olive mill, designed by the Portuguese architect Ricardo Bak Gordon. This years harvest is almost finished, the contribution of hundreds of dedicated workers of this family owned company.
Open on week days for a free visit and/or guided tour. Check the shop.
Quinta do Quetzal, a hidden Alentejo gem
Alentejo is about what the earth provides. We foodies call it farm to fork, here it’s been the default food situation for ages and ages. Speaking of food, it’s almost lunch time but first a winery tasting tour to work up an appetite.
Quinta do Quetzal is set on the rich slopes of Vidigueira, the village you cross before heading up the winding road leading to this secluded winery. Another modern building awaits. The micro climate in this area makes it the perfect location for a unique terroir. Even the Romans had their wineries here and exploited the Alentejo on a large scale.
The modern winery preserves both Roman and ancient Alentejo winemaking traditions and techniques. The grapes are inserted on top of the adega and end up as fine wines in the wine cellars, helped purely naturally by gravity. The cellars are deep underground to create a natural, cool temperature where the wines can age gradually.
To complete the Quetzal experience, Dutch owners Cees and Inge de Bruin recently opened a new building with a restaurant, shop and art centre. The building both stands out ànd fits into its surroundings seamlessly. The roof is covered with local succulent plants in order to maximise the experience of the natural habitat of the Alentejo.
Lunch at Quinta do Quetzal
Now it’s time to digest this morning’s impressions with an extensive late lunch. The brand new restaurant overlooks the hills with grape vines in various fall colours. A few more weeks and all the leave are gone.
Consulting chef Pedro Mendes signed the menu, influenced by the gastronomy of the Alentejo, which he greatly admires. Delicious and rustic food with seasonal ingredients of local produce.
The couvert gives away the level of the food, pure and simply and of high quality. Freshly-brined olives, pure olive oil, butter with local herbs and crusty sourdough bread. This bread comes from a local Vidigueira bakery. Known for making sourdough bread the same way for over 100 years.
I rarely eat meat, being a pescetarian, but make an exemption for borrego assado, roasted lamb when I think I am at the right place. Good choice!
Do as the Romans do, visit São Vidigueira ruins
One more visit before it’s goodbye to Alentejo and travel down south to Algarve. An after-lunch-stroll along the Roman ruins of São Cucufate. This Romanesque archaeological site dates from the 1st century BC and is just 2 km away from Quinta do Quetzal. Thermal baths, wine tanks, oil & wine press area and a large temple, the Romans had it all. Even an elevated terrace with great views over the area.
After the decay of the Roman Empire this place still remained inhabited, probably until the end of the 18th century. In the late middle ages the building was used as a monestary consecrated to São Cucufate. The fresco paintings in the left part still remind of this era. If only those walls could talk…
I know, I know. I am biased when it comes to Portugal, living part-time in the Southern part for a few years now. But facts proof that Portugal has a lot to offer. From ranking the top 3 of most sunshine hours – over 2800 a year – in Europe to a great diversity of landscapes, food and people.
The region of Alentejo has a comforting stillness to it, easily accessible but also far away from hectic life. Tudo perto de si e longe de todos. Don’t we all want/need that from time to time? I’ll bet this 24H bite of Alentejo tastes like more.