I’ve always had a thing for road tripping, the exhilarating sense of freedom and not knowing what lies ahead. The Alentejo region, south of Lisbon (‘Alentejo’ literally means below the Tagus) and north of the Algarve is perfect for a road trip. The landscape varies immensely: from spectacular coastlines to inviting inlands where tranquility and space are the key words. And, not unimportant, the roads are very good! Starting point of this trip is Lisbon, where I pick up my rental car. Now let’s get the party started…..”Alentejo, here I come!”
My first stop is an hour’s drive south of Lisbon, on the coast: Comporta. I am totally captivated by my surroundings, gorgeous! I can see why the local elite from Lisbon venture out to this place for the weekend, or even have a holiday home here…Wild sand dunes covered with umbrella pines (a microclimate allows pines to flourish here), vast and unspoiled beaches, cork oaks, tiny fishing villages and rice paddies (!) determine the landscape here and give it its unique character. There are no words to describe Comporta and its surroundings, even though it is regularly compared to Ibiza or St. Tropez, quite unfairly I think…..Comporta is far too Portuguese for that! By the way, don’t forget to visit Carrasquiera, a quaint and beautiful little fishing village, especially at sunset or sunrise, when the tide is low and the boats get stranded, creating a mystical atmosphere. Spending the night at Local Hideaway ‘Sublime Comporta’, where nature and luxury are in perfect harmony, is lovely.
I continue my way along the Alentejo coast, glad to have some time at my hands, for it is stunningly beautiful here. Wild and unspoiled – I’m overwhelmed by the steep cliffs and the small gems of beaches nestled between them. I think every season must be great in these parts (even though the summer months are considerably more crowded as this is when the Portuguese venture out themselves…I can’t say I blame them, they know all the great places to go!), for in bad weather the violently crashing waves create a marvellous spectacle.
This is the Costa Vicentina Natural Park, one of Portugal’s 13 official natural parks, located in the south-west of Portugal – stretching from Sines in the Alentejo all the way to Sagres, the southern-most point, in the Algarve. It’s paradise for (kite) surfers, perfect for mountain biking, but especially great for hikers. For example, there’s Rota Vicentina, which runs through the entire Costa Vicentina Park. This route features marked hiking trails (and mountain bike trails as well these days) and consists of two parts. The Caminho Histórico (the Historical Way), is 230 km long and takes you through the interior of the region. The second part is the Trilho dos Pescadores (the Fisherman’s Trail). This hiking trail runs along the coastal path used by fishermen to get to their favourite fishing spot. The trail takes hikers through dunes covered with succulents and along sandy beaches and towering cliffs. It comprises a total of 4 sections, each of which is about a day’s walk. A perfect stopover is LH ‘Herdade do Touril’, an authentic place in Zambujeira do Mar.
The coast always has a magical pull and I feel that Costa Vicentina is one of the most beautiful, spectacular coastlines in the world! Gorgeous and so worth discovering this hidden part of Portugal!
But unfortunately, the time has come say goodbye to the stunning Alentejo coastline and I continue my journey inland, where tranquility and space prevail, with narrow roads meandering through a landscape full of cork oaks, olive groves, vineyards and quaint little villages and interesting cities. I make a short stop in Evora, with its beautiful historical centre; a UNESCO world heritage site. A beautiful city to wander around in for a day: Roman remains, a stunning cathedral, lovely shops and a large selection of restaurants ….and then I head on to Monsaraz, in the region famous for its textiles and ceramics. A mere stone’s throw away from this fortified town is Local Hideaway ‘São Lourenço do Barrocal’. This luxury hotel exudes the Alentejo soul and is unique in its kind!
Monsaraz is my favourite city in the Alentejo. I visited it several years ago and really wanted to return here. Timing is very important when you go, make sure you arrive either before or after the tourist buses, and then you’ll have this beautiful white village, perched on a hill with a stunning view of the Alqueva reservoir (the largest in Western-Europa), practically all to yourself. Take it easy, wander through the narrow alleys, visit my favourite shop Mizette for a beautiful hand-woven wool carpet or blanket and have a bite to eat in one of the restaurants, it’s lovely. I was there early in the morning, when the light is extraordinary and reflects off the white plaster walls…..magical.
At a leisurely pace, you can make better time if you’re in a hurry, I take the alternative route back to Lisbon, where I have to return my car…on the way I stop for a cup of coffee ‘local style’; at the bar (for only 60 Eurocents!) and contemplate Portugal!
This trip is another confirmation of how much I love Portugal. It’s the combination of the friendly, genuine, Portuguese, who are totally unpretentious, and the beautiful diverse landscape. It’s all rather unpolished, which attracts me enormously. The Alentejo is a perfect example of this: a diamond in the rough! It has a rugged breath-taking coastline and a pastoral interior with beautiful towns and sleepy little villages….This is where real Portuguese life is happening and all you have to do is adjust your pace and surrender to it:
SLOW TRAVEL TO THE MAX!
Esther van Onna – Founder Local Hideaways. July 2017
Local Hideaways Portugal: www.localhideaways.com