While the vibrant cities of Porto and Lisbon will always have a special place in my heart, sometimes you just need a major change of pace for real life. About as far removed from the non-stop energy of a bustling metropolis, Alentejo — Portugal’s agrarian heartland — feels like a laid-back hidden treasure. Sparsely populated and never too crowded with ample room to roam, it’s defined by breathtaking scenery: rolling hills, cork trees, vineyards, sleepy villages, and pristine beaches along the coast.
A place where little changes (in the best possible way), Alentejo holds tight to its heritage and traditions. Besides its most prized export — cork — the area also produces world-class wine and olive oil. The long-standing farming practices and warm, Mediterranean climate mean heritage pork and fresh vegetables are available year-round. And the hospitality culture runs deep with family-run accommodations welcoming guests to spend relaxing days eating local cuisine, swimming in the pool, and gazing up at the stars.
Despite the bountiful things to see and do, and the relative ease of access (it’s just a few hours’ drive from Lisbon), the idyllic region is still largely overlooked by U.S. travelers. That makes it all the more ripe for unearthing away from the masses.
Ready to discover the peaceful, pastoral side of Portugal for yourself? Here’s how to plan the perfect trip to Alentejo — including where to eat, drink, explore, and stay.
What To See & Do
A good place to start if you’re visiting Alentejo for the first time? The capital and largest city in the region, Evora, is still relatively compact, so it’s easy to navigate on foot. I suggest a walking tour with a local guide (we found ours through ToursbyLocals) to see all the key sites — such as the Templo Romano Évora, which dates back more than 2,000 years, and the eerily beautiful Chapel of Bones — and gain a deeper understanding of these enduring landmarks. It’s also a great place to go shopping. Oxalá and O Cesto Artesanato sell a curated assortment of handmade ceramics, from pitchers and mugs to planters and platters as well as local gourmet goodies. You’ll also find plenty of stores to stock up on cork souvenirs.
While white marble may have put Estromez on the map (at least for a certain subset of travelers), this fortified hilltop city has plenty to offer outside of its natural resources. There’s a medieval castle with vineyard views, an exquisite museum called Museu Berardo Estremoz that houses the most impressive private tile collection in Portugal, and some wonderful artisan shops.
Aside from the few small cities and villages, the vast majority of Alentejo remains rugged, rural, and undeveloped. Getting out into nature ranks high on the list of reasons to visit. Horseback riding, 4x4 tours, and hot air ballooning are favorite inland activities for adventure lovers. The region produces two-thirds of the world's cork. If you’re interested in learning more about the important industry, I recommend going cork trekking at Herdade da Maroteira.
On the coastal side of things, the Rota Vicentina Fisherman’s Trail winds through dramatic scenery — sea cliffs, wave-sculpted rocks, and secluded coves — that will take your breath away. For more wild Atlantic thrills, try surfing at Praia do Carvalhal. The protected Sado Estuary Nature Reserve is a paradise for birding. Dolphin-watching tours and sunset cruises depart from nearby Troia Marina.
With its unspoiled, dune-backed beaches and unassuming charm, Comporta draws comparisons to other seaside enclaves. But make no mistake, this white-washed fishing village turned low-key vacation spot still retains a best-kept-secret vibe — even with a cool, in-the-know crowd now singing its praises. Nothing beats a whole day blissing out under a shaded palapa on Praia da Comporta. Afterward, drive by the idyllic rice paddies (even better, arrange a tour) on the way to patronize the small clutch of chic boutiques — The Life Juice, Lavanda, and Casa da Cultura da Comporta — in the heart of town.
Where To Sip
Alentejo makes some of the best wines in Portugal. True to its ethos, many of the must-visit spots to sip vinho are small, family-run operations that preserve traditional winemaking techniques.
Located about 30 minutes from Évora, Ervideira is a local gem for terroir-driven red and white that pairs perfectly with meat, cheeses, bread, and olive oil. There’s also a bottle shop in Evora for a convenient restock. A bit closer to the city, Quinta da Confeiteira produces superb, small-batch wine out of cellars used by the ancient Romans. At Oxalá (no relation to the store of the same name), a winery I heard about from Dale Ott, the owner of Nossa Imports, winemaker Hugo Campos also continues the legacy of time-honored growing and wine-making practices. On your way out of Estromez, stop by Dona Maria to sip local red varietals — notably Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet — and wander the gardens.
Set near the Spanish border, Adega Mayor blends past and present effortlessly. The contemporary main structure is architecturally striking with clean lines and panoramic terraces overlooking the vines. And the organic vinho goes down a bit too easily.
Where To Eat
Portugal has really extraordinary food. And that’s especially true of Alentejo. Not that anyone would be surprised given its agriculture and culinary roots, bountiful harvests, and chefs dedicated to preserving recipes passed down through generations and those putting their own spin on the classics.
The perfect spot to refuel mid-sightseeing, Cavalariça Évora sits inside the Palácio de Cadaval, just steps from the Templo Romano Évora, and serves Alentejo specialties such as cured pork and sheep’s milk cheese. Diners also rave about the homestyle cooking and intimate ambiance in the pint-sized Restaurante Botequim da Mouraria. Sweet tooth? Grab a scoop of creamy gelato or refreshing sorbet at Fábrica dos Gelados. Over in Elvas, family-run Taberna do Adro earns high marks for its traditional dishes and warm hospitality.
Roll off the beach, toss on a chic caftan, and head up for a late lunch at Sublime Comporta Beach Club, where a big plate of seafood rice goes perfectly with a bottle of vinho verde and the soundtrack of the waves. In the village of Comporta, Gomes Casa de Vinhos & Petiscos and Mesa Comporta are top picks.
Where To Stay
In a sprawling area like Alentejo, where everything requires a drive, hotels function as so much more than just a place to sleep. The most memorable stays immerse visitors in the rich local culture.
One of the best wine hotels in Portugal, Torre de Palma Wine Hotel, a family-run member of Design Hotels that’s nestled in a remote corner of the region, continues the legacy of age-old vinho-making traditions and provides tours and tasting at the small on-site winery. The menu at the acclaimed restaurant spotlights local pork and produce, the team will happily set up a gourmet picnic underneath an olive tree, and the accommodations ooze character. Oh, and don’t miss sunset from the medieval tower for the most picture-perfect nightcap ever.
For travelers who are intrigued by agritourism — but might not want to sacrifice plush perks — São Lourenço do Barrocal, part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio, presents a soul-stirring option. The historic property charms travelers with walks through the estate's vineyards and olive groves, horseback riding, beekeeping, and flower arranging workshops.
Keen to get a cross-section of both the arcadian and coastal sides of Alentejo? Framed by cork oaks and umbrella pines, Sublime Comporta is a rustic yet refined country retreat that’s just 15 minutes from the beach. The epitome of down-to-earth luxury, it’s upscale and effortlessly enticing in a very unpretentious way with a blissful spa for nature-oriented treatments like mineral-rich Portuguese salt scrubs as well as an organic garden that supplies fruits, vegetables, and herbs to the excellent restaurants. Rooted in simplicity but with plenty of conveniences, the minimally-minded modern villas have comfy beds, soaking tubs, and private pools.