Portugal’s Alentejo Wine Region

A Land Of Endless Horizons

This is a land of endless horizons and immense estates, latifundios, dotted with vineyards, undulating fields of wheat, olive groves and vast cork forests. A region populated by horses, goats, sheep, and the famed acorn-grazing black pigs, it boasting highly photogenic fortified hill towns, each with its own defensive fortress or castle sitting atop the hill, built during the time of the Christian reconquest of Iberia, the Reconquista, the long series of battles to expel the Muslims (Moors) from the Iberian Peninsula, which began in the 8th-century, lasting more than 700 years.

The handsome villages dotting the countryside sport tidy whitewashed homes complete with ornate wrought iron balconies often trimmed in yellow to protect the occupants against fevers, or if trimmed in blue, to ward off flies.

Once regarded as simply a poor agricultural backwater, the Alentejo has come into its own as an internationally acclaimed wine-producing region. While much of Alentejo’s vast surface is still given over to cereal production, often referred to as Portugal’s “bread basket”, the poor soils of the region are reserved for olive trees, cork oak trees and more and more these day, vineyards.

Hill Towns in the Alentejo Alto

In addition to Marvão, in the Serra de São Mamede mountains on the edge of the border with Spain, visitors to the Alentejo should not miss visiting two other highly picturesque fortified hill towns along the Guadiana River that separates Portugal from Spain. Magical Monsaraz, the “Eagles’ Nest”, the “jewel in the crown” of the Alentejo, is an extremely scenic border outpost perched above the gigantic Alqueva Dam. Captured from the Moors in 1167, its medieval castle courtyard functions as an unusual makeshift bullring during the summer. Castelo de Vide, the pretty neighbor to Marvão, is an immaculate, flower-filled, mineral springs town boasting an ancient Jewish quarter with a small restored synagogue believed to date from the 13th century, making it the oldest synagogue in Portugal.

Monsaraz, the “Eagles Nest”
Looking southeast into Spain from Monsaraz

When To Visit The Alentejo

A late fall visit to the Alentejo, during or after the wine harvest, can be delightful, but you might also find that early spring, before the stifling heat of summer arrives, when the landscape is still blanketed with fields of colorful wildflowers, would be the ideal time to visit this sun baked land.

Wineries in the Alentejo Alto

The Alentejo wine region is divided into eight D.O.C. sub-regions, where one out of every two bottles of wine sold in Portugal now comes. They are smooth, full bodied, generously fruity, accessible and very affordable. Although white wine is produced, the Alentejo reds are leading the way, forging the region’s reputation for outstanding wines, putting it firmly on the world map. Along with a dozen traditional indigenous grape varieties, the wine today is being made with such international varieties as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah (Shiraz), Chardonnay and the popular Spanish Tempranillo grape known in the Alentejo as Aragonez.

Among the wineries you shouldn’t miss while in the Alentejo are Adega Mayor in Campo Maior, who’s modern winery was designed by the Pritzker Prize winning architect Álvaro Joaquim de Melo Siza Vieira. The hub of the 3000 hectare estate of the family-owned Monte da Ravasqueira is found just to the north of the village of Arraiolos, with its unique mediaeval castle and known for its spectacular carpets and tapestries. The vast estate of Herdade do Esporão, with some 692 hectares of vineyards, is located in the heart of the Alentejo near the picturesque village of Reguengos de Monsaraz, once known for its sheep and wool. It has been one of our favorites stops over the years. Adega da Cartuxa, one of the most prestigious wineries in Portugal, can be found 2 km from the historic center of Évora, surrounded by vineyards. João Portugal Ramos is located just to the west of the hilltop village of Estremoz, a 40-minute drive northeast of Évora. The beautiful modern winery of Herdade das Servas, with 300 hectares of vineyards under production, is near the village of São Bento do Ameixial, again, just to the west of Estremoz, while the smaller adega of Quinta do Carmo, with its 1.000 hectares, sits a few kilometers to the southeast of Estremoz. L’AND Vineyards, an exclusive five star retreat, is near the village of Montemor-o-Novo, to the west of Évora, about 45-minutes from the Lisbon airport.

Wineries In The Baixo Alentejo

Another one of our favorites, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, a Relais & Châteaux, can be found south of Beja near Albernoa, in the heart of the Baixo Alentejo wine region, as can the 24-room country estate of Herdade dos Grous (estate of the cranes).

Staying In The Alentejo When Wine Touring

The Pousadas of Portugal

The walled city of Evora’s lovely Pousada de Lóios makes for a great “headquarters” to explore the wine making areas of Evora, Redondo and Reguengos, but for your exploration of the northernmost region of the Alentejo, the Portalegre sub-zone, and the vineyards found in the foothills of the Serra da Mamede mountain range, we suggest using as a base the Pousada Mosteiro do Crato, in the village of Flor da Rosa or the Pousada de Marvão, with fantastic views of Spain and the Alentejo plains.

The Pousada Rainha Isabel is located in the hilltop village of Estremoz, which is surrounded by vineyards, and works well for winery visits in the Borba subzone. The Pousada offers panoramic views of Estremoz and the Alentejana lowlands. The Pousada Convento de Vila Viçosa, situated between  Elvas, Borba and Redondo, 20-minutes southeast of Estremoz.

The Pousada da Nossa Senhora da Assunção, a 16th-century convent, with only 35 room, is in the village of Arraiolos.

The Pousada de Alvito, in a 15th-century fortified castle, sits in the middle of the Vidigueira sub-zone, in the north end of the Baixo Alentejo wine region. The Pousada de Beja is located a little further south in the old Convent of São Francisco in the village of Beja.


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