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Alentejo: Portugal’s best-kept secret
Between glamour and grit
Just Back From | Alentejo

Alentejo: Portugal’s best-kept secret Words by Gisela Williams

"Inland from the chic beaches of Comporta is Portugal’s Next Big Thing—complete with rule-breaking restaurants, gorgeous rustic hotels, and miles of pristine countryside"

This is Portugal at its most wild and rustic. Known as the breadbasket of the country, it's a region of vast open countryside, fields of beautifully gnarled cork trees, and charming farmhouses, quintas (wineries) and restaurants making and producing traditional cheeses, smoked hams and sausages, and excellent wines. Go with an appetite.

At Essentialist, we’re all constantly on the road, criss-crossing the planet. But one of the most compelling places I’ve been lately was an easy flight from Berlin: the Alentejo region of Portugal, a very rural area of farms, cork forests and picturesque medieval hilltop towns, about a 90 minute drive from Lisbon. Its more famous neighbor, Comporta—the low-key (but very high profile) beach resort that has attracted the likes of Jacques Grange and Philippe Starck—has always been a perfect beach destination to tack onto a trip to Lisbon. But Alentejo’s more engaging, and authentic, in-land destinations really captured my imagination.

 

There’s Sao Lorenco do Barrocal, an old farm recently transformed by its fifth-generation owner Jose Uva and Pritzker-prize wining architect Eduardo Souto de Moura to into a 5-star resort, with a superlative restaurant overseen by Aletejan chef Julio Mendes Vintem, and a perfect Suzanne Kaufmann spa. There’s also Casa No Tiempo, a surreally minimalist modern rental property in the middle of acres of cork and olive trees, designed by architect Manuel Aires Mateu—I’d retreat there for a week every year if I could.

 

Don’t miss the white hilltown of Evora, a UNESCO World Heritage site, or the charming village of Estremoz for lunch at Mercearia Gadanha, a modern bistro/gourmet grocery overseen by the young female Brazilian chef, Michele Marques. And a handful of Alentejan vineyards are making some exceptional wines. Two worth visiting are Quinta de Quezal, also for its art center; and the Quinta Dona Maria, an extraordinary 18th century noble estate with extensive gardens and historical marble lagares, the traditional vats for treading grapes (more fun than I’d have ever imagined).

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