Best for: Scenery, open spaces, castles, history, archaeology
Route: Lisbon • Évora • Marvão • Estremoz • Monsaraz • Grândola • Mértola • Faro
When to go: Spring and autumn are best. Summers can be baking.
Why do it: For a multi-stop tour through sun-baked plains of cork-forest, historic towns, whitewashed villages, Moorish citadels and hilltops crowned with castles.
Over the last several years, the Alentejo – literally ‘beyond the Tagus’ – has become suddenly and unexpectedly popular. However, the region covers a huge area, about a third of the country but with barely a tenth of the population, so it still feels empty and in parts remote.
A journey across the region between Lisbon and Faro in the Algarve, is the practical way to make the most of it.
The unmissable marvel is Évora, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and sightseers’ dream. Treasures, all tightly packed within massive city walls, range from Portugal’s best-preserved Roman temple to a chapel lined with human skulls. Then there are gleaming towns built from the locally-quarried marble: Estremoz where a legendary queen worked miracles; and Vila Viçosa, seat of Portugal’s last royal dynasty.
Marvão and Monsaraz are spectacular walled hill villages dominated by medieval castles. Further south you can stay on a cork-growing plantation near Grândola, or by tranquil Lake Alqueva, a vast expanse of water, artificially created by a dam.
Mértola, on a rocky gorge of the Guadiana river in the far south, has a fabulous fortress and Portugal’s only surviving Moorish mosque.