Walking in Portugal: The Alentejo
Walking in Portugal’s Alentejo means getting off the beaten track and savouring the region’s peace and quiet, its slow pace of life, heritage and rare fauna and flora.
The region of the Alentejo covers a third of Portugal from central to southern Portugal but only contains 12% of the population and it is still relatively undiscovered by tourists. It offers secluded walks in quiet countryside with a dramatic, unspoilt coastline and lots of historical towns and villages. The countryside is characterized by wide open spaces and primary colours- bright blue skies, undulating, golden fields of wheat, pea green rolling hills and wide plains with ochre-red soil and white-washed villages. It is suitable for walkers of all levels and can be a rewarding introduction to walking in Portugal. The region’s ancient olive trees and cork oaks provide an important habitat for many of Portugal’s endangered species. So next time you buy a bottle of wine choose one with a natural cork and help to protect Portugal’s wildlife.
enjoy easy walking in Portugal’s plains
Top Spots for Walking in Portugal’s Alentejo
The Natural Parks
For a holiday that combines coastal and countryside walks why not visit the western Alentejo? The Parque Natural do Sudoeste Alentejano e Costa Vicentina is an area of outstanding natural beauty and the perfect destination for naturalists. Its rugged, untamed coastline with offshore islands, imposing ochre cliffs, pristine beaches and immense sand dunes is as popular with sea birds as it is with photographers. As you go inland you will find otter friendly salt marshes, small ponds, scrub land and oak, alder and pine woodland. The park is home to around 200 species of birds including kites, Bonneli eagles, peregrine falcons, owls, white storks, herons, kingfishers and songbirds. Other inhabitants include foxes, genets, wild cats, wild boar, badgers, hares, weasels, lizards, salamanders and tree-frogs. It is also one of the few places in Portugal where you can still find ospreys and Iberian lynx. The park is particularly beautiful when carpeted in spring flowers, but all year around it is rich in, often unique, flora with over 100 different native plants present. Further north there is good walking near Santiago do Cacém with its Moorish castle and Roman ruins. As you can follow winding paths through the quiet hills, valleys, woods and streams of the Serra de Grândola.
The Parque Natural Serra de São Mamede covers 120 square miles (320 square km) and borders Spain. It is encircled by the ancient towns of Castelo de Vide, Marvão and Portalegre, which is home to the park’s headquarters. These are well worth exploring in their own right and make a good base for walking in Portugal’s eastern Alentejo. The park itself encompasses granite mountains, rolling hills, fertile valleys and sweet chestnut, cork oak, olive, and oak woodland. It is probably at its most beautiful in spring when it is blanketed in wild flowers. As you walk through the park you will discover that it has its own microclimate. This has made it an extremely important, and interesting, habitat. More than half of Portugal’s bird species nest here and it has one of the largest bat colonies in Europe. Keep an eye out for songbirds, hoopoes, bee-eaters, birds of prey including vultures, eagles and harriers, storks, butterflies, lizards, snakes, toads and deer and if you’re lucky, otters, mongoose, genets and wild boar.
At the Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana, indulge in peaceful walks through unspoilt country and along the banks of the river Guadiana to admire the sunbathing turtles and poised herons. The park’s seclusion and tranquility have protected a rich variety of flora and fauna. As well as wild boars, foxes, hares, rabbits and partridges, it shelters many endangered species such as otters, black storks, azure-winged magpies, red kites, Bonelli’s eagle and the Iberian toad. The nearby towns of Serpa and Mértola provide glimpses of a traditional Portuguese way of life. If you are walking in this area you should also take time to visit the dramatic Pulo do Lobo waterfall between Mértola and Beja.
History lovers should consider a walking holiday near Evora and Monsaraz. The centre of Évora is an UNESCO world heritage site with a Roman temple, a medieval aqueduct and romanesque, gothic, manueline, renaissance and baroque architecture visible in palaces, churches and squares. It is surrounded by olive groves, vineyards and attractive villages. Nearby Monsaraz is a strikingly beautiful medieval walled village strategically situated on a hill top near the Spanish border. It has impressive views over the local countryside. Once you have admired the village there are a number of interesting megalithic tombs and standing stones to visit in the surrounding area- look out for signs saying “anta”.
Finally don’t forget one further benefit of walking in Portugal. If after all that walking you’ve worked up an appetite, you will love the Alentejo’s traditional farmhouse style cooking. Meat-eaters have to try the ‘porco preto’ this pork comes from an ancient local breed of free range black pigs and is the best we’ve ever eaten!
walking in Portugal photos copyright: Andy Weisner, Francisco Almeida Dias, José Manuel