The Alentejo area is commonly known as the "bread basket" of Portugal. A fitting title for this vast open countryside with undulating plains and rich fertile soil. With very few exceptions all the major towns are mainly reliant on agriculture, livestock and wood. Typical products from this area are grain, sunflower, carthame, fruit, vegetables, olives, wines, cork, eucalyptus, lamb, pigs, kid, granite, schist and marble. This richness of produce has been taken from the land for thousands of years as visitors may encounter throughout most of the region signs of human existence from thousands of years ago
Topographically the countryside varies considerably, from the open rolling plains of the south of the Alentejo to the granite hills that border Spain in the north-east. To feed the water needs of this considerable area a number of public dams have been constructed. In the heart of the productive agriculture zone of Moura, there is the largest dam in Portugal named "Alqueva", and also and one of the largest water surface areas in Europe.
Starting in the north-west there is the town of Santarém which has been the seat of historic events besides being an agriculture centre as it lies alongside the fertile valley of the River Tagus. Developed in the Roman occupation in 2nd Century as an administrative capital for the district it was eventually taken from Moor possession in 1147 by King Afonso Henriques. This once proud city with its many monasteries and royal palace were partially or completely destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. However, some fine examples of medieval architecture still can be found in parts of the city.
Moving to the north-east their is the attractive town of Castelo de Vide perched on the hillside of the Serra de Marvão with its ruined castle and its steep and charming Jewish Quarter. This charming town has acted as a melting pot of cultures over the centuries between that of Portugal and of neighbouring Spain.
With equal but different fascination is the nearby walled town of Marvão. This plays a special part in Portuguese culture due to its stark character perched on top of a high hill and exposed to the elements, particularly the strong winds that can blow off the plains of central Spain - a town that due to its apparent romanticism often features in many of past and present Portuguese poems and literature. In contrast and in the same area is the town of Portalegre lying on the south side of one of the hills making up the Parque Natural da Serra de São Mamede which in itself is a fascinating Nature Park and an area that includes charming villages that have changed little from ancient times.
To the west of these two towns is a particularly interesting location for horse lovers. Nearby the small town of Alter do Chão is a renown horse stud farm named "Coudelaria de Alter" for the Lusitanian breed of horse and also an interesting military museum. This was a Royal Stud founded originally by Dom João V in 1748. Raided in the past by both the French and English army officers, its magnificent stud has now been built back to much of its former glory.
The central area of the Alentejo which runs from the small coastal town of Sines in the west to the historic fortified town of Elvas on the Spanish border in the east. This town has suffered greatly in the past from the many conflicts and battles that raged between Portugal and Spain. The almost flat topographical surface of the central Alentejo lent itself from the middle ages as a natural corridor for invading armies from Spain to the coast and the capital of Portugal. Many times the region was inundated by soldiers wearing either Spanish or French uniforms. Many fine castles and town walls on this route now are in ruins from the ravages of conflict.
On this route lies the City of Évora and "a must" for visitors to the region. Here, a visitor will find the remains of the Roman "Temple to Diana" and many architecturally interesting medieval buildings such as monasteries and a once upon a time royal palace. The town is also renown for its culinary excellence and a meal in this town is something close to "a feast" in its amount and variety of local dishes.
Moving west Estremoz, Montamor-o-Novo and Vila Viçosa, all of which have played their part in the historic battles against the invading armies. The last town has a splendid Royal Ducal Palace with many interesting features which remains a possession of the House of Bragança.
The capital of the "Baixa Alentejo" is Beja, whilst the capital of the Alta Alentejo is Évora. Both these cities are rich in their history, ruins and historic buildings. Their stories reflect the turbulent backgrounds of invasion, battles and occupation, either by Romans, Vandals, Moors, or feuding royal families within Portugal.
In the south-east near Mértola is another Nature Park Area named Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana. This area is now mainly uninhabited but it was once a thriving copper mine source dating back to the Roman occupation. On the western side is the coastal strip that runs from the port of Sines down to Cape de São Vicente and is sparsely populated. This strip is also treated as a nature reserved area with many kilometres of wonderful sandy beaches.
An very interesting way to see and feel the true culture and history of this region is to stay in some of the various Pousadas, most of which are steeped in local atmosphere and with historic architecture of the region.