Last weekend, my friends and I decided to go for a weekend away in the Alentejo area– half an hour
outside the historic town of Évora and less than two hours away from Lisbon. I am such a city person. I never got why many people dreamt of moving to the countryside at some point in their lives- Portugal’s countryside or any countryside anywhere, for that matter.
I just did not get it.
By time, I realized how ridiculous I was and that actually the times in my life when I felt relaxed the most, I was actually in the countryside. I would not say I would like to move there (though maybe I will change my mind about that too), but I definitely now appreciate more those little getaways to the countryside which help me rejuvenate and get back into to my Lisbon routine.
The Portuguese countryside is spectacular for its landscapes, food, and regional wine.
Given how relatively small Portugal is, it does not take more than an hour and half from Lisbon to find yourself in the Alentejo region.
Everything about our getaway was the opposite of our daily routines in Lisbon:
The countryside in Portugal offers “comfort food” as it should be. The portions are, at least, double what we normally get in Lisbon, for the same value – if not sometimes less. Recipes are made differently in the countryside. They are based on locally sourced meat, stews, and dishes made with regional cheeses. I had the steak which you cook yourself on a piece of stone, typical of the area, and we shared a platter of roasted cheese queijo assado which was to die for.
What was really amazing about every single time I went to the countryside in Portugal is the accessibility of local produce. It is not unusual to find a restaurant which offers wine from a small vineyard next door or to find that supermarkets are full (not only with Alentejo products, but with products from this particular area in the Alentejo).
Locals, who love to chat to visitors, would usually share specific information on why choose this particular wine and not another. They are usually wines you won’t find easily in Lisbon. In Lisbon, we know of the Alentejo wine as this earthy flavored wine with fruity aromas. However, upon spending a few days in the Alentejo, we discovered a wider variety.
Everywhere the countryside is cheaper than the city. However, it remains a particular case in Portugal that it could be that cheap. I won’t say more than that we paid 17 euros each (four people) for a cute, cozy farmhouse with an amazing fireplace, and loads of free products from the owners (jam, eggs, and fruit).
We were in what is usually described in Portuguese as the “Alentejo interior,” or the interior of the
Alentejo. This is where it is a bit mountainous, green, with some of the best hiking routes in the country.
There is also the coastal side of the Alentejo with amazing, quiet beaches. The mountains are not far at
all from the beaches which makes for a 2-in-1 getaway (mountains and beaches). We also went to
Almendres Cromlech which is similar to the Stonehenge in Britain (though much older) with standing
stones which are 7,000 years old.
There is always a bigger town nearby
Once again, given the small size of Portugal, and the efficiency of the high roads, being somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Alentejo always means that you are close enough to a town. This is not only useful practically – for supermarkets and restaurants, etc., but it always provides an opportunity to see a bit more of Portugal.
We took the day to visit the beautiful town of Évora which is surrounded by an ancient Roman wall and is considered a world heritage site by the UNESCO. There are also many ancient churches to see there with impressive, varied, architectural styles.
I am a little bit concerned that I became sold on the countryside now (given all the commitments one has in the city) but I have to say that it is nice to know that such tranquility could be found at a short distance from the hustle and bustle of Lisbon.
About the author:
Sarah Nagaty is a PhD researcher of cultural studies in Lisbon. She’s lived in Portugal for three years.
As a student of cultural studies, Sarah is drawn to what connects people from different backgrounds to new cultures and places, how they relate to their new surroundings and what kinds of activities they could engage with in their new hometowns.
See all of Sarah’s Dispatches posts here.
See Dispatches’ Lisbon story archive here.