This year, my work is often taking me to Portugal: Porto, Coimbra, Aveiro, Lisbon, the Algarve and, at Easter, with the family in Alentejo. Portugal is fashionable … and this worries me a lot, because it is the way to contaminate its authenticity. Lisbon, Porto and the Algarve are already unfortunately victims of the tourism model fostered by the “certainaeolineas.com with sellers on board”: “mordi e fuggi”, “toccata e fuga”, “take a selfie and share it”, look for the party and that others are servants to achieve the desired happiness ¡ The Alentejo is not! The Alentejo is another thing, another world, another dimension. There seem to vanish aggressiveness, arrogance, appearance, noise, signs of urban corruption; there nobody thinks that prosperity must necessarily go hand in hand with denial or even the destruction of the old and the traditions. In Alentejo only about 7% of the entire population of Portugal lives, despite occupying a territory that is one third of the entire country. Despite this, when you are there, you never have the feeling of abandonment that is perceived in the “Spain emptied” of which so much talk lately. The towns of Alentejo, even the smallest, are prosperous, fairly well connected, rich in public and social services: taxis that facilitate mobility between towns; music houses in which people gather to learn and to form the musical band; libraries, sports centers, art centers.
The villages full of history and full a sober and simple elegance, are managing to preserve their own daily personality and integrate perfectly with the natural environment; simply to follow the rapid changes of the thousands of swallows that nest on their roofs or the slow flight of the many storks that populate the surroundings, our look passes without realizing and with great visual pleasure, from the white of the houses to the green of the olive groves; from the ocher of the castles to the red and yellow of the field; from the white-gray of the cobblestones to the deep blue of the Atlantic.
Our tour in Alentejo began in the bay of Setubal, about 50km south of Lisbon; We put the “base camp” in Portinho de Arrábida, a few houses in a hidden and coquettish corner of the bay and in the middle of the homonymous Natural Park. From there we visited Sesimbra, Azeitao, Palmela with its windmills, Cabo Espichel and some beaches that made us understand that we were in a privileged place: Praia de Lagoa de Albufeira, Praia de Galapinhos. From Setubal we took the boat accompanied by three dolphins, to go to the peninsula of Comporta, from which you have to cross off the map to Marina de Tróia but do not miss the kilometers and little frequented beaches of Comporta and end the day in the photographic treasure of the Cais Palafitico da Carrasqueira.
This is an enchanted place especially at sunset, but also at sunrise; The only problem is that to see it in its maximum splendor, you have to find the right combination of: tide, sunset, no fog, no rain … I had to settle for low tide at sunset and fighting with the fog that was advancing rapidly from the sea.
The second “base camp” we had in Castelo de Monsaraz, a beautiful white and medioeval town in the interior (at the border with Spain) that dominates the Albufeira do Alqueva reservoir (the largest in Western Europe), on the Guadiana. From Portinho, it takes almost 2h to get to Monsaraz and on the way there are many places where it would be necessary to stop. We did it in the Crómlech de los Almendros and in Évora.
Castelo de Monsaraz is full of tourists by day, but at night there are only few guests who can enjoy the elegance of its buildings, the breathtaking silence overlooking the plain and the reservoir, the generous and genuine cuisine of its restaurants. At sunrise it is chillingly beautiful to enjoy as the rays of sunlight gradually light the white houses and the cobblestones, as they were called a harmonious fire that brings back to life what was previously asleep in the shade.
From Monsarraz we visited the amazing Estremoz, Evoramonte, of which I remember a dessert made with lard that tasted like glory; Arraiolos with its splendid castle and the unmissable Church of Misericordia whose walls are completely covered with blue and white tiles; Vila Viçosa, a town made with marble and that finds its unexpected jewel in the Ducal Palace. Further north, we visit the charms of Castelo de Vide and Marvão with their white houses grouped at the foot of the castle.
Before returning to the coast, we spent the night in Mértola with its Arab origins and its reflections in the Guadiana river. On the way, we visit Moura and Beja.
Our “base camp” on the Costa Vicentina was Vilanova de Milfuentes, a charming village that in summer we have been told becomes a city; it has beautiful beaches on both sides of the mouth of the Mira river, in one of which, the remains of a wrecked boat shine that the waves are slowly eating.
The Vicentina coast is a symphony of breathtaking and wild beaches, in which the imperious presence of the Atlantic is heard and perceived on the skin. It is he who sets the rhythms also to people: tides, wind, fog, waves, are all means he uses to warn us, bewitch, tempt us, make us afraid, make us feel powerful or small. My favorite is the Praia do Amado that welcomed us with a very low tide that allowed us to highlight the incredible and variegated colors of its rocks that are introduced into the sea and that offer shelter to a surprising amount of fauna. Alentejo is an experience that helps to enter in harmony with the world and with people, which allows you to value the essential and the beauty of simple things, that bewitches with the flavors of its genuine cuisine and made of good products of the land and the sea, which invites you to chat slowly and listening, which trains our senses to the perception of lost or forgotten sounds that are mixed there in melodies of broken silences. Alentejo: authentic beauty!