The cultural offering of the Alentejo is huge and spans 7,000 years, from prehistory (visit the huge stones, hundreds of them, just outside the ancient walled city of Evora, just 75 minutes from Lisbon – they were discovered only in 1966, just 51 years ago, despite being one of the largest groups of such structures in Europe) through Roman, Moorish and Knights Templar times. Evidence of previous visitors, long since departed, can be seen in all the small towns and villages, many perched on hilltops for safety, whose cobbled streets and stone walls remain, and where sitting outside in the sunshine, people watching, is a happy and relaxing pastime to enjoy.
Ancient crafts are still practiced – from carpet making by hand, using old weaving looms, to pottery, to which whole villages are devoted. Cork is hand-harvested, and used for a wide range of goods, from bracelets fashioned from cork to umbrellas. Astonishingly, cork from 46 specially-selected Alentejo cork oak trees was used to insulate the space shuttle on re-entry into earth’s atmosphere; it’s one of the materials with the best insulating properties known to man, and its light weight-to-insulation ratio made it ideal for this important role.