By Katie Bowman, journalist for The Times
Featured in the Times on 23 June 2023. Copy written by Katie Bowman, holiday prices by the Sunvil team.
Dreamy places to stay in the Alentejo From cutting-edge design hotels and breezy seaside pads to arty rural suites and palaces with pools
I didn’t even know I was going to the Alentejo the first time I visited; I simply wanted to sun myself in the famed beach enclave of Comporta, and only realised where I was when I arrived. That’s because the Alentejo’s greatest hits are so much more famous than the album: Evora, the regional capital, a Unesco site and “city-museum”; Monsaraz with its castles and lakes; Troia, the seaside weekend destination beloved of Lisboetas; historic Estremoz and its fabulous weekend market; and Comporta — that string of sandy, stylish beach towns whose seafood restaurants and kaftan shops were enough to pull me,500 miles southwards. We might have heard of the sights, but if asked to place Alentejo on a map, we’d maybe stumble.
Yet, the Alentejo is Portugal’s biggest region, stretching from the Algarve in the south to beyond Marvao in the north, with an epic Atlantic coastline to the west and Spain to the east — it’s vast. But with no airports or big cities, it’s better known for two things: farming and rural tourism. My hunch is you’re moreinterested in the latter, and in ticking off all the extraordinary destinations listed above. Which means you’ll fly into Lisbon or Faro and jump straight in the hire car (Comporta is 90 minutes from Lisbon; the Costa Vicentina, great for hiking, about 80 miles from Faro).
If you want to bask on the beaches of Comporta — as I did — the good news is they’re as effortlessly, un-obnoxiously cool as ever, nothing like the “Hamptons” nor the “Ibiza of Portugal” they’ve been dubbed. That’s because this 30-mile coastline in the north of the region is so fearsomely protected by the state, that you could have a mile of that sand to yourself in mid-August. Yes, there are pockets of development allowed (at Troia, Comporta, Carvalhal and Melides villages — all collectively known as “Comporta”, where the beach hotels and boutiques congregate) but absolutely nothing in between. These are the ingredients for the perfect beach-holiday recipe.
As for inland exploration, you’ll be equally well rewarded. As the days passed on my first seductive visit — more than a decade ago now — day trips got longer, our escapades further afield. We ventured to pretty towns such as riverside Alcacer do Sal and market-lined Grandola, which became staples on second and third visits to the Alentejo. The driving is dreamy: empty roads carving through cork and olive groves, where umbrella pine trees grow straight up from the sand dunes, then — as you approach Spain — it’s much more mountainous, and all of a sudden you’ll spot a whitewashed village such as Monsaraz, like a cherry on a craggy cake of rock.
And then there’s the wine! A reserva rosé from Herdade daComporta is better than any Provençal drop. And don’t forget the lakes: Alqueva, near the Spanish border, is so large it has sandy beaches, and country estates nearby welcome guests with local produce and four-poster beds. Meanwhile, the hiking and mountain bike trails of the southwest, which lead into the Algarve, have even been given preservation status: the Vicentine Coast Natural Park.
The region has a wonderful collection of villas and hotels, and many properties off er both options — make sure there’s a fridgein which to store all that chilled rosé.