Overview

Introduction

Evora, the capital of the Alentejo province, is one of Portugal’s oldest and most interesting cities and once famous throughout Europe as a seat of culture. There is plenty to explore in this UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town is full of narrow roads, fine buildings, old palaces, churches and fountains. From here there is easy access to historic Vila Vicosa, Estremoz, Monsaraz and the traditional carpet making town of Arraiolos.

A visit to the region would not be complete without seeing one of the famous ‘white towns’ of the Alentejo. Redondo, renowned for its pottery is a medieval town set in the heart of the Alentejo’s wine region. To this day, local families continue to produce Roman-style jugs and bowls that they sell from their tiny white houses.

Alqueva Lake Alentejo

Alqueva is the largest artificial lake in Europe (c.93km long). Visit small Portuguese villages around the lake and eat in local restaurants; take a look at our guide to food in Alentejo. Family friendly activities include a ‘treasure hunt’ around the lake, whereby you put stamps in a booklet as you find the ‘treasure’.

Visitors to Alentejo will enjoy the wonderful scenery – the area around Alqueva Lake is a wonderful place to explore the outdoors. From the beautiful views across the lake to the paths through the forests and vineyards, there are many opportunities to get out and about in the area.

The region is also well known for its wines – proximity to the lake means that a number of vineyards call the area home. You can take a look at our information on the wine routes of Alentejo , including which areas produce different varieties.

Mertola and Mina Sao Domingos

Mertola, the southernmost town of the Alentejo stands at the edge of the Guadiana National Park, perched on a hilltop overlooking the confluence of the Oeiras and Guadiana rivers. This walled town is in a time warp, with narrow streets lined with many gracious buildings leading upwards to the ruined 13th century castle. The Guadiana was a vital trading route throughout the middle ages and Mertola shows Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, Moorish and Chrisitan influences.

At its peak, Mertola had a population of over 2,000; its river port on the Guadiana River connected it to the Mediterranean commercial routes and changed this fortified settlement into a regional capital. The town has several noteworthy museums but it is the Islamic museum that is extremely well known. Every two years in May, the Islamic festival is held here, which recreates the Islamic period of the town.

17km from Mertola and close to the Spanish border, travelling through a picturesque and fertile landscape lies the now small village of Mina de Sao Domingos. The population is now around 400 persons but, at its peak, 15,000 people would have been living here. Ten thousand people worked in the mines, the largest in the South Iberian peninsula and it is now hard to believe that this was one of the most important industrial centres in Europe.

It was in 1857 that the British engineering firm Mason & Barry took over the mines, rich in copper, coal, iron pirates and sulphur. Over the following 110 years, 25 million tons of ore was removed from the mine. Although having been in use since Roman times, it was Mason and Berry who built one of the first hospitals and first electricity generators in Portugal. The area had several railways and the firm built their own steam locomotives. Housing, tennis courts, a football pitch and even a bandstand - all still in evidence - were provided by the firm. The mines were finally exhausted in the mid-1960s and the devastated and polluted landscape is fascinating to see on a guided tour.

The mines at Sao Domingos are reputed to be the oldest in the world and were first worked as long as 4,000 years ago by the Greeks. The area has a particularly rich history and the mineral wealth was legendary, as the Romans first mined gold and silver from here. Only Rio Tinto, 70km to the east and a larger mine has a similar history and was said to have been the legendary King Solomon's mine.

If you’re interested in the Alentejo region, you should take a look at our Alentejo Alqueva Lake Guide, Alentejo for Culture Vultures or Alentejo for lovers of the outdoors information.

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Michelle Vincent
Michelle Vincent
Note: Map is for guidance purposes only.

Talk to our Portugal expert

Rosanna Melaragni
Rosanna Melaragni

Rosanna is the head of our Discovery Department which covers tailor made holidays to Portugal and the Azores, Italy and Sicily, Scandinavia and the new programme to Spain. She is our longest serving member of staff having joined in 1994 after completing an honours degree in French and Italian and subsequently working for a tour operator in Yorkshire. She is responsible for brochure writing, contracting accommodation, programme costing, computer inputting and generally troubleshoots where necessary. She has global knowledge of our tailor made programme.

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We promise that a member of our specialist reservation teams will reply personally to your holiday enquiry before 5.30pm if received before 12.00pm (Monday to Friday). Enquiries received after 12.00pm will be replied to within 24-hours (excluding Sundays).

If your enquiry is of an urgent nature, please telephone our dedicated reservation teams on the numbers listed below.

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