For a walk on the wild side, consider a trip to this out-of-the-way region of southern Portugal. Local walking guide Julie Statham describes what’s on offer.
The Alentejo region covers almost a third of Portugal, yet houses a mere seven percent of its population. There is a feeling of emptiness, wildness and remoteness here: most visitors pass it by or make a fleeting visit to the historic town of Evora before travelling to Lisbon or the Algarve. Yet this large area encompasses a captivating and varied landscape, extending from the hills of the Serra de Sao Mamede in the north to the cereal plains of the south, the wild Atlantic coast in the west to the fortified hilltop towns in the east.
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Julie Statham began Portugal Walks back in 1998 to promote walking in Portugal and its islands. Over the years she has walked and researched walks all over the country and feels passionately that Portugal has so much to offer walkers of all ages and abilities.
Portugal Walks operate a range of guided and self-guided walks all over Portugal (including Madeira and the Azores), typically lasting...
There are three main walking areas in the Alentejo: the west close to the Atlantic coast, the Natural Park of the Serra de Sao Mamede, and the Alqueva lake region.
The western reaches of the Alentejo are home to a newly created footpath, the Rota Vicentina – a 350km trail that stretches from the town of Santiago do Cacem (about 100km from Lisbon) to Cabo de Sao Vincente in the Algarve – the most southwesterly point in Europe. The trail is divided into two parts: the inland Historical Way and the coastal Fishermen’s Way, and each in turn is divided into sections of between 14km and 24km. They converge at Porto Covo on the coast in the north and again at Odeceixe in the south, making it possible to walk a loop covering both in about 14 days.
The clifftop walk near Praia de Odeceixe
The beach of Odeceixe is considered to be one of the great wonders of Portugal, and it is indeed fabulous – a superb sandy beach surrounded by dark cliffs. To the south of the beach the cliffs are dramatic, and in the spring large numbers of storks build their nests on jagged exposures of rock that are constantly battered by wind and waves. All this can be witnessed while walking the Fisherman’s Way loop from Odeceixe town.
The medieval walled town and castle of Monsaraz
Monsaraz is affectionately known as the ‘eagles nest’, 900 metres above the surrounding countryside on a rocky outcrop of the Serra de Sao Mamede. Its narrow cobbled streets are lined with whitewashed houses, many with decorative doors and windows from the 15th century, and one of the best preserved castles in Portugal. Besides the route from Castelo de Vide, it is possible to walk up to the town from the village of Portagem at the foot of the outcrop – the path is waymarked, but steep!
The cork oak forests (montado) of the area
The Alentejo is home to forests the Portuguese national tree, the cork oak, protected by law since the 13th century. A growing awareness of the value of the ecosystem of these forests has led to sound environmental policies. It is a way of ensuring the future, without forgetting the old saying: “Whoever cares for their grandchildren, plants a cork oak”. Many of the walks in the Serra de São Mamede and along the northern section of the Historical Way will take you through these forests.
The town of Terena and the Lucefit dam
Most motorists drive straight through Terena but they are missing out on a real treat. Terena was created in the 13th century and much of the old town remains totally unspoilt, with tiny whitewashed houses and cobbled streets leading up the castle ruins. A waymarked walk leads from the castle via the village and countryside to the Lucefit dam. The dam was constructed across the river of the same name to create a large lake, which is now home to many birds, including black storks.
The prehistoric monuments around Monsaraz
Monsaraz is itself another amazing medieval walled town that certainly deserves a visit. From the walls there is a walk that takes you down to the countryside below. Here you walk back through time passing two burial chambers (dolmens), two standing stones (menhirs) and a large stone circle (cromlech). All are prehistoric dating from 3500-2500 BC, and remarkably well preserved.
Best times to go:
The region for the most part experiences a relatively continental climate with cool winters and very hot summers: these two seasons are not great for walking. Undoubtedly the best time is spring, when the countyside is awash with colour from the amazing variety of flowers that grow here. The other season for walking is autumn when the dry brown hillsides of summer turn to green with new grass sprouting. During both seasons there is always the possibility of rain but in the Alentejo the rains tend to pass through and not linger for too long.
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