Day 308: Oh Portugal, oh Portugal
“If you’ve been to Portugal, then you’ll know it as one of the most beautiful countries on earth. No question. However, if we may be so bold, you will probably be thinking of Lisbon, homage to citizenship architecture, or of taking a train north to Porto, where, yes, much good fun is to be had in the fortified wine department. You may be thinking of the beach, of the smell of pine forests, of how a land can be so bloody hot, the sea so bloody cold. Close readers will have noted last week’s sojourn to the intriguingly named Areias do Seixo Charm Hotel. Heck, you may even find a kind of concretised anti-pleasure in the low-rise splendours of the Algarve. But are you, in all this, this inadvertent rifling through index cards marked Surf, Sol and Cerveja, thinking of a place called Alentejo?
Maybe – if Portugal’s your specialised subject. Thing is, if you’ve been, then more than likely, you’ve been somewhere in Alentejo, if only on your way from somewhere to somewhere else. Save the Algarve, Alentejo is the bottom half of Portugal. Massive, rural, its architecture a literal 3D guide to the history of southern Europe, Alentejo is the forgotten province, its Roman and medieval heydays lost to Mediterranean holi-ghettos, to Lisbon, to the easy attractions of the north-west. More fool us. Under populated, rare pockets of extraordinarily long-lived Portuguese, wild beaches, marble quarries, gold-leafed churches, Moorish quarters, squares dominated by pillory posts, palaces, hilltop forts, cork trees galore, rolling hills, wine, reservoirs, cliffs, villages and some of the finest, most accommodating hotels you are ever likely to find, Alentejo’s one of those places that tourist boards are always cracking on about: real, old, different, culturally arresting, beautiful. It actually exists.”