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From the well-trod sites in Lisbon to beaches on the Algarve Coast to wineries of the Douro Valley, Portugal has all types of travel experiences to offer in just one-fourth the size of California. But the lesser known Alentejo region—just a 90-minute drive from Lisbon—is a perfect addition to any Portugal itinerary. Read on for insider tips on a hotel that can’t be missed and a meal worth lining up for.
All About Alentejo
Bordering Spain to the east, the Atlantic to the west, and Algarve to the south, the Alentejo region in Portugal is a Goldilocks travel destination—it’s off the beaten path enough to feel like you’re in on a secret without being challenging to navigate. While the region has beachside destinations like Comporta, which are also worth considering, I spent my time in central Alentejo, close to the region’s capital Evora.
As soon as I first entered the region on my short drive from Lisbon, I was flanked by olive groves and wineries to either side. This is indicative of what Alentejo has to offer—and I found that much of the region’s tourism revolves around these offerings. But the region offers even more than meets the eye with wool tapestries, cork products, and the regional specialty of black pork.
Home Base: Villa Extramuros
I first learned of Villa Extramuros from Claire Mazur and Erica Cerulo of Of a Kind and A Thing Or Two fame (I otherwise wouldn’t have pinned Alentejo as somewhere to visit). And they didn’t point me in the wrong direction. This small boutique hotel is in Arraiolos, a small town north of Evora, the main city in this region. Its contemporary structure and design-driven interiors sit in simultaneous contrast and harmony with the surrounding landscape.
Villa Extramuros boasts five guest rooms and two suites, as well as a shared breakfast room, living room, lobby and several terraces. All five guest rooms are in the main villa, while the two suites are small ‘Cabonon’ bungalows just a short walk away. The rooms are designed with the utmost attention, bringing warmth to the sharp lines with cork and regionally-made wool blankets.
While Villa Extramuros’ amenities are common at many boutique hotels, their attention to detail is next level and made it one of my most memorable hotel stays. Nothing brings me much greater joy than a good European breakfast spread, and Villa Extramuros delivers in spades. They offer several small plates that you can choose from each morning—almost a tapas-style breakfast—and I still dream of the granola and yogurt they serve. And, their small gift shop punches above its weight, offering a curated selection of goods including a set of knives that are now in regular rotation in our home. We visited in March when the weather was on the chilly side, but the hotel also offers a swimming pool to all hotel guests in the summer months.
Stops Along The Way
There’s no shortage of things to do in the Alentejo region, whether it’s exploring historical sites in Evora and Arraiolos or diving into the region's wine and olive specialties. This shortlist will guide you in the right direction for some memorable stops during your Alentejo stay.
My general philosophy on TripAdvisor is to take reviews with a grain of salt, but when a restaurant boasts 1,400+ 5-star reviews, perhaps they’re onto something. Open only for lunch Monday-through-Friday, Botequim da Mouraria is a husband and wife-run restaurant with bar seating for a handful of guests. Their homestyle meal is prepared with the utmost care and attention, all while they engage you and your fellow diners in conversation. They don’t take reservations, so don’t be shy about lining up before they open.
Whether you enjoy wine, are interested in tasting freshly-pressed olive oil, or are just in it for a snack, a visit to Herdade de Esporão has all of the Alentejo region’s specialties on offer. They provide 90-minute tours in both English and Portuguese for a small fee, or if taking things at a slower pace is more your speed, rent a bike to explore the farm on your own timetable. And don’t forget to pop into the shop on your way out to pick up some goods to bring home.
If fine dining is more your speed, L’and Restaurant and Spa is for you. Their menu is on the pricey side, giving you the option of a chef’s tasting menu or a la carte options. It offers a range of regional specialties from seafood to black pork, all with the foundation of organic farming. With limited dinner options (Villa Extramuros doesn’t have a restaurant), L’and is a great excuse for a fancy meal out.
Shop The Trip
Cork, wine, and wool is what this region is all about, and it’s well worth leaving some room in your suitcase to bring home the goods. Or, shop these picks from the comfort of your home.
- If you’re not keen on packing a suitcase full of wine, order your Herdade do Esporao faves from home.
- A cork trivet is a timeless and classic addition to any home kitchen, whether that’s yours or as a gift. What better nod to your travels than that?
- The Portuguese knives I bought at Villa Extramuros are an MVP in our kitchen—and are relatively inexpensive to boot.
A wool blanket is a mainstay for any sofa. Burel Factory—shoppable online or in person in Lisbon and Porto—has a color and pattern to go with any home decor from maximalist to minimalist.