Escape the Algarve’s crowds and head north for wildlife and a gem of a former Roman city

FEELING more like Africa or Australia than Europe, this vast, little-explored wildscape – a land of cork plantations and desert-like vistas – makes up almost a third of the surface area of Portugal, but has a relatively tiny population.

The food is amazing, the wine seriously underrated and the beaches sublime. When restrictions allow, set up base near the ancient city of Evora and you’re perfectly placed to experience Alentejo’s finest parts.

Enjoy a wine wrap

Portugal’s first certified ecological hotel, Ecork Hotel Evora is swish, set in sprawling grounds amid cork plantations with 56 “suites”, which are more like villas, and communal spaces that ooze art-gallery vibes.

Drift off by the infinity pool, or if it rains step indoors for a swim, sauna and Turkish bath before a red-wine-wrap detox treatment, £60.

Take a stroll among the warren of old dusty lanes that wind around small farms, before tucking into local speciality porco alentejana (pork and clams) at Restaurante Cardo, washed down with a full-bodied Alentejo red.

Suites for two cost from £126 B&B (

Roam in a roman temple

Evora, just 15 minutes’ drive away, has to be one of the most unsung cities in all of Iberia – its fairy-tale charms have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Wander through ancient gates, cobbled lanes, sleepy squares and whitewashed churches, admiring the stunning blue and white azulejos Portuguese tiles.

The country’s largest medieval cathedral’s two soaring towers can be seen for miles around. The interior is a riot of marble, gold, emeralds and diamonds.

Enjoy grilled tuna with potatoes, £8, at atmospheric Medieval Restaurant on Rua do Raimundo and savour home-made ice cream at nearby Fabrica dos Gelados – the pastel de nata flavour is jaw-droppingly good, £2 (

The lo cal delicacy, queijadas de évora (a moist, sugary cheesecake) is best enjoyed with a milky galao coffee at Pau de Canela, £5.

Evora is also awash with Roman remnants – visit the Roman Temple for free and the Evora Museum with its ancient treasures, entry £2.50, then bathe in the hot and cold pools at Acqua Veritas Spa, £30 per person (

Spot a white stork

Out west, Alentejo’s sweep of Atlantic beaches are as striking as the Algarve, but without the crowds.

Vila Nova de Milfontes – a two-hour drive away and home to tiny cafes, cobbled streets and flower-filled squares – is a favourite of Lisbon weekenders.

Where Mira River meets the Atlantic, with nature parks protecting the sands, the coast is more alive with wildlife than jet skis – it’s all rugged cliffs, sweeping dunes and wildflowers.

At Restaurante Alento, local clams and oysters are served up alongside Atlantic fish, from £8. Come evening, you can cosy up around the open fire.

Feeling energetic? Kayak up Mira River, spying griffon vultures and ospreys soaring above as you paddle.

It’s also the only place in the world where white storks nest in the coastal rocks. Kayaking costs £13 per person for 21/2 hours (

If you prefer to keep your feet on the ground, try one of Portugal’s most acclaimed walking routes, the Rota Vicentina.

It stretches 15km south along the coast to Almograve, and you can taxi back for around £10 ( As with much of Alentejo, you’ll see more birds than people.


Return flights to Lisbon, a 1 hour 20 minute drive from Evora, cost from £53 per person (

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