Follow in the footsteps of Julia Bradbury's podcast with our guide to Alentejo in Portugal...
The Alentejo spans south central and southern Portugal, an unspoilt region of cork tree forests, dreamy fragrant meadows filled with wildflowers and picture perfect white-washed villages. You can reach the Alentejo region within a couple of hours from either Lisbon or Faro airports - this is the perfect road-trip destination if you’re planning to rent a car and try somewhere new in Portugal.
The city of Evora is the best place to start your tour of the Alentejo. The capital of Alentejo, Evora is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, famous for its beautiful and unusual medieval architecture and laid-back, slow pace of life.
The Cathedral of Evora, or Sé Cathedral as it is also known, was built between 1280 and 1340 and is the largest medieval cathedral in Portugal.
Sé Cathedral takes its name from two letters S and E, which in Latin stands for Sedes Episcopalis (the seat of the bishop), symbolising Sé de Evora as the Bishop’s seat in Evora.
Vasco da Gama’s fleets’ flags were blessed here before his famous expedition to India in 1498 and in 1988, the cathedral was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Impressive.
Entrance to the cathedral costs €1.50, there is an additional charge to visit the roof, admission is €3.50 and offers fantastic views of the Mediterranean. The roof is accessed by climbing the bell-tower. Around 135 steps await – you have been warned!
The Roman Temple in Evora was listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986. The temple is sometimes mistakenly referred to as the Diana Temple, (nobody really knows why), it actually dates back to the 1st century AD and was built during the reign of King Servius Tullius. Fourteen original Corinthian columns line the perimeter. Many of these still have their capitals intact made from white marble from nearby Estremoz. It's a popular spot with wedding photographers so be prepared to wait your turn if you're after one for the 'gram.
A church decorated with human bones? It may sound like a grisly prospect, but in reality the experience is a lot less chilling than you might expect.
The church was constructed by Franciscan monks in the 1600s at a time when land was extremely valuable and local cemeteries were taking up precious parcels of countryside. The monks decided to relocate the bones from the local cemeteries to the new chapel, but instead of burying the remains, they chose to display them publicly, sort of as a lesson to the locals who were becoming increasingly preoccupied with material wealth. Some 5,000 skeletons were packed tightly into the walls - from a distance, they look like tiny pebbles.
The monks believed the chapel would provide the town with a meditation space, a place for people to contemplate the transience of life and to observe the great leveller that is death. Above the chapel door, you’ll see the message:
“Nós ossos que aqui estamos, pelos vossos esperamos,” or: “We bones that are here, are waiting for yours.”
The entrance fee for the Capela dos Ossos is €2.00/€1.50/€1.50 (Adults/Children/Seniors). There is an extra charge of €1 for photos. The chapel is open daily from 9:00-12:50 and again from 14:30-17:45 (17:15 in winter).
Stave off wintry weather at home and cosy up in a traditional Alentejo cape. Designed to withstand drafty mountain conditions, these age-old felt capes have been given a new lease of life by designer Delfina Marques. Originally from Evora, she decided to revive the local capote (pronounced ‘caput’) five years ago and now employs several women from the local community as seamstresses. Delfina’s collection includes ranges for men, women and children.
Capote’s Emotion Boutique, R. Miguel Bombarda 16, 7000-645 Évora, Portugal
Sample delicious local wine and traditional dishes from Alentejo at the centrally located Café Alentejo in the old town. Worked up an appetite? You’ll need a will of iron to resist their tempting appetisers and freshly baked bread. Saude!
Cafe Alentejo, R. do Raimundo 5, 7000-661 Évora, Portugal
Next stop on your road trip should be the medieval village of Monsaraz, famous for its castle perched on a hill and spectacular views of the Alqueva Lake and the Spanish border.
The estates of Monte de Ribeira and Herdadinha both belong to the Leal da Costa family who were direct descendents of the Count of Ervideira. Ervideira has earned a reputation for unusual wines including Invisível, a white wine made from red grapes and ‘water wine’, a wine aged underwater in the Alqueva Lake. You can even scuba dive for your own bottle if the mood takes you. Eat your heart out 007.
For more information on Ervideira wines, visit Ervideira.com.
From centrally located city hotels to countryside retreats, you don't have to look far to find a comfy place to stay in Alentejo.
Located in the heart of Evora, between Praça do Giraldo and Sé Cathedral, Hotel Riviera offers spacious, comfortable accommodation – the perfect base for city exploring.
This luxury country estate is set in idyllic surroundings and features a panoramic pool, spa with hot tub and hammam, free Wi-Fi and free bicycles.
Guests can sample traditional food from the Alentejo region at the gourmet restaurant of the hotel, whilst enjoying beautiful views of the countryside. The in-house bar serves wine produced by the estate until late in the evenings.
Popular local activities include horse riding, hiking and canoeing. Vale Do Guadiana Natural Park is a 30-minute drive from the Malhadinha Nova Estate.