Visiting Alentejo, Portugal and Cork Country

Cork tree in Portugal (Photo by 'Kyry Kyry Island' on the summer, the green stands of cork oaks turn the flowing plains of the Alentejo into a romantic and enchanting place of sun and shadows.

These ancient forests, which have produced cork for millennia, are occasionally interrupted by wine estates, olive groves, or a white and blue house on a hill. When the bark is harvested, the trees turn from tranquil green to a warm, red hue, the characteristic color of the only tree that has a renewable bark.

Visiting Alentejo, Portugal

The Portuguese often refer to the Alentejo, with its own dialect, strong Moorish flavor, white washed towns and unique songs as its own nation. Most towns seem to float on hilltops above the plains, often surrounded by an ancient castle. Gothic towers and red tiles rise from the venerable walls. The songs of the Alentejo, with a flavor of coriander and garlic, greet the visitor.

The Alentejo is bound by the sea to the west, and Spain to the east, extending from the southern bank of the great river Tejo to the mountains of the northern Algarve. Its name means “Beyond the Tejo,” and it occupies more than one fifth of Portugal, yet only houses a small fraction of the national population.

History of Alentejo region

Cork tree up close (Photo by 'Kaptain Kobold' on endless landscapes are rich in reminders of it past. From prehistory there are countless Dolmens, Mehnirs, and burial mounds. Impressive Roman relics are everywhere, from the still-standing temple at Evora to a mostly intact Roman villa at Sao Cucufate. While the Alentejo flourished under centuries of Roman rule, it thrived in the 400 years it was held by the Moors. They left behind cultural and architectural ties, a Mosque at Mertola, and many legends.

By 1249, a young Portuguese nation had incorporated the Alentejo and strong castles arose to guard the plains. With mild winter weather, abundant soil and a hospitable landscape, the Alentejo flourished in the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery. Cork, wine and wheat would become the treasures this land would offer the world.

Today, the Alentejo remains rural and natural with thousands of miles of cork forest that supports a variety of wildlife. Its large towns are living museums, still in their ancient walls, with a sense of timelessness that is increasingly difficult to find elsewhere. From the monumental charm of the regional capital of Avora, to the impossibly high castle tower at Beja in the south, history, tradition, and grandeur are everywhere. It is a place where amid a harmony between nature and humanity we can remember so much of what we have forgotten. These lands of cork once gave the world the likes of explorer Vasco da Gama. Today, the world is invited back to discover the Alentejo.

Just an hour’s drive from Lisbon, a day trip to Portugal’s Cork Country is worth a visit!

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