The Alentejo region of Portugal is the south-central section on the country, so named because it is across the river Tagus from the rest of Portugal. The origin of the name comes from the Porteguese "Além-Tejo" which means "Beyond the Tagus." The Tagus River is the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula, which encompasses Spain and Portugal.
With a history as varied as that of Portugal, the area has been under the control of the Romans, Germanic Visigoths, African Muslim Moors, the Spanish and finally the Portuguese themselves. People live at a slower pace here in the countryside. The people of Alentejo are said to be proud of the hardscrabble area, and it has been compared to the beauty and culture of the Appalachian region of the United States – a proud people who value simple traditions. They may take a while to warm up to tourists, but can offer simple country hospitality. Because it is the countryside, prices here are lower, and offer a real attraction to the tourist looking for an authentic Portuguese experience. Geographically the region varies with open rolling plains and in the northeast near the Spanish border you will find hillsides underpinned by granite. The region of Alentejo has a serene beauty with the cork trees flourishing in the arid countryside. Quarrying granite, schist and marble are some of the rich natural resources and industry of the region. The region is reliant on agriculture, and is said to be the “bread basket” of Portugal. Some of the important crops and products of the region are cork, grain, produce, olives, wine, and eucalyptus. Animals raised include pigs, sheep, bulls, and horses. Cork tree bark is still harvested by hand each summer in the old fashioned way. Look for such traditional dishes as ork and clams which you may wish to enjoy accompanied by some traditional Fado music. The capital city of the Alentejo region is Evora. Here you can visit the almost 2,000 year old Roman "Temple to Diana" which has been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. You should also visit the medieval monasteries, and sample some of the finest cuisine of the region. 92 standing stones erected by ancients can be found outside of Evora, forming a Stonehenge-like ancient monument believed to be an ancient calendar. The Almendres megalithic complex features 92 menhirs (standing stones) and shares astronomical similarities with Stonehenge – its latitude shares a relationship to the maximum moon elongation with the monument in England. Santarém in the north-west part of the state has a long and proud history beginning as Julius Ceasar’s outpost for his Legions in the area. Later under rule of the Moors, it was named after Saint Iria. It features a Roman Temple in the town proper, as well as the striking 17th Century Igreja do Seminário, now a Jesuit center. Each year in June the city hosts a large bullfighting and agricultural fair called Feira da Ribatejo. Outside of Santarém is the town of Alpiarça which has a fine museum called the Casa Museu dos Patudos. Included in its collection are works by Leonardo Da Vinci, Albrecht Durer, and Delacroix. The town of Castelo de Vide in the northeast of the region is perched on the hills of the Serra de Marvão. The scenic castle ruins and the charming Jewish Quarter perched on the hillsides, are not to be missed. The Alqueva Dam is the largest dam in Portugal, and the manmade lake it creates is one of the largest surface areas of water in Europe. The “Parque Natural do Vale Guadiana” nature preserve near Mértola is large, uninhabited and used to be a copper mining area as long ago as the ancient Romans. There is also a beach preserve area on the coastal strip that runs from the Port of Sines, which has some beautiful sandy beaches. The town of Sines is said to have some of the finest Atlantic beaches in Europe known for is fine, white sand.