Virtuoso Life - January/February 2018 - 101
From opposite left: The UNESCO World Heritage city of Évora and its Enoteca Cartuxa wine bar, classic Portuguese
tilework, and the road into São Lourenço do Barrocal.
register this scene with deep satisfaction - and, perhaps, astonishment. For consider where you are: The Alentejo, a Belgium-size
swath of land a short drive from Lisbon, has long been one of Portugal's poorest regions. The parched landscape, dotted with medieval
castles and forts meant to repel Spanish invasions, covers about a
third of the country, but holds only seven percent of its population.
Traveling here feels like traveling back in time 40 or 50 years.
What's so surprising is that you'd never expect to find a new
wave of design-conscious hotels on these sun-drenched plains - or
in-the-know travelers seeking them out as stylish getaways. But,
accessed via the super-speedy A6 highway from Lisbon, the Alentejo
transports you to a dreamy, ancient world that's long on allure,
short on crowds, and delightfully affordable.
TRAVELERS OFTEN OVERLOOK PORTUGAL
in favor of France, Italy, or Spain, but I can't remember the last time
I've been so disarmed by a country. Land in Lisbon, spend a day
or two exploring the capital, then sail across the Vasco da Gama
Bridge - the longest in Europe, stretching more than ten miles
across the Tagus River - and without warning you're flung into a
countryside so deep and silent, it almost demands you decelerate.
My husband and I recently joined a Backroads bike trip through the
Alentejo, pedaling for six days through expansive cork forests (Portugal exports 63 percent of the world's cork), soft rolling hills, and
vineyards. Occasionally a small town would appear, or a farmhouse,
its white walls outlined in bright-blue trim. Riding down empty
roads past faded-green olive trees, black pigs munching lazily on
acorns, then rows and rows of grapevines, we learned that the Alentejo is rapidly becoming one of the world's top wine destinations.
Its rich and fruity reds - mainly syrahs, cabs, and trincadeira
blends - are gaining popularity. We also discovered a host of fantastic, newly launched wine-estate hotels. The first, set in peaceful
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