A Road Trip through Portugal’s Alentejo Countryside

Written by: Christine Chitnis


Published on: February 29, 2024

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All photos courtesy of Christine Chitnis.

In her new book, Patterns of Portugal, writer and photographer Christine Chitnis celebrates the culture and history of Portugal through its colors, patterns, and shapes. Her travels through Alentejo, the central region that stretches from the coast through the countryside, were among her favorites: She was drawn by its golden light, rich history of craftsmanship, and big, open landscapes. A trip through Alentejo is, both at its best and by necessity, a road trip. Here’s how Chitnis did it.

Often called the Tuscany of Portugal, the serene, soulful Alentejo region is characterized by cork forests, olive orchards, rolling farmland, ancient Moorish ruins, and a community deeply rooted in traditional handmade practices: As you crisscross this stunning countryside, you should take time to visit tiny olarias (pottery studios), centuries-old textile mills, and villages and museums dedicated to telling the stories of traditional Portuguese craft.

You’ll pick up a car in Lisbon. (Spend a few days there, and definitely check out the National Tile Museum. You’ll learn about tiles you’ll see later in your journey.) Then you’ll weave your way through the region. Portugal’s roads are easy to navigate—you don’t have to be an intrepid traveler to figure it out—and you won’t be on the road for too long at a time. From Lisbon, drive half an hour to Évora, where we’ll begin.

  1. Christine Chitnis
    Patterns of Portugal
    Bookshop, $27.90SHOP NOW



With a rich and storied history, Convento do Espinheiro—once home to monks from the Order of St. Jerome—stands as one of the earliest examples of Renaissance architecture in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Évora. The rooms located in the convent are inspired by 15th-century royal courts, while the modern wing’s spacious rooms boast clean lines and contemporary amenities. The vaulted wine cellar is now a fine-dining restaurant, Divinus, offering regional cuisine and an extensive Portuguese wine selection. The luxurious experience extends to a swimming pool nestled among olive and fig trees, along with a serene full-service spa.


The city comes alive in the evening, with diners spilling out onto the patios, enjoying glasses of wine and long dining affairs at the many tascas (casual family-run eateries). I recommend Tua Madre, which serves traditional Alentejo cuisine with an Italian flair. The menu changes with the seasons, and you can expect a generous wine list.


The city of Évora is home to a wealth of historically significant sites: the infamous Chapel of Bones, the Cathedral of Évora, and the ancient Roman Temple of Évora and Moorish ruins. In Évora, all the streets lead to Praça do Giraldo, the center of town, where you can find the gorgeous Church of Santo Antão. Grab an espresso at one of the many cafés and enjoy the people watching.


Arraiolos is just 20 minutes from Évora and great for a day trip. The town is known for its hand-embroidered rugs (a tradition that dates back to the 16th century), and its whitewashed streets are lined with open-door workshops and colorful rugs hanging from second-story windows. The Alentejo has a rich heritage of arts and crafts—from stone pottery and weaving to tapestry embroidery and cork production—with skills handed down through generations. Don’t miss the Arraiolos Tapestry Museum.


It’s a 45-minute drive from Évora to São Lourenço do Barrocal, a beautifully renovated, 200-year-old family-run farm that now operates as a country hotel. This is a special landing place; stay a few days. They produce their own wine, their own olive oil, and their own fruits and vegetables—all of which land on your plate at the two restaurants on-site. (The most memorable meal of my whole trip: a huge slab of honeycomb from the property’s hives, scraped across fresh bread and cheese.) The rooms, suites, and cottages are luxe, dressed in pretty, natural tones of wood and terra-cotta. Other highlights: cobblestone courtyards, olive groves, starry night skies, and a Susanne Kaufmann spa.


Both of these towns are only a few miles from São Lourenço do Barrocal, so you can take day trips from the hotel.

The medieval hilltop village of Monsaraz is one of the oldest in Portugal and offers breathtaking views over Alqueva Lake. Thanks to its strategic position and high vantage point, Monsaraz has seen its fair share of battles. The entire village is walled off, and there are four historic gates through which you can enter. It’s small, and you can easily cover it on foot in a few hours at most, wandering the cobblestone alleys and stopping in the church, castle, craft shops, and weaving studio.

Corval is the largest pottery community in Portugal. Park your car and set off on foot to visit the 20-plus artisanal pottery workshops scattered throughout the small town, where pieces are still shaped by hand, as they have been for centuries. (Visit Casa do Barro, Centro Interpretativo da Olaria, to learn more.)


Instead of heading right back to Lisbon, aim a bit south and spend time unwinding on the coast. The drive from São Lourenço do Barrocal to the Melides/Comporta region is about two hours.


The lodging options on this stretch of coast are plentiful and gorgeous, though these are my three suggestions: Vermelho (Christian Louboutin’s fanciful, impeccably designed hotel), Sublime Comporta (contemporary rooms, villas, and suites in the peaceful coastal woodlands), and Pa.te.os (four strikingly modern homes overlooking the Melides lagoon).


I had lovely lunches at Cavalariça, which does Mediterranean shared plates and great cocktails, and ALMO, which serves seasonal Portuguese food with a contemporary twist and natural wine made with rare varietals. All the stretches of sand in Comporta have their own charming beachside restaurants, like Praia do Carvalhal’s Sal, which has a fresh, seafood-forward menu and solid cocktails.


The beach is where it is at: Praia da Comporta, Praia da Torre, Praia do Carvalhal, and Praia do Pego are all favorites. There are also some cute shops in Comporta if you’re looking to browse. I like Côté Sud for swimwear and cover-ups, and Loja do Museu do Arroz for eclectic home décor and some very chic old-school picnic baskets.


If you can’t go to Portugal, bring Portugal to you: Portugalia Marketplace is my favorite place to shop for Portuguese products in the US. Here are some of my favorite things, some made right in the Alentejo.

  1. Casa Cubista
    Espresso Cup and Saucer
    Portugalia Marketplace, $15SHOP NOW
  2. Nazarena
    Sardines in Olive Oil
    Portugalia Marketplace, $7.99SHOP NOW
  3. Beirabaga
    Fig Jam
    Portugalia Marketplace, $6.99SHOP NOW
  4. Sir Tile
    Portugalia Marketplace, $23SHOP NOW
  5. Tomelo
    Donkey Milk Soap
    Portugalia Marketplace, $13.99SHOP NOW
  6. Herdade do Esporão
    North Alentejano Extra Virgin Olive Oil
    Portugalia Marketplace, $20.99SHOP NOW