The Alentejo is far away, a place suspended in time, with life lived at a low pitch, as if the place itself breathes very softly.

Three hours out of Madrid, we crossed into Portugal, with Lynn Arriale’s jazz piano dripping from the CD player, and moved off the highway onto rural roads. The landscape softens into gently sloping hills, patterned with cork oak, olive trees and vineyards, with white towns and magnificent castles, forts and convents.

Storks and storks’ nests everywhere – on electrical pylons, lamp posts, treetops, chimneys – an environmental initiative that has worked.

It was market day in Estremoz, a walled town with a beautiful castle. Fruits, vegetables, cheeses and smoky sausages. Artisans selling clay dolls, wood toys, lambskin slippers, brass and copper tools, useful only for life here. Live animals and garden implements. And antiques. And just plain old things.

The market is happy, bustling and very social, but it was time for lunch. In a shaded courtyard of the castle overlooking the countryside, we ordered a lunch of grilled trout and wild asparagus with an “ensalatta caprese” and a glass of local wine. The Alentejo is best known for its smooth, velvety reds.

There is a place in the middle of the Serra d’Ossa forest, a setting for a grand experience, immersed in peace, beauty, and history. In this convent turned hotel, you sleep in former monks’ cells, beautifully updated, and go down to dinner along grand torchlit hallways lined with 50,000 blue and white tiles, arguably Portugal’s best collection of azulejos. Surrounded by gardens and 600 hectares of forest, this monastery has been a special place of retreat for over 800 years.

When a gorgeous bride graciously posed for a photograph on her way to the private chapel, I remembered my daughter’s wedding at this same spot eight years ago.

About 15 kilometers from Serra d’Ossa is the little town of Redondo. The main church in the castle square has wonderful gilded baroque woodcarvings, testimony to discoverers who left from Redondo for India and Brazil.

The castle, started in the late 13th Century and added to many times over the years, still has a few potters working within the walls, carrying on traditions passed from generation to generation from pre-Roman periods. One of them good-naturedly let us work the clay. His wife hand painted his plates and bowls. We did not want to leave that peaceful artisan’s place.

Bouncing down a bone-jolting road, singing along with Maria Bethania and the Tribalistas, we were on our way to aristocratic and complex Évora, a special delight to architects and art historians. It well deserves its UNESCO World Heritage designation.

Évora has the ruins of a Roman temple. Roman walls and aqueducts, bits of Arab and Visigoth constructions and baroque buildings, with all the layers seamlessly incorporated into a vital, modern city like no other.

Évora is minimalist, at least in its colors – white, ochre-trimmed buildings, red tile roofs, gray granite paving, beige and green touches, the bluest of skies. A red geranium on a windowsill punches you in the eye. Everywhere the view is pleasing.

The streets all have their stories. One of the most curious is the Rua das Amas do Cardial (Cardinal’s Wet-Nurses Street), with its row of neat, small houses. In the late 1500’s, Cardinal Dom Henrique, at the time in his 60’s and Archbishop of Évora, and later Regent of Portugal, had the most exquisite of delicate stomachs and could only drink breast milk. He was reputed to call for his amas, or wet-nurses, at all hours of the day and night.

Ay caramba!!!

I felt I just touched the surface of the mystical, magical, Alentejo, worth delving into much more deeply.


  1. Thankyou for taking me on hoiday!
    Am entranced by all your images. I want to wander around the market. I want to slide my hand over those blue and white tiles too.

  2. Thank you for taking your readers along with you on your journey to Alentejo. I so enjoyed the sights......

  3. Adorei as fotos, o enquadramento histórico e o nascer de uma espécie de geografia sentimental,que nem sempre sendo a mais objectiva é sempre a mais exacta...
    Mas eu sou suspeito...

    um beijinho

  4. Hello Celeste Maia,

    From, the first photo I am drawn into your trip I clicked open the hill with the trees on the top like a windbreaker and I too could hear jazz music as beautiful countryside went by, the storks are magnificient.
    The dried peppers looked lovely and the asparagus delicious so much so would like to eat some right now, all the fruit and veggies looked so good.
    Where you stayed is amazing what a magnificient corridor made to waft along in an elegant long dress.
    Redondo looks incredible, the castle and church with lots of gold everywhere.
    The potter is great and his wife, can feel the peace there and the concentration on their art.
    The buildings are incredible, Evora is also beautiful great roofs and windows with lovely balconies and the temple.

    Thanks for the story and pictures have really enjoyed this so very much.

  5. OMG - look at that asparagus! And those peaches! And figs! And that tomato/basil/mozzarella salad!

    Can you tell which part I enjoyed the most?

  6. So beautiful there, and your words and photos absolutely take us on the journey with you. Some of the terrain reminds me of the wine country of California, but there's nothing like those ancient buildings here.

  7. So much peaceful beauty just breaks my heart with the joy of seeing it. The blue tiles of Portugal just take my breath away.

  8. Everything about this post says warmth and history, in all their senses. I love wild places, but this reminds me I also love the complexity of old cultures and places. Thanks, Celeste.

  9. I journeyed over the Alentejo again today. So lovely.

  10. It is like a holiday coming here. Beautiful images, thank you for sharing your journey with all of us. You have a tremendous eye for beauty~

  11. Thank you for visiting my blog today. It drew me here to visit you. Your blog is amazing! I look forward to reading it in the days to come. And I will most certainly recommend it to my daughters. I'm sure they will find it as fascinating as I do.

  12. Wow, thank you so much for this post. You have filled my eyes with beauty. I enjoyed your loving, humble narration.

    Your painting is fabulous. I'll be back.

  13. The photos are stunning. There must be beauty in every nook and cranny there. I really want to see it for myself. But you have taken me there first. Someday!

  14. That was a fascinating tour with spectacular photos! I would love to travel and see all of the wonderful places that exist. For now, I'll have to travel via blogging. Thanks for the tour.

  15. The beauty of the Alentejo, now that it is so green, with so many treasures to discover and enjoy! Your photos are splendid! And convey the mood of light and timelessness....
    It is such a beautiful part of the world, so little known!
    Enjoyed visiting very much!
    Thank you!

  16. My daughter Catarina (13)just returned to the States from a 2 month vacation in Portugal and brought back some of those delicious figs and a decadent Honey Cake with Pine Nuts...sigh...
    I'm glad I can't ever go on a diet ;)