With Spring threatening to settle in it's time to plan an escape to the countryside of Alentejo. Serra de São Mamede Natural Park was considered a protected area 30 years ago, on the 14th of April, and occupies an area of 56.000 hectares. We've elected this natural park as our April destination for 2019 and in the article below we'll let you know why.
Beautiful landscapes and valuable wildlife
Serra de São Mamede Natural Park wows nature lovers not only because of the incredible biodiversity, but also due to its geological profile. With marked altitudes (highest peak reaching 1025m), wide plains, water courses and a climate with Mediterranean and Atlantic influences, the park comprises a wide variety of habitats.
The most sought for species are the birds of prey and that’s why the park’s symbol is a bonelli eagle. However, birds are not the only species that find this natural park appealing. Big bat colonies, reptiles, amphibians and bigger mammals such as otters, wild boars and foxes also roam around the park freely.
Spring is a fantastic time to admire the natural scenario as flowers start to bloom and fill the air with floral aromas, green pastures cover the plains and the migratory birds choose this territory as a pit stop during their migratory routes between Europe and Africa.
Traces of different settlements throughout the times
History and archaelogy enthusiasts will also find this territory attractive. This area of the country has been inhabited for a long long time and there are traces of the presence of many different settlements.
There are a few megalithic monuments that date back to pre-historic times spread across the park. The biggest menhir in all the Iberic Peninsula, weighing about 15 tons, can be found near Portalegre. On the southern part of the natural park many ancient paintings are carved in stone inside caves and rock formations. Right in the heart of the park you can find ruins of a roman city, built in the 1st century b.C.
Later on the moors occupied this territory and many artefacts of arab origin were found inside the park. Also, the typical architecture of Alentejo inland suffered the moorish influence, which is easily recognisable when you visit some of the old towns.
Spring is a great time to go on a road trip throughout the park and explore this ancient heritage.
Interesting towns with rich cultural heritage
In April temperatures are mild and there are no crowds, which makes it a perfect time to venture to some of the most picturesque towns inside the park.
Staying at a local village where you wake up to birds humming, doing a hiking trail and then relaxing in the historical centre is a perfect plan for a day in close contact with nature and the local cultural heritage.
Portalegre is the main entrance to the park and there you can visit some of the historical buildings and the huge cathedral, discover the cork production legacy and also the amazing tapestries hand sewn by hardworking women.
Another town worth visiting is Castelo de Vide, where you can walk around one of the best preserved jewish quarters in the whole country. Another reason to head here during April are the Easter celebrations, which are quite peculiar mixing religious beliefs and agricultural parades.
In the heart of the park lies Marvão, one of the most beautiful towns in northern Alentejo. At the local museum you can learn about the archaeological value, but merely walking around the old cobblestone streets and climbing up to the castle is already a time-travelling experience.
We simply cannot write about Alentejo countryside and not mention the local gastronomy. Rustic dishes with bold flavours sustained the local people throughout their work on the fields and conquered the heart of foreign people.
Almost everywhere meals start with charcuterie, juicy olives and bread as appetisers. Most main dishes involve aromatic herbs, tomato, garlic and either meat or river fish, always with a generous amount of olive oil. Sweet treats are rich and pair beautifully with the local wine, one of the best in the country.
Restaurants in this area are quite rustic and familiar, focus on local produce and the food served is honest and authentic. Probably that's why some of them resemble the inside of the local people's houses and make us feel right at home.
There are 12 other natural parks in Portugal and each one of them offers different reasons to visit, from beautiful beaches to great mountain hiking trails. Read our article Natural Parks in Portugal for Outdoor Lovers to read more about our favourite ones. For more inspirational destinations check our post When to Go Where in 2019, where you'll find other amazing destinations across the country.
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