We chose Viana do Alentejo as our April 2020 destination, mostly because of the horseback parade of pilgrims that takes place during this month. Apart from this curious yearly tradition there are many other reasons to venture to the heart of the Alentejo during Spring.
Central location to explore Alentejo
Viana do Alentejo is located in the north-central part of Alentejo, Portugal's biggest region. There are many places worth visiting within a relatively short distance, from picturesque small towns to beautiful natural landscapes. For instance, in an hour drive you can be in the golden sand beaches of Comporta, but also in a medieval town near the border with Spain, like Monsaraz. For those unwilling to drive over half an hour there's the charming city of Évora and also the incredible Alqueva lake. Viana do Alentejo is a great base camp, quite literally.
Whilst in Alentejo it's important to have a car as it gives you the freedom to explore and allow you to stop whenever (and wherever) you feel like. Plus the roads are peaceful and offer gorgeous views, which makes it a delight to drive around.
Land of old customs and traditional festivities
It is believed Viana do Alentejo dates back to the kingdom of Afonso III, who ruled between 1248 and 1279. This means the town has witnessed many crucial episodes throughout the centuries that led to what Portugal is and represents at the present moment.
There are many special events along the year, such as the one that inspired us to write this article, but also the Feira d'Aires in September and the Pedreira dos Sons in May. The latter is a series of classical and jazz music concerts held in an abandoned quarry, which is an awesome example of how Portugal is old but gold merging the old traditions with new and creative initiatives.
Apart from the events that take place in Viana do Alentejo, there are also old customs and arts & crafts that have been passed along many generations. The ceramic and the chocalhos (cow bells) are two of the main attractions in the area, but there are many more in the countryside of Alentejo, such as the handmade rugs sewn in Arraiolos, the handmade pottery of São Pedro do Corval, the clay dolls of Estremoz and the noisy roncas from Elvas.
Rich historical buildings
There are a few buildings worth visiting in Viana do Alentejo and one of them is of course a castle. It was built in the 16th century in the middle of a maze of narrow cobble stone streets. Inside the old walls lies the Igreja Matriz, the town's main church, which is as beautiful inside and out. Also in the middle of town it's worth trying to pinpoint all of the fountains which supplied the local inhabitants with fresh water. They were built in different periods, which explains the distinct architectural features.
Another religious building worth getting to know just outside town is Santuário de Nossa Senhora de Aires. The church has an ornamented façade painted in white and yellow and attracts pilgrims since 1743.
No matter how many times you've visited the region, Alentejo has the power to surprise each and every time. The countryside offers a very special background scenery that ranges from burning sunsets, pastures that extend for as longs as the eye can see, hilly mountains with tiny villages as the "cherry on top" and the most incredible starry sky...
Spring is a fantastic time to explore the region and somehow the power of nature seems more evident during this time of the year, probably due to the deafening silence and the low population density. Also, the wild flowers that sprinkle the prairies, the little cubs and the migratory birds bring the landscapes to life.
Great Food and Wine
A trip to Alentejo isn't complete without an immersion in the local gastronomy and wine. Heartwarming soups, mouth-watering starters, flavourful main dishes and delicious conventual sweets is what to expect. Accept nothing less.
The agriculture and cattle farming sectors remain strong ones, which explain the excellent products that can be found across the region. In Viana do Alentejo we must highlight the desserts, most of which have conventual origin and, of course, the wine.
Some of the country's best wines are produced in Alentejo, many of which have been awarded and are recognised worldwide. Nowadays most wines are produced using machinery and recent technology, but there are some producers around this area that still make vinho da talha (an ancient roman wine-making technique).
If you're a wine and cheese fan read this article to find out how to pair both. In case you're a foodie and are in need of a romantic getaway look no further.
To read more about Alentejo hit the Inspire Me section of our website and watch this video we shot across the region. If you're thinking of visiting get in touch and we'll help out! In the meantime don't forget to subscribe to our monthly newsletter :)