LIGHT IS CONSTANT IN ALENTEJO, PORTUGAL
WHERE IS THE ALENTEJO?
The Alentejo is a cultural and historical area in southern Portugal, but its lack of clouds has made it famous. A new and interesting shade of blue is created when the open sky mixes with the verdant and yellow plains, lakes, and rivers below.
This picturesque area, which takes up nearly a third of the mainland, is only an hour’s journey from Lisbon. The river Tejo forms its northern border, and the mountains its southern one.
The open Atlantic forms the western boundary, while Spain and the River Guadiana form the eastern one.
The Portuguese often treat the Alentejo region as if it were a separate country due to its distinct culture (including a distinct dialect, a strong Moorish taste, whitewashed villages, and unique songs).
The majority of settlements are perched precariously on hilltops above the plains, each one protected by a fortress. The ancient walls are topped with Gothic turrets and decorated with red tiles. Visitors are greeted by the coriander- and garlic-tinged melodies of the Alentejo.
In the summer, the Alentejo’s rolling plains are transformed from a place of sun and shade by the verdant stands of cork oaks that dot the landscape.
These ancient forests, which have produced cork for millennia, are sporadically broken up by wine estates, olive gardens, or a white and blue house perched atop a hill. The only tree with a renewable bark, the trees glow bright crimson once the bark has been stripped.
We all know by now that light, not pigment, lends the sky its characteristic blue hue. Sunlight contains all the colors of the spectrum, and the blue component of that light causes charged particles to oscillate as it travels through the air.
Sky color is a function of the amount of sunshine hitting it; the Alentejo’s mostly cloudless, pollution-free, and bright blue skies are a treat for the eyes. The Alentejo blue is a result of the area’s favorable climate, relatively high elevation, and high purity of air.
If you want to understand how great it is, all you have to do is look at it.
As a result, it shouldn’t be surprising that blue and white are the two most frequent colors on a typical Alentejo house, since they so closely resemble the sky.
In addition, it’s important to note that in northern Alentejo, in towns like Nisa, it’s not uncommon to see yellow and white homes. And that makes me think of the light.
So, next, we need to put all the light into context – it fuels the local economy. In recent decades, the Alentejo has emerged as Portugal’s most dynamic wine region.
The long, sunny summers, with a touch of Atlantic influence, have led to some outstanding wines. Wines from Reguengos and Borba are gaining popularity, but my personal favorites are those from Redondo, Portalegre, and Evora.
Wines from the Alentejo area provide a delicious glimpse into the region’s sunny disposition thanks to the quality of the light, the diversity of the grape varieties grown there, and the richness of the soil.
And where there are grapes, there are olives, and it’s generally agreed that the Alentejo presses some of the finest olive oil in the world, not just Portugal.
If you want to believe the hype about the extraordinary quality of the olive oils produced in the region between Moura and Serpa on the Guadiana River’s banks, you need to see for yourself.
By touring the olive groves, museums, and presses, you can learn how the stunning natural light in these hills produces a magnificent oil.
Get moving in the direction of the shore. For hundreds of years, the Sado River Estuary has been well-known for its high-quality salt production. The sun-dried salt produced by these pinkish saltpans is a premium food ingredient.
The salt industry had been in decline for some time, but it has recently begun to recover, and now you can try some of the world-famous salt produced in the Sado.
The Alentejo’s never-ending sunflower field is another fantastic way to enjoy the region’s glorious sunshine. They set the stage for beautiful scenery by lining roads. As a result, they populate the lowlands in between the Montados, the dense cork forest that serves to preserve a special ecosystem.
The history of the area includes the role of light as well. The Romans settled in the Alentejo as farmers, and there are still opulent houses that they built scattered across the landscape. In particular, they appreciated the sun’s ability to warm them.
They created a one-of-a-kind heritage through the cultivation of wines and the production of their renowned fish sauce. After the Roman Empire collapsed, North African civilization flourished for centuries, transforming agriculture and establishing major cultural and commercial hubs.
MONUMENTS IN THE ALENTEJO
Alentejo’s ancient structures still provide some of the region’s most breathtaking vistas. Stone circles and stone altars, remnants of prehistoric human activity, can be found all over the Alentejo, indicating that the original inhabitants of the area worshiped the sun.
These religious landmarks are among the most well-preserved on the entire Iberian Peninsula.
Then there are the castles; I particularly enjoy looking out over the easy vistas that extend hundreds of miles from the parapets of Marvo Castle.
Many other forts perched atop hills also provide splendid vantage spots. The devout followed the light across the plains on the Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage route that is still accessible today.
DARK SKY IN THE ALENTEJO
But what about when the sun goes down and the stars come out? The night sky is where the greatest light show in the universe can be seen, with 4,000 stars and the Milky Way.
The Alentejo region is home to the world’s first designated “Starlight Tourism Destination,” Dark Sky Alqueva, a 4,000-square-mile reserve centering on the Great Lake of Alqueva.
A number of municipalities including Alandroal, Barrancos, Moura, Mouro, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Portel, Évora, Mértola, and Serpa—make up the area. The area around Dark Sky Alqueva is rich in both daylight and evening pursuits.
Exciting adventures can be had in the open plains around Alqueva at any time of day or night. The huge lake can be found between two walled cities.
The Alqueva Dark Sky Route, which is in charge of the hotels and other tourist attractions in the area, is just one of Dark Sky Alqueva’s many partners. Activities such as these may be found in the form of hiking, equestrian riding, nighttime canoeing, boat excursions on the lake, hot-air balloon rides, paddle boarding, and athletics.
You can also go birdwatching, wine tasting, solar system yoga, wildlife watching, and more.
The Alentejo is a place where the sun shines brightly day and night.