The Region of Alentejo
The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It makes up one third of the area of the country but has only 12% of the population. The rural way of life has stayed much the same for centuries and generations have worked the land almost untouched by the busy world around them. The growing of olives and chestnuts, the processing of cork, and the production of locally baked bread, wine, honey, and goat and sheep milk cheeses remain an essential part of everyday life.
The area is steeped in history, for the Alentejo was a battleground for centuries, invaded by Visigoths, Moors, Spanish and French. The legacy from that time can be seen in the magnificent old walled towns and castles that guard many hilltops and command breathtaking views. Just over the border in Spain, Badajoz and Albuera were the scenes of famous Peninsular War engagements and there is a small British military cemetery in one of the bastions of the fortress at Elvas commemorating these events.
The Serra de São Mamede Natural Park, which officially begins a few kilometers from Tapada do Falcao and stretches to the Spanish border, is a protected nature reserve of some 31,000 hectares. It is a haven for many of Europe’s rarest birds and animals. Wild boar and deer roam freely and it is thought that the Iberian lynx is still to be found there. Reptiles and amphibians such as the Iberian frog and Iberian midwife toad can be found in the waterways; kestrels, Bonellis eagles and Egyptian vultures are commonly seen overhead. It is also the home to the largest European colony of bats.
Caia, the local village, is a typical Alentejano working village set in a landscape of vineyards, pastureland and cork forest. The fortified towns of Elvas, Estremoz, Castelo de Vide and Marvão are all a short drive away and Evora, the regional capital and a World Heritage site, is an hour away to the south-west. A little further afield in Spain, the historic cities of Badajoz, Merida and Caceres are easily accessible.