The Alentejo region of Portugal is often referred to as the new Tuscany. With its pastoral landscape, it includes endless olive trees, cork trees, vineyards and wheat fields. Much of the population make a living from agriculture. This area stretches across two-thirds of central and southern Portugal between the Algarve and Lisboa regions. I immediately fell in love with its simple and tranquil way of life. There is nothing touristy about it. The whole point of coming to this unpopulated area is to slow down and to enjoy nature. And that, is exactly what we did!
Where we stayed
Our home base for the next few days was at Villa Extramuros, situated in the countryside. As you drive onto the property you’ll pass by rows of cork and olive trees and a herd of grazing sheep. You can’t help but be mesmerized by the modern white house juxtaposed against the bright blue sky and natural surroundings. The only sounds you hear are the birdsongs and the clanging of bells that hang around the neck of the sheep. It is lovely.
We are welcomed by owners François and Jean-Christophe, who provide a quick tour of their home. The modern architectural design of the exterior compliments the minimalist contemporary style of the interior. It includes an extensive collection of furniture and decorative pieces from all the great artists and designers of the 20th century. Virtually every collected piece has been carefully chosen and placed.
Guests can enjoy a few common areas large enough to offer a great deal of privacy. A large L-shaped lounge and separate dining areas. Each of the five guest rooms have their own large private terrace. Our room, #4, offers a perfect view of the local town of Arraiolos. Lastly, they provide a delicious full breakfast that sets you up for a day of exploring.
Confession time…staying at Villa Extramuros was our initial draw to this region. And, if you love and appreciate interior design, Villa Extramuros needs to be at the top of your list of places to stay.
The Nearby Towns
Arraiolos is a small town famous for its tapestry rugs. These rugs date back to the 16th century. Their designs were heavily influenced by Persian and Turkish carpets. In the center of the town, you will find many shops and a museum dedicated to this art. This is a traditional town, full of whitewash buildings with bright gold trim.
Looming above the small town is the Castle of Arraiolos, also known as Paço dos Alcaides. This Roman-Gothic castle was built in the 14th century on the top of the hill.
Driving distance from Villa Extramuros to Arraiolos is less than 5 minutes.
Évora, the capital city of the Alentejo region is a must visit. This beautifully historic city is an UNESCO World Heritage site due to its well-preserved old town center and having so many significant monuments. It remained undamaged by the great earthquake of 1755.
This lively city features a roman temple, medieval walls, several cathedrals and many more historical landmarks. Also its stunning architecture. The low whitewash houses, decorated with painted tiles, mustard-yellow trim, wrought-iron balconies and red tile rooftops. And, not to mention the fine selection of eateries.
Driving distance from Villa Extramuros to Évora is 15 minutes.
Estremoz is one of the ‘white cities’ that you recognize from a distance. The name of ‘white city’ refers to the colour of the houses, as well as, the deposits of white marble. Estremoz marble is known worldwide, and this city is the second largest exporter of it.
This walled city features a castle, several historical churches, a fountain and other historical monuments. What is most interesting is the divide of two well defined areas. The lower and commercial area is called ‘vila nova’ or new village. This sits on the flat part of the city. The other, ‘cidade velha’ or old city, sits above by the castle. This offers a winding web of streets and alleyways. Both are charming.
Driving distance from Villa Extramuros to Estremoz is 30 minutes.
Towns a bit farther
Other towns worth visiting in the Alentejo region, that are 1 hour away from Villa Extramuros are:
- Castelo de Vide – a traditional hilltop village close to the Spanish boarder
- Marvão – a scenic hilltop village full of whitewash buildings features a castle and roman ruins
- Elvas – a UNESCO World Heritage Site famous for being a fortified town is close to the Spanish boarder
- Monsaraz – a charming and picturesque village nestled on a hill
As a holidaymaker…
We didn’t realize just how beautiful this region was until we got here. There is so much to offer – from traditional towns to wonderful wineries – that it definitely needs more time to explore.