Immersed in nature in Portugal's Alentejo

T0719ALQUEVALAKE_C_HR [Credit: courtesy of the Agência de Promoção Turística do Alentejo]
Alqueva Lake in the Alentejo region of Portugal. Photo Credit: Courtesy of the Agencia de Promocao Turistica do Alentejo
Felicity Long
Felicity Long

One of the trends expected to flourish in post-pandemic Europe is nature-focused travel, and it's easy to see why. Even when we can, not everyone will be comfortable jostling among other tourists in crowded cities and venues.

One newish option for travelers seeking wide-open spaces is the Alqueva Lake district, set among the cork forests and plains of Portugal's Alentejo region.

I say "newish," because this nearly 100-square-mile artificial lake didn't exist a decade ago, and in fact, its name, "Alqueva," means "from dry lands."

For the record, Alqueva Lake encompasses five Alentejo towns -- Portel, Moura, Reguengos de Monsaraz, Mourao and Alandroal -- as well as parts of Spain. 

What can visitors do in Portugal's Lake District?

The new Marina de Amieira offers houseboat rentals, and various companies operate small cruise boats from the new Nautical Center of Monsaraz, from one-hour tours to half-day cruises that explore Alqueva Lake's many waterfront villages.

They include the historic village of Mourao, whose castle is a national monument with scenic views of the lake and surrounding towns.

Aldeia da Luz is a replica of a village that was submerged when the dam that created the late was built -- now situated 2 miles from its original location and inhabited by the village's original residents.

The walled medieval village of Monsaraz, located high above the lake, offers a dose of Old World charm, with cobblestone streets and an ancient castle.

And finally, Moura (not to be confused with Mourao) is one of the best-preserved historic towns in the region. 

Great food and dark nights

Portugal has become synonymous with great food and wine in recent years, and the Alentejo region doesn't disappoint. 

Among the highlights are the Monsaraz red wines, the Serpa sheep cheese and local seafood. 

The jewel in the crown for travelers really looking for escape is the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve, billed as the first location to receive the Starlight Tourism Destination Certification by the Starlight Foundation.

The way it works is that the towns along the lake region dim their lights between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. so that the night sky is free from light pollution and the stars are visible in sparkling clarity.

The local tourism office offers information on accommodations, activities and amenities.


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