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Turismo Sustentável
Turismo SustentávelO Poejo
Por um Turismo Sustentável

Alto Alentejo, Unsung but Not for Long

João Pedro Marnotofor The New York Times

The walled town of Marvão in the eastern part of Alto Alentejoin Portugal. The town's castle was a Moorish fortification built in the ninth century.

Published: November 8, 2009

The walled town of Marvão in the eastern part of Alto Alentejoin Portugal. The town's castle was a Moorish fortification built in the ninth century.

Mr. Smith scoured real estate listings for haciendas on the Yucatán and sea captain houses on the Greek island of Simi. But then, one summer while touring farms in the Extremaduraregion of Spain, Mr. Smith crossed into Alto Alentejo, a region of Portugalthat he’d never heard of, and found himself enraptured by the landscape, excellent food, a lost-in-time lifestyle and the relatively inexpensive cost of living.

After four days of inspecting broken-down barns and farmhouses, he bought a 130-acre 18th-century farm outside the village of Campo Maior. “Compared with Spain, this place was even more charming, beautiful and about a third less expensive,” Mr. Smith said. “Old guys in snap caps and corduroys tip their hats to strangers.”

In the past seven years, Mr. Smith, who no longer owns KorakiaPensione, has watched the Alto Alentejo, a border province carpeted with cork oaks and olive trees in southeastern Portugal, emerge as a stylish backwater. The region’s name is derived from “Além-Tejo,” which means “beyond the Tagus,” the river that flows past Lisbon. A new blacktop highway now stretches eastward from Lisbon, and within an hour you’re admiring vineyards, the occasional whitewashed town or castle and gently rolling plains.

A sophisticated international set has started to snap up properties in the area, turning Alto Alentejointo their little European playground. Now tucked among the fashionable homes is a smattering of boutique hotels, wineriesand casual yet sophisticated restaurants.

Until recently, Alto Alentejowas an enclave of Lisbon’s old-money set interested in making wine, raising the local breed of Alter-Real horses and communing with their version of the outback. But they welcome newcomers. “We want to tell the world about this part of Portugal,” said JoãoPinto Ribeiro, the president of Paláciodo CorreioVelho, one of Portugal’s leading art auction houses, who has owned a farm in the region for more than 20 years. “It’s a poor place and could really use more visitors.”

He met Doug and Josie Smith while driving his horse and buggy along a country road that runs between their respective houses, and a friendship arose over Alentejo’sprincipal vices: food and wine.

There is no shortage of historic sites in Alto Alentejoand one of the most beautiful is Marvão, a walled town that sits on a narrow spit of rock overlooking the rugged plains that reach across into Spain. Marvãois home to perfectly restored, whitewashed houses and a castle built in the ninth century as a Moorish fortification by IbnMarwan.

Another historic standout is the Capelados Ossos, a marble-and-stone chapel built in 1766 with neo-Gothic flourishes in the small and bustling city of Campo Maior. The interior of the chapel, a smaller version of the Capelados Ossosin Évora, is covered in human bones, skulls and two complete skeletons.