There is only one way to get to Sunvil Discovery’s newest and hottest destination this summer, and that is on your own private jet. Well, perhaps not private but the ambience onboard the 49 seat BMI Embraer 145 certainly has that feeling. With full catering and a generous seat pitch this service from London Heathrow reaches Beja in 2h45mins (every Sunday throughout the summer until Oct 9th 2011) and is the only international flight currently using the airport.

What does this mean and why should I care? Well, it means no holding pattern before landing, no long lines at security, no baggage delay and only a c. 50 metre transfer from the aircraft door to the airport exit. It is like stepping back in time, in a good way.



Evora



Little over an hour’s journey from the capital of the Alentejo, Beja is Evora – a UNESCO world heritage site that certainly deserves it’s title. As you approach the city the Roman influence can be felt immediately. The expertly preserved city walls encase the many charms of the city including the outstanding Roman temple and the protruding ancient aqueduct. However, the tourist influence around the city is rather understated. Considering a city with as much history, architecture and beauty as Evora, you would expect to see hundreds of tourists fighting to pose with dressed up centurions; pay over the odds for a coffee and stand in endless lines to see the attractions. Not in Evora! The temple is all yours, apart from a few intrigued visitors strolling around whilst the locals go about their day to day business.



Hotel Mar De Ar Muralhas



The central cobbled square is an excellent place to enjoy a local gastronomic delight, or sample some of the finest wines in Portugal, all at very reasonable prices. A few local gourmet treats we recommend, available in Evora, are black pork in pastry, dog fish soup and ‘golden soup’ – an egg custard dessert with almonds and cinnamon. Evora is a perfect city break destination with plenty to see, do and eat. You will also find some excellent accommodation within the city walls. One of our favorites is the Hotel Mar de Ar Muralhas, a 4 star hotel which has excellent leisure and relaxation facilities.





View from Estromoz Pousda



Moving north east towards the Spanish border there is a plethora of natural wonders to see. Keen bird watchers will enjoy spotting waxwings, great buzzards and storks – whose nests seem to sit on every telephone pole and rooftop in the region – to name but a few. The landscape changes as you move north east from flat and rolling plains, adorned with cork and olive trees, to a mountainous terrain. The area also has many quaint and interesting towns to visit. Estremoz, for example, is a beautiful market town where you can easily spend a day exploring the maze of cobbled streets and the medieval castle, now a Pousada.



Castello de Vide Square



Climbing further east you will come across Castelo de Vide, located on the foothill of the Serra de Sao Mamede National Park. This historic town is laced with Jewish history and beautiful buildings such as the synagogue and castle. From here it is also possible to visit the hilltop town of Marvao or cross over the border into Spain for some tapas. Moving south you will reach the town of Portalegre on the slopes of the Sao Mamede National Park. The park has well marked walking trails and is home to an abundance of wildlife including wild boar, vultures and eagles. Portalegre itself has many 13th century monasteries and baroque style houses.



Crato Pousada



A ten minute drive west from Portalegre lies the sleepy village of Crato, home to the Pousada do Flor da Rosa, a former monastery. Originally constructed in 1356, the Pousada has retained many original, architectural features and oozes character. The superior rooms are in the old cloisters whilst the deluxe rooms are located in the tower and offer large terraces and superb views across the Alentejo.

The building of the Pousada Flor da Rosa once served as a pantheon for the Knights of Malta. There is a sculpture museum displaying religious pieces dating from the 15th and 16th centuries, donated by the art society of Portugal, and also a tourist office. Guided tours, in English, are available and are a must for anyone visiting or staying at the Pousada.





Beach at Vila Nova



Moving west towards the Atlantic you will find that the Alentejo has a vast unoccupied coastline with long sandy beaches, natural rock pools and picturesque villages. The whitewashed seaside town of Vila Nova de Milfontes is one example, and boasts two sandy beaches occupying both the Atlantic coast and the Estuary of the River Mira. Vila Nova de Milfontes also has facilities for water sports such as kayaking and surfing.
Along this stunning coastline – stretching from Troia, south of Lisbon, to the Algarve – you will find beautiful examples of rural guesthouses, ‘Herdades’, which enjoy a peaceful setting whilst offering close proximity to the sea. It is a pleasant and relaxed experience to drive along the coastline and, as with much of the Alentejo, you can often drive for an hour and only only see a couple of cars.

Rock pools at Porto Corvo







Travelling north from Vila Nova de Milfontes, the journey takes you past the quaint village of Porto Covo, a place of natural beauty and worthy of a pit-stop. Enjoy some ‘me’ time on one of its well known beaches or a lazy stroll stumbling from shop to shop.



Beach at Troia



Continuing north you will reach the Troia peninsula, an area developed with tourism in mind. Troia has long sandy beaches, golf courses, watersports and also offers easy access, by ferry across the Sado Estuary, to Setubal from where it is also possible to catch the train into Lisbon. The Aqualuz Resort Suite Hotel in Troia is ideal for families and couples looking for an excellent standard of self catering accommodation. The hotel also has a childrens club, tennis courts, swimming pools and a gym.
There is an endless choice of routes and places to visit in the Alentejo. You can continue your journey heading north towards Lisbon and the Lisbon Coast or, astounded by the unspoilt Alentejo, you can head back towards Beja, not just the airport but the capital of the Baixo Alentejo (Southern Alentejo). Once home to a resplendent Roman colony and later playing an important part in moorish times, Beja is a historic delight with many sites of interest and worthy of a visit: the castle, the Visigothic church of Santo Amaro, the cathedral and the Pousada São Francisco, a former 13th century Franciscan convent.



Having a region of such beauty to explore and within a 2h45 flight from Heathrow is a luxury. Add to this very competitive prices and the only thing question is, when will you be visiting?
Yasmin Zaidi and Emily Green

Sunvil Discovery