Alentejo's unspoilt coastline

Sprawling across one third of the country, Portugal’s Alentejo region offers wild, empty coastlines, shimmering lakes and rolling hills - a picturesque playground for adventure lovers. Tina Banerjee tests her mettle with some outdoor pursuits.

Sky diving
There’s nothing like hurtling towards earth to make you question your sanity – particularly when you’ve just jumped out of a perfectly good aeroplane. Numb with cold (it can get awfully nippy at 4,200m (13,780ft) ) and deafened by the roar of the wind whipping past my ears, my mouth is frozen into a strange grimace. No doubt about it: I am petrified. More so when my instructor decides to do a couple of playful pirouettes. Inwardly, I scream.

skydivealentejoSkydiving from 4,200m above Alentejo
Skydive Europe

The sensory overload is intense. Below me, broccoli trees, pond-sized lakes and sinuous threads pockmark the green and yellow landscape. After 60 seconds of surreal, spectacular, off-the-scale, adrenalin-busting freefall, our chute finally opens with an upward jolt and it is suddenly, astonishingly peaceful. Relief washes over me. We float downwards before landing in an ungracious heap on the ground (my fault). A grin spreads across my face; I’m still alive.

Adrenalin factor: 5
Cost: My tandem jump with Skydive Europe cost €179.
Where to eat: Herdade da Malhadinha Nova is a beautiful family-run vineyard, boutique hotel and restaurant. The food is superb – try razor clam and black pork - all washed down with excellent wines.
Where to stay: Pousada Sao Francisco is a former 13th century convent with white-washed walls, a clock tower and soaring Gothic arches but its dark, outdated rooms are disappointing.

Below, on a slanting slab of ancient grey sandstone rock, lies the roughly circular footprints of elephas antiquus, a straight-tusked pachyderm towering 3m (12ft) high that once inhabited Western Europe around one million years ago. Meanwhile, Atlantic rollers are pounding against a higgledy piggedly line of isolated coves and deserted golden beaches which stretch as far as the eye can see.

WalkalentejoWild flowers and ancient elephant footprints on the Rota Vicentina
World Travel Guide / Tina Banerjee

I am walking a 10km (6 miles) section of the Fisherman’s Trail between Praia do Malhao and Vila Nova de Milfontes, part of the newly waymarked, 340km-long (211 miles) Rota Vicentina. This is considered to be one of the last great coastal wildernesses in Southern Europe and I’m blown away by the views. We huff and puff up along perilous, sandy, cliff-top trails broken by welcoming flat stretches, past a solitary stork’s nest on a pinprick-sized rock pinnacle and over mysterious caves cut deep into the belly of the earth.

There are four, day-long hikes to choose from on the Fisherman’s Trail, with accommodation, dining and activity options en route, part of the Casas Brancas network dedicated to promoting sustainable tourism. With plans to attract 150 people on the trail sections every day, my advice is get there now, before everyone else does.

Adrenalin factor: 2
Cost: Free.
Where to stay: Naturate Campo is a charming rural guesthouse with 10 simple but comfortable rooms near Milfontes. Enjoy traditional Portuguese fare and personal service; owner Rui strums his guitar for guests in the evening and wife Pamela shows off her dressage skills on beautiful Lusitano horses.

My heart skips a beat as I face the Atlantic, wrestling awkwardly with a surf board under my right arm as the ocean tickles my feet. I’m suddenly feeling out of my depth – and I haven’t even entered the water yet. My patient instructor Andre senses my hesitance and guides me towards the Goliath-sized waves.

São Torpes offers good conditions for novice surfers in the summer but today, the tide is peskily high and the currents are strong. After a brief warm up and a beach lesson on how to paddle, balance and jump up onto our boards (which Andre displays nimbly, and I copy with all the grace of a whale), it’s time for some action.

SurfalentejoRiding the waves in Portugal
iStockphoto / Thinkstock

I wade out into the surf and with Andre’s help, heave myself onto the board, so he can pull me out beyond the relentless barrage of waves. I seesaw over the crests before Andrew says sagely: “You’re too tense.” More like rigid with fear, I think. Finally we reach a point where there’s a break in the rollers, Andrew turns my board around, and as a wave approaches, suddenly booms: “Now!”. Except I shamefully do nothing, barely budging from my safe, horizontal position on the board. Thankfully, I redeem myself on the second attempt and make it to my knees. On the third, I finally get to my feet for a euphorically-brief second before tumbling unceremoniously into the sea.

This surfing malarkey’s been a blast and I’m hooked. As for those Goliath waves? Less than two feet high, apparently. But who’s counting?

Fear factor: 4
Cost: A two hour surf class costs €25 with the Costa Azul Surf School.
Where to eat: After a hard morning’s surf, tuck into delicious octopus salad, grilled fishes, traditional migas (a dip containing meat, veg and bread) and homemade ice creams at beachside restaurant Arte e Sal.
Where to stay: Request the room with the four poster bed at Herdade das Barradas da Serra in Grândola where timbered roofs, wooden doors and spacious bathrooms await.

Mountain biking
Above me, the magnificent medieval hilltop town of Monsaraz looms over our small group of mountain bikers. With its white washed buildings, wrought-iron balconies, cobblestone streets and an ancient castle arena for bullfighting, it’s a magnet for tourists who arrive by the coach load. Best to explore in the morning when you can enjoy the views all to yourself - a panorama of endless olive groves, distant vineyards, shimmering Lake Alqueva and just beyond, the Spanish border.

BikealentejoMountain biking, Monsaraz castle and Lake Alqueva
iStockphoto / Thinkstock and Tina Banerjee

From Monsaraz, we enjoy a meandering 10km (6miles) bike ride, incorporating downhill, flat and gentle inclines, past farmers tending their crops with traditional tools, along empty roads and pretty Moorish homes. En route, we jump off for a closer look at the area’s fascinating megalithic monuments, like an ancient burial site made of granite stones dating back to 4,000BC.

Fear factor: 1
Cost: Mountain bike tours with Turaventur start from €29 euros per person.
Where to eat: With views of Monsaraz, the lakeside eaterie, Centro Nautico, offers simple but tasty dishes to refuel after a bike ride.
Where to stay: Rustic interiors, a fabulous bar and pool and a splendid location in historic Évora make the Hotel M’ar De Ar Muralhas ( a true gem.

Sunvil Discovery (tel: 020 8758 4722; offers one week’s B&B stay from £744pp (two sharing), including return flights with TAP Portugal, at Herdade das Barradas da Serra, Naturarte Campo, Pousada Sao Francisco and Hotel M’Ar de Ar Muralhas, and car hire. Activities are extra.

For further information about the Alentejo, see

Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.