A Portugal of Pristine Beaches, Tiny Villages and Little Else

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This area has a network of sandy trails that extend from the coast miles into the countryside. I spent hours walking alone, except for the birds, beetles, wildflowers and pines. Thankfully, the GPS on my phone still worked, as I got lost once one morning on these unmarked trails. As I turned away from the ocean, what could I see? An endless canopy of green — formed by umbrella pines — tall trees whose branches are umbrella-shaped, so when the trees are huddled together they create a pine blanket in the sky.

I was back again in the afternoon, with my wife and daughters, after the sun finally warmed the cool morning air. We were there in the evening, to see the sun set as the beach faces directly west. Finally, late at night, I was there, standing by the cliffs overlooking the ocean, gazing at the crazy display of stars; there are no nearby cities to spoil the show.


I asked Jason Martin, the British painter who I visited at his studio, to describe what makes this area so special. At first, he talked about the colors: the four shades of evergreen that illuminate the region: olive, pine, eucalyptus and cork.

“The landscape is extraordinary and verdant, even in the dry months,” Mr. Martin said.

It was early in the morning and his helpers — welders, paint mixers, frame builders — were just arriving for another day of work, as we walked through his studio, with dozens of his paintings in various states of completion, including paper soaking in vats of red, yellow and green paints, and large abstract canvases with layers of oil paint and acrylic gel.

Portugal, in general, is a laid-back place, compared to much of Europe. Alentejo takes that to another level, Mr. Martin said.

“It is the remoteness, and the unpretentiousness,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to fall in the contemporary world that we are used to. It is backdoor escape. When I get back to London, I need a crash helmet.”

There are, not surprisingly, all kinds of outdoor activities to choose from. Simplest is the vast network of so-called fishermen’s trails that stretch for 280 miles inland and along the Atlantic called Rota Vicentina. You can also take horseback rides, take surfing lessons, go biking, watch dolphins, and go fishing, kayaking or ballooning. Several of the beaches, including an area called Santo André, have natural lagoons, making its calm, shallow waters safe for young children. The Santo André area is also a nature reserve; it boasts more than 240 bird species and hundreds of kinds of butterflies.



By Eric Lipton

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