Friday, November 6, 2009

Beyond Lisbon, Beyond the Tagus

For the epicures who have flocked to Alentejo in recent years, the region’s top draw is its cuisine. Its basic elements are wheat, olive oil, pork and certain fish, like cod, which the locals fry, bake and infuse with garlic and herbs in various glorious ways. Lamb and duck make luxurious appearances.

Aromatic cheeses range from the firm, nutty Nisa to the runny, fragrant Queijo da Serras. The regional wines can be sophisticated and interesting, from the robust reds of the Quinta do Carmo, jointly owned by the Domaines Barons de Rothschild (Lafite), to lighter wines made from local trincadeira grapes.

Classics include queijo de Ovelha (an orange-crusted round of gooey sheep’s milk cheese), pato em molho de vinho tinto (duck in red wine sauce) and migas a Alentejana (fried pork with bread soaked in pork fat).
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Alto Alentejo, Unsung but Not for Long

Compared with Spain, this place was even more charming, beautiful and about a third less expensive
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.
There is no shortage of historic sites in Alto Alentejo and 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. Marvão is home to perfectly restored, whitewashed houses and a castle built in the ninth century as a Moorish fortification by Ibn Marwan.
Old guys in snap caps and corduroys tip their hats to strangers.

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