Despite some of the pressures that it has been subjected to, the Alentejo has an identity of landscape and culture which is unique and which, at the beginning of the third millennium, is the best preserved in Portugal.
Situated at the south-west point of Europe, it is affected by a large number of influences – continental, Atlantic, Mediterranean, North African and Macaronesian (Atlantic islands) – from the crossroads of which occurs the presence, as much on land as in the sea, of a great variety of species of flora and fauna living healthily together.
This richness, together with the riches of landscape and geology, have led to the classification of large areas of its territory as Protected Areas, in the form of Natural Parks and Nature Reserves. There are various zones integrated within the Rede Natura 2000 (the Natura 2000 Network), classified under European directives for the protection of Birds and Habitats.
The history of the Alentejo has contributed decisively to the conservation of these natural treasures. Not part of the direction taken by accelerated economic growth, its industrialisation has been on a lower scale. As a region, it has remained essentially rural and with a low density of population. Until the 1990s, tourism itself was almost exclusively limited to the Évora–Estremoz–Vila Viçosa–Elvas axis and did not constitute a significant factor in relation to building and construction.
However, and despite everything that was not touched, what today has been handed down to us is not nature in a “pure” state; it is a landscape that has been strongly influenced by humankind over thousands of years of occupation. Except for the vegetation along rivers and streams, fundamentally comprising poplar, ash, willow and alder, that on the more inaccessible schist escarpments of the north west and, on the coast, the sands and the cliffs, where it appears no one has ever been, a substantial part of what makes the Alentejan landscape so enchanting is the fruit of human hands: the original cork oak and holm oak woods today comprise an intelligent system linking woodland with pasture; the wheat fields, which continue to be the theme of tourist adverts for the Alentejo, havenevertheless demanded a heavy ecological price; the torrential nature of the rivers has been combated by the construction of dams which paint the landscape with beautiful surfaces of mirrored water; the pastures provide grazing for flocks and herds; irrigated cultures, as well as vineyards and olive groves, provide colour in the harsh dryness of the summer heat.