Across the complete opposite side of the region, there is a lake that borders Spain and Portugal. It’s one of the largest artificial lakes in Europe, and it is so big that it crosses five municipalities of Alentejo. One of them is Reguengos de Monsaraz, which is home to a small hilltop town, Monsaraz.
This walled town could have been painted on the horizon by Walt Disney. It’s existence is barely known outside of Alentejo, yet it’s one of those places that is not just symbolic of this region, but perhaps of Portugal as a whole.
However, it’s best kept secret is hiding just a few kilometres outside the town at Horta da Moura, a rural hotel and restaurant that has more to offer that some good food and comfortable lodgings which, with their blue and white paint, resemble a typical Alentejo style quinta (farmhouse).
Walking around the property of Horta da Moura, the sight of a donkey pulling a water mill leaves me feel like I’ve been transported back decades. But in a moment, I’ll feel even further back in time.
We wind down the path through the property, passing under lemon trees, wandering past onion patches, taking photos of flower beds, until we arrive at a large olive tree. Underneath the tree on side is a plaque, and on the other is a table adorned with a red and white table cloth.
There are several olive trees on the property here on what has been named the Caminho das Oliveiras, the route around the property where the olive trees stand, but this one is extra special.
If there is something still standing in Alentejo that has seen everything over time, it’s this tree. It’s nearly 3,000 years old. And not only that, it’s still producing fruitful harvests.
This means that the next part of the afternoon goes as follows: I stand under the 3,000 year old tree, nibble on olives that have come from the tree itself, eat queijo fresco – fresh cheese from Alentejo, and sip on white wine produced from Antão Vaz and Arinto – two grape varieties that are unique to Portugal are classic to this region.
This really is the “farm to table” approach, it really is “KM 0″, but it’s been going on here since before the culinary world even coined these terms.
One of the many quotes about the Portuguese and their food that Ruben has shared with me over the last couple of days is that for Portuguese people “food is pleasure”. Right in this moment, I am definitely feeling it.
The feeling of seeing the producer (the tree) with my eyes, touching the product (the olives) with my hands and tasting the liquid gold (the olive oil) all in the same moment is something that I feel lucky to be able to experience.
Forget those plastic bottles of refined olive oil lining the shelves of the local supermarket or pulling the ring top on a can of commercially produced olives. This is the real deal. This is real life.