Q) is there anywhere in Europe away from the crowds that offers a truly unspoilt experience, with good weather and easy flight access that won't break the bank?
A) Absolutely, and it's called the Alentejo region...
As the sun rises over Heathrow and the first distant lights on overnight arrival aircraft appear in the distance, we set foot on our EMB 135 to Beja, Portugal. "Where" I hear you ask?...exactly! Lying 177 south east of Lisbon, Beja is an ex military base that has been developed into a passenger terminal, currently only serves London Heathrow.
Don't expect a Starbucks, don't even expect the Coca Cola signs that we have become so accustomed to on our travels around Europe. This is how holidays should be. Total escapism.
A range of accommodations awaits from 5* luxury hotels to small and friendly guest houses to the government run Posada's. Each would appeal to different tastes but the latter should certainly be experienced to allow for an authentic stay.Truly an unspoilt destination with uninhabited picturesque coves, historic towns, wineries and the largest man made reservoir in Europe. The latter itself can accommodate you for at least a week as you move around the shoreline from pier to pier exploring off the beaten coves, villages and wildlife.
My trip alas would only allow me a taster of a day to whet my appetite and invite me, like a select few before me, to fall in love with the region.
Keen to attract visitors with it's ailing economy, Portugal have invested heavily in the airport infrastructure at Beja. On arrival choose to explore with a self drive option (there is very little traffic at 0900 on a Sunday, your arrival time, great to help you get used to driving on the right!). Alternatively transfers can be arranged wherever you choose to stay, and this should not just be for a week in one place. At the very least, split your week in two, coast plus inland would be the obvious choice, or maybe end in Lisbon if you are short on time and cant afford to be away for the full week.
Wine tasting, relaxing with the locals, cycling, walking, sun bathing, shopping, tasting local delicacies, there is something for anyone looking for a part of Europe that is still barely discovered.