‘Campo Branco’ in Baixo Alentejo is, if you enjoy the beauty of high plains (steppe), something special. It is here you will, if you are fortunate, see the largest bird in Europe – the Great Bustard – as well as many other scarce birds. We’ve visited a couple of times now, first in the fog which was an experience in itself and then a few weeks later in stunning sunshine when I was lost for words.
Alentejo, pronounced ah-lehn-TAY-zhu means ‘Beyond Tagus River’, and up in the plains you certainly feel a long way from anywhere. Human presence feels minimal. In fact the remoteness of Baixo Alentejo is one of the reasons why some historians are questioning whether the Battle of Ourique, when Portugal ousted the Moors, did in fact take place in Alentejo. Probably not something to mention though when you are in Ourique, especially if you happen to be visiting on St James Day when the Battle is commemorated! If you are a birdwatcher this area is an absolutely must visit in the early Spring for an opportunity to see the Great Bustard courtship ritual. I’ve included just a few of my photographs of them here, for more photographs and advice on where and how to see them visit one of my favourite posts Thursday was Incredible.
Other birds you may see depending on when you go and how much time you have to sit somewhere quietly, are the Little Bustard, Lesser Kestrel, Black-bellied Sandgrouse, Stone Curlews, European Rollers, and the Montagu’s Harrier. You’ll definitely see the European White Storks though. You may even hear them.
The storks are numerous up here, especially on the road from Castro Verde to Mértola where there are dozens of purpose-built frames for them to nest on. A group of storks by the way is called a muster or mustering, and you can also use the collective noun phalanx. All sounds very troop like!
As well as stork nesting frames, you will spot very large window frames near Castro Verde. These frames apparently represent the nickname – A Window on the Plains – for the district of Castro Verde. In one article I read it suggested that passing traffic could look through the windows and out across the Campo Branco. Given the height and location of this window frame I’m not sure how exactly you are meant to achieve that! They are though lovely and unique border markers for the district, and have enabled me to participate in last week’s WordPress Photo Challenge – Frame.
If you are not a birdwatcher then Castro Verde and the surrounding area is still well worth visiting. Probably not though in the summer as it can get very hot. A good time to visit is in the Autumn, and in particular over the third weekend in October, when Castro Verde hosts one of the biggest fairs in Alentejo – Feira de Castro. The fair dates back to the medieval period and is known for its promotion of local produce, handicrafts and cultural heritage. Not only can you sample some of the local cheeses and buy hand-woven blankets, you can listen to two of the unique sounds of Alentejo – Cante Alentejano (traditional folk singing) and Viola Campaniça (a traditional instrument). I wish we were going to be back in Portugal in October as it sounds like a wonderful opportunity to experience some of the last remaining links to Campo Branco’s agricultural past. Alentejo may still be the breadbasket of Portugal but we are unlikely to see sights like this anymore.