When I was a child and teenager, the Alentejo was a hot, dry, dusty bit-in-the-middle you had to drive through (preferably as fast as possible) to get from Lisbon to the beaches of the south in summer.
How one's perceptions can change.
Although I love the green mountainous north of the country, there's something captivating about this landscape of golden wheat fields, cork and olive trees, and clean blue-and-white villages.
The small town of Arraiolos, where handmade rugs have been produced since the Middle Ages.
Celebrating 40 years since the Carnation Revolution that ended almost 50 years of dictatorship
Arraiolos with its castle from afar
If you want to get away from it all, this is the place to come: the Alentejo makes up over one third of Portugal's land mass but contains only 7% of its population!
Not really surprisingly, we got quite lost among the olive groves trying to find Vila Extramuros, but oh what a find.
Owned and run by lovely French couple François and Jean-Christophe, whose home this is too, it's a fabulous surprise for being totally unexpected in style, in a region of traditional pousadas.
Designed by a Lisbon architect, the structure is all contemporary, clean, clear white lines, with rooms surrounding a cool central courtyard.
The interiors, however, are all the doing of this talented pair, whose tastes are eclectic indeed: local objects and references mixed with Parisian touches and iconic 20th century designs.
It all works brilliantly with their eye for detail and design.
Not to mention their love of good food. Perfect summer supper in the courtyard was salad, grilled bread with local cheese and herbs, chouriço and patanegro.
Breakfast (below, with view to Arraiolos): delicious queijadas, Alentejo bread, cherries
François and Jean-Christophe, who moved here from Paris and have never looked back, fell in love with this landscape, saying they were attracted to the Alentejo as 'one of the last wild regions of Europe, where you have kilometres and kilometres of nature and wilderness.'
A neighbouring farmer's sheep graze on their land, providing free control of the vegetation.
The heat was intense, in the low 40s, and we were enormously happy to trail down this path ...
to wallow in the cool clear swimming pool ...
and stretch out under olive trees with the cicadas for company.
Alentejo, Portugal June 2015
Day 9 Iberian road trip
Day 9 Iberian road trip