The Alentejo region, around the great lake “Alqueva”, the western Europe´s largest artificial stretch of water, 250 km2 of it to be exact, 83 km long with a lakeside extending to about 1160km and covering six municipalities, is the world´s first “Starlight Tourism Destination” certified by the “Fundación Canaria Starlight” and granted by UNESCO at the end of 2011, that means it´s one of the best locations anywhere to view the stars, thanks to its combination of cloudless nights and a lack of almost any man-made light pollution. It´s called the “Dark Sky ®Alqueva” Reserve.
But unlike other top destinations for stargazing, Alqueva is notable for the fact that it´s not in a remote corner of a far-off land. It´s a developing hot spot tourist destination just two hours drive from the capital, Lisbon, and half an hour from Evora city, itself a UNESCO world heritage since 1986.
The Alqueva region intends to preserve the natural environment and promote the sustainable use of energy, namely on public lightning.
With this new reality in mind, tourist infrastructure had to adapt, so now we have the possibility of late meals and take away food packs, along with telescopes made available with practical guidance from certified sky guides, for beginners, or you can carry your own equipment if already an amateur astronomer. We are keen to learn from someone like you, so you will be more than welcome.
A number of small rural housing units, are prepared to receive and accommodate everyone willing to know this region, and a few excellent restaurants can serve you the local and traditional food, known to be the best the Mediterranean cuisine can offer.
In addition Alqueva is a unique region very rich in cultural and natural heritage. It´s a place of small picturesque villages which provide the visitor with a range of activities to fill the days and nights like, walking tours, marble tours, megalithic tours, bird watching, horse riding, wildlife watching, canoeing, boat trips in the lake and, of course, stargazing.
For the night sky enthusiastic or the casual tourist, a semi-professional observatory is operating in Monsaraz alongside lake Alqueva. Its name is OLA, short for "Observatory of the great Lake Alqueva". The flagship telescope is a 180 mm apochromatic refractor on top of a Paramount MX robotic mount but a few other telescopes are available for beginners to intermediate users. Daytime activities like Sun observation and workshops on various astronomical topics are on the agenda most of the time.
If only curious about the heavens above, our guide will introduce you to the wonders of the observable universe, just made possible due to the special characteristics of this region at 38 degrees North.
Archaeological excavation site
Roman temple in Evora
Megalithic monument in Monsaraz
Lake Alqueva in Monsaraz
OLA observatory in Monsaraz
Castle of Monsaraz
A stargazing session in OLA