A trip to the southern most interior part of Alentejo is a trip straight into Portugal’s Moorish roots. On the Spanish border, where miles and miles pass with only cicada-song as company, the Castle of Noudar (Castelo de Moura in Portuguese) lies between the winding rivers Ardila and Murtega. The settlement around Noudar dates back to 1167, when the surrounding lands belonged to the Moors, followed by the Spanish, and finally to the Portuguese crown. In the late 1800s it was sold in a public auction and passed into private hands. Today the Castle is part of the Herdade da Coitadinha (meaning small hunting ground), and while it’s currently closed due to risk of landslides, the rural landscape around it is magnificent.

The Natural Park of Noudar was created as a compensation for the construction of the Alqueva dam, which in turn created the largest man-made lake in Europe. However, it also caused loss of the natural habitats and ecosystems of the area. And so today, the 1000 hectares of the Herdade da Coitadinha is home to a dense cork forest, black pigs and cows that graze freely, foxes, birds and the Iberian lynx which is being reintroduced here. In the distance, the town of Barrancos shines white on its hilltop. Barrancos at one time was known as a prime spot for smuggling, but it is better known today for the quality of its porco-preto presunto. The region has exceptional conditions for raising the black-footed pigs that are prized throughout the world. The pigs graze in total freedom in the cork forests, gorging themselves on the acorns that these beautiful trees produce. During the acorn season (November – March) these pigs eat 15 -20 pounds of acorns a day, representing a daily weight increase of 2 pounds until they reach approximately 300 pounds. Rich in oleic acid, the acorn is responsible for the unmistakable aroma and taste of the ham, after months of natural curing.