Boating in the Alentejo on Alqueva Lake, Europe’s largest reservoir, is an immensely pleasurable experience, but it’s the eeriest of feelings cruising leisurely over the top of a once-vibrant village now completely submerged by water.
When the floodgates of Alqueva Dam opened at the turn of the century, Luz, previously with a population of around 2,000 inhabitants, was lost in its entirety.
All the residents were rehoused, of course, but some detractors still bemoan the decision having lived there all their lives.
But the Great Lake of Alqueva, or Grande Lago de Alqueva as it is known locally, the largest man-made lake in Europe, covers some 250 square-kilometres and irrigates Portugal‘s most arid region, an area previously subject to persistent droughts.
Serving to soften the climate, its calm waters have rejuvenated the landscape to produce a verdant oasis amidst lush green olive and orange groves, extensive vineyards, fertile vegetable plots and orchards abundant with sweet apples.
Alqueva is a place of rare beauty and peaceful contemplation, with vast 360º vistas by day and a shimmering star-spangled sky at night.
Harmoniously integrated into the natural environment, it offers 83 km of navigable waters inside a 1,160-kilometre perimeter. Nature abounds and there are secluded areas all around for extended periods of rest and relaxation.
Leisurely cruises are an established tourism product on the Great Lake of Alqueva. Free of tidal movements and strong currents, it’s safe to swim and visitors can take part in a wide range of parallel activities such as water-skiing and canoeing.
Exploring the lake by boat requires the minimum of effort. An on-board GPS system and sonar unit provides for accurate navigation and buoys positioned along the entire watercourse pinpoint advised routes that take the boats past a series of eye-catching landmarks like the strikingly pretty hilltop fortress of Monsaraz with its crowning glory, a fairy-tale 14th-century castle visible from most parts of the lake and beyond.
One of the most appealing aspects of boating on Alqueva is that visitors can create their own itinerary and choose, often on a whim, where to spend the night.
Ample pontoons and quays provide good access to the lakeside villages and boats can also be tied up at deserted islets or remote spots along the shore for total privacy.
On-board meals can be cooked on a gas stove inside the main cabin or on a charcoal grill at the back of the boat, while land excursions to rustic restaurants offer visitors the chance to sample some of the Alentejo region’s famously hearty fare.
Pastoral as a picture book, Alqueva’s restful simplicity enables visitors to do exactly as they like, dropping anchor at will for an enticing swim before picnicking ashore under an old oak tree.
All in all, the Great Lake of Alqueva is a triumph for tourism and a boating destination par excellence, but spare a thought for all those who lived in the lost village of Luz as you’re cruising overhead.