Alqueva: the first Starlight Tourism Destination
Miguel Claro explores Portugal's Alqueva Dark Sky Reserve
If you thought that dreamy dark skies can only be found in the Atacama Desert, then think again. In fact, it’s possible to distinguish the Milky Way with the naked eye, along with dozens of shooting stars a night, from somewhere a lot closer to home. Alqueva, in southern Portugal, has been designated the world’s first Starlight Tourism Destination by the Starlight Foundation.
‘Starlight’ destinations are sites characterised by excellent views of the night sky, untainted by light pollution, where visitors can enjoy unique and unparalleled opportunities to experience the beauty of the Universe.
In much of Europe fewer and fewer people are able to view the Galaxy clearly because of increasing light pollution. But in Alqueva, the excellent atmospheric conditions and clarity make it possible for visitors to enjoy, on average, 250 clear nights a year.
Covering an area of 3,000 square kilometers, the certified site covers the municipalities of Alandroal, Reguengos, Monsaraz, Mourão, Barrancos, Portel and Moura. The region is located about one and a half hours away from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, but far away enough so as not to be affected by light pollution from this cosmopolitan centre.
In order to cater for the influx of tourists, the Alqueva Dark Sky Route was created. As well as offering accommodation and other activities, the initiative also provides observing facilities at some key locations along the route, as well as guides to advise novice stargazers.
The reserve also has a rich cultural heritage. Ancient megalithic structures suggest that even our ancestors valued the region for its celestial wealth.
The route offers other attractions, such as hiking, horse riding, cycling, boating on the largest artificial lake in Europe and bird watching.
The route also offers a wide variety of excellent restaurants with cuisine from every region of Portugal. I personally advise the Refúgio da Vila, in the Portel region, or Sem Fim, in Telheiro, Monsaraz, built in an old olive mill with a great chef and incredible food, ambient music and a modest price tag.
As for accommodation, there are many options available for astro-tourists, with qualified guides offering tours of the sky and equipped with telescopes and binoculars.
A good example is, Monte de Santa Catarina in Monsaraz. They have binoculars and a GSO 12" Dobsonian for stargazing, as well as an astronomer on hand to answer any questions, find out more here.
To discover more about the preserve, visit the official website.
" I guess I would say Alqueva is an astrophotography paradise. For me, as a landscape astrophotographer, I was impressed with the great detail I managed to capture with just one exposure. Immediately showing the magnificent Andromeda galaxy, as well as many star clusters. If you are thinking of coming here, don´t forget to choose your best lens and camera, as I’m sure you’ll capture your best shots here".
"Sunny days, dark nights and lovely people are waiting for you".