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It doesn't take long to get from Lisbon airport to your city centre hotel room – 20 minutes, max – but it's enough time to figure out that you're not going to find much of that laid-back, West Coast vibe here. The people seem slightly uptight and rather melancholy.

They speak like Russians trying to get their tongues around Spanish – expressive, but slow and slurred.

For centuries, the seven villages huddled between the marshes and the coast have been an unlikely centre of rice growing.

This is the Alentejo, the region at the heart of the new Portuguese plan.You get organic fruit and pastries with your breakfast coffee, and all this costs from €75 (£60) a night. The Monte da Galrixa is part of a new front just opened for the foot soldiers of European tourism – the ramblers.It's one of the many rural stopovers on the Rota Vicentina, a 338km trail that winds from Cape St Vincent in the far south west, to Santiago do Cacem in the Alentejo.The Rota Vicentina is already hugely popular with Britain's walking-pole-and-cargo-panted community.James Keane, Inntravel's regional manager for Portugal, says the Costa Vicentina has been its most popular walking holiday in 2012.

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