May 29th 2019
Monday 20th May
It was time to leave Lisbon and head out north east into the Alentejo region as planned. After picking up our hired car at the airport we headed for Marvao but stopped in Castelo de Vide en route. This area of Portugal seemed to be littered with castles atop the hills, with a town or settlement adjoining it. The castle is referred to back as far as the 13th Century and major building work took place in the 14th century. The population of the town today is about 3,500. The castle is well worth visiting and the town is pretty and picturesque as I hope you will see from the photos.
Our stop for two nights was in Marvao. It has a castle but the walls have been extended to cover the whole village. We had a stone cottage within the walls of the town, which has only about 100 inhabitants. The travelling time from Lisbon to Marvao is about two and a half hours.
Tuesday 21st May
After breakfast we started off by walking right around the entire walls of the town, taking in the castle. Everything is well preserved and the views over the surrounding countryside are stunning, given the prominence of Marvao over the surrounding landscape. Do not hesitate to visit and stay in Marvao if you are in the area. There were a couple of restaurants in the village and we enjoyed some exceptional venison after the best part of a week on seafood!
Wednesday 22nd May
We headed south west from Marvao, heading for our next destination of Evora. However en route we had a fantastic experience visiting the border garrison city of Elvas. Due to its strategic position near the border Elvas is referred to as far back as the first century when Pliny the Elder (23-79) praised its olives! In the 14th Century a new wall was added to the two previous Muslim walls and the city is enclosed within this wall which has 11 gates and 22 towers. Adding to this grandeur it also has the Amoreira Aqueduct, which is the largest I have ever seen. Started in 1537 it has a distance of 7504 metres. We walked around a fair bit of the city and saw the Castle, the old Town Hall and Cathedral. There are other forts on nearby hills adding to the impressive setting. Elvas requires a full days sightseeing and is well worth a visit.
Finally we drove to Evora, passing Estremoz, another castle on a hill top. You can only do so many castles so you'll have to bear with my photo taken from the car! Our hotel Solar de Monfalim was a 16th Century building which brought its own technical challenges but did exude a fair bit of rustic charm! We ate out in Praca de Giraldo, the main square and girded up our loins for another day of packed sightseeing.
Thursday 23rd May
We undertook a full days sightseeing in Evora. If you have been following the previous blog and this one so far you will get the picture (literally) from the photos but a certain pattern begins to emerge. It is a walled city. It has an aqueduct, the Aqueduto da Agua da Prata (1533-37). It has a main square the Praca de Giraldo. It has a Roman-Gothic style Cathedral. Additionally it has the remains of a 1st century Roman temple and an amazing 18th Century University building which is still a working environment, with classrooms lined with decorative tiles from the period. I hope you enjoy the photos as much as we enjoyed seeing around.
Having packed in a tremendous amount of sightseeing early on in the day we managed to escape into the country during the afternoon for some wine tasting at a local vineyard called Cartuxa, prior to alfresco dining out at night.
Friday 24th May
Having explored the main sights of Evora on the previous day we drove a short distance to the beautiful town of Vila Vicosa. Granted an official charter in 1270 it became the residence of the Dukes of Braganca at the start of the 15th Century and the building of the magnificent Paco Ducal or Duke's Palace began in 1501 and still exists as the symbol of the city. I don't have many photos of the interior as after taking one or two our guide told me it was not permitted! I have a couple of the interior and of the gardens. If you are in this area at all it is a 'must see.' It has fifty halls of paintings, tapestries, furniture, ceramics and jewellery plus an amazing kitchen full of copper utensils. The exterior is covered in local marble. A grander building you will struggle to find anywhere else in the world. Needless to say there is a castle, and there is a church inside it dedicated to the Marian cult. The graveyard has vaults above the ground and was reminiscent of similar styles I have seen before in New Orleans and Buenos Aires. There are excellent views from the castle walls over the town. At the other end of the attractive main street Praca da Republica, which is lined with trees laden with oranges, stands the baroque Church of Sao Joao Evangelista. If you like pretty towns with stunning architecture and lots of interesting historical stuff Vila Vicosa is not to be missed.
If you are stopping in Evora I would advise you to book your restaurant for the evening in advance as it can be difficult in getting a seat in popular venues and especially if you want to sit outside.
Saturday 25th May
It was time to leave Alentejo and head for the coast. There was one final stop however. About 13k west of Evora is a Megalithic site with one of the oldest human monuments in Europe, the Cromlech of Almendres. Discovered in the 1960, there are a hundred or so standing stones or menhirs. Their meaning and function is not clear and under discussion, but there seems to be a relation to the movement of the sun and moon. They are impressively old and some are large in size. Some are marked but these marking are hard to make out. To reach them only requires a short walk off the road so well worth it. Further along the road is another single Cromlech of Almendres - Megalithic site, which is an elongated ovoid in shape. Photos were duly taken. The whole area is populated by cork oak trees which in fact dominated the landscape of most areas we visited in Alentejo. A layer is stripped from the tree every 40 years or so and harvested. Given the amount of wine produced in the region there is at least one obvious use for it, but there are also cork handbags, wallets, purses, bowls and many other items which can be seen in the local shops.
Our time in Alentejo Region of Portugal was now at an end as we headed for the Peninsula of Troia just south on Setubal. I cannot recommend visiting this region enough. If you like architecture, history, beautiful landscapes, nice food and wines and enjoy travelling on very quiet roads (in May at least) then this is an ideal trip for at least a week or so.
As always, I hope you enjoy the photos and if there are any Portugal experts out there who have picked up on any errors from my fairly minimal research please feel free to let me know.
All the best. I will write further after the last part of the trip to Troia.