Portugal is a wonderful destination – incredible history, food, music, atmosphere and more. Often overlooked, Portugal is a land of old fashioned charm where medieval castles and picture perfect villages are always close to the cobblestone streets of the cities. Lisbon and Porto deserve all the praise they get – they are truly great, fun cities to spend time in. Portugal is dotted with gorgeous towns and villages and distances are relatively small so you’re always in touching distance of the next gem. And in a country with so many beautiful areas – the Douro Valley, the Atlantic Coast, the mountains and more – the Alentejo may just be the most alluring. It’s the real Portugal, the real thing with sparkling white hilltop villages, castles and churches and it’s enough off the beaten track to make you feel very special!
Beautiful Drive Through Alentejo
A few years ago I did a driving trip in the Alentejo and here are my recollections.
“Every trip in the Alentejo begins in Evora, one of Portugal’s most beautifully preserved medieval towns. It still has the remains of its Roman Temple but being a university town it has a young feel which blends perfectly with the tourists and narrow lanes of the old city. As beautiful as Evora is, it’s the countryside which deserves particular attention.
Being Saturday, market day, we start in Estremoz, which is not far from Evora. The main square of the town, the Rossio, is filled with different market stalls, from an array of live animals , cheeses, wines, pottery and other items. It’s a festive place and we enjoy ourselves thoroughly. After a while we walk up the hill to the ramparts, a relic of when the town was one of the most heavily fortified in the country. We stroll around some more to the thirteenth century Torre/Tower, another example of the incredible medieval structures seemingly all over this incredible country.
We drive on through the dry, barren Alentejo. As far as we can see it’s flat and very empty. Suddenly in the distance, built up the slopes of a hill, appears Castelo de Vide. Even though we are expecting to see it, it is absolutely spectacular. The houses are all shining white and lead up the slopes to a castle. It is without a doubt one of the most glorious town settings I’ve ever laid eyes on.
We drive into the town and walk around. The obvious thing to do is to walk up the steep hill to the castle. There is a small village inside the castle walls – originally all the citizens of the town lived inside the walls – and from here the views are just incredible. Just outside the walls are the remnants of the old Jewish quarter including the centuries old synagogue which is unfortunately closed. Nevertheless we enjoy strolling around some more before returning to the main square for a little lunch.
Our Journey Through Marvao
We continue onto Marvao. It too appears out of nowhere, like Castelo, and with a majestic walled castle perched at the top of the hill. The town is totally walled in, and makes for another spectacular vista. Here we walk on the walls all the way up to the castle. The views again are superb. It’s hard to believe – if my references are correct – that this area of the country is often overlooked as it’s just incredible, a must see in my book. There’s a museum and a little shop which all feel like part of the experience. I think I prefer Castelo, just, but Marvao’s fabulous as well, and the castle is totally deserving of its rich reputation.
Marvao’s very close to the Spanish border, so after walking around some more, we decide to cross into Spain, even though there’s nothing in particular to see near the border. We cross over, passing the old border post, now deserted. Interestingly, the landscape immediately looks different and we continue to the first town, Valencia de Alcantra. It’s a decidedly sleepy Saturday afternoon so we leave just as quickly as we arrive and get Portugal bound again. Minutes later we’re back in the Alentejo and although we’ve spent the whole day there, it still looks as magical as it did this morning. Wonderful!