The landscape of the Central Alentejo is scorched and dry rolling plains, given over mainly to the production of wine, cork and olives. The area is sparsely populated and towns are broadly spaced apart. There is no rush here, things are done slowly and nobody ever gets stressed. The area has a long history of human occupation going as far back as the megalithic period and continuing through the Roman, Islamic and Christian eras. Evidence of the region's past lie dotted around everywhere. Stone circles, menhirs, roman ruins, walled medieval towns and fairytale-like castles are found in abundance. Here too, you'll find towns made from white marble for which the area is world-famous. The region's wines, loved by the initiated, are making a big splash on the global market and many of the estates offer tastings and tours. The hot dry climate and rich soils are also favourable to the production of fine olive oils.
By far, the most visited town of the Alentejo is Évora. Thanks mainly to its good transport links with Lisbon and the great number of monuments to discover. Most people experience Évora on a day trip even though to truly explore everything the city has to offer, you'll need at least a couple of days. Even better would be to use Évora as a base to explore the surround sights. WWW.MADABOUTPORTUGAL.COM is at hand as your essential guide to the best things to see, where to visit, where to rest your head and the best places to sample the local cuisine.
| Anta de São Denis de Pavia
The beautiful village of Mora is located in the northern part of Central Alentejo, close to the River Guadiana. The landscape it sits in is dominated by olive groves and vineyards. The village is thought to date back to the 13th century. Praça Concelheiro Fernado Sousa is the cultural hub where you'll find the the Torre do Relógio (Clock Tower) and the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Graça.
The new Megalithism Interactive Museum is located inside Mora's former railway station. Its aim is to bring the rich megalithic heritage of the Alentejo region to world attention. The museum uses various types of media to convey its message suitable for all ages.
Tuesday – Sunday: 10h00 – 17h00, Monday: CLOSED | Adult: €4,00, Concessionary: €1.50
Rua da Estação, 7490-225 Mora, Portugal.| 38° 56' 48.6" N | 08° 09' 40.8" W
+351 266 439 074 | firstname.lastname@example.org | Website
Classified as a National Monument in 1910, the Anta Pavia Dolmen is believed to have been erected between the fourth and third millennium BC. It would have been located in a rural location amongst the Alentejo plain. Although unusual, it is by no means unique. There are many examples of prehistoric monuments converted into Christian use though out the ages. The Pavia dolmen was transformed sometime in the 17th century and was dedicated to the saint São Denis. The granite structure stands three and a half metres tall with a diameter of four metres. Its seven vertical struts remain intact in addition to the capstone. The stark interior contains an altar adorned with Azulejos. Dolmens are found throughout the area. Three others were converted to Christian use, including the colourful Anta Capela de Nossa Senhora do Livramento in nearby Montemor-o-Novo.
Praça de São Dinis, Pavia, Portugal. | 38° 53' 39.1" N | 08° 01' 02.1" W
When the Greco-Egyptian writer of Alexandria Claudius Ptolemy wrote about Arraiolos (Arandia) in the 2nd century AD its believed this delightful town had existed for a hundred years. This ancient town is located twenty kilometres (12 miles) north of Évora, perched upon its vantage point 275metres (900ft) above the surrounding Alentejan plain. As the town ascends the hill, it becomes older and older. The medieval centre is atypical of the area with narrow cobbled streets, houses with whitewashed walls, coloured trims around the doors and windows (mainly blue) and terracotta roof tiles. The town is noted for its brightly coloured wool carpets (tapetes) that have been handwoven here since the thirteenth century. As you stroll through the town, you will see an abundance of carpet shops. You may even encounter several women stitching sitting at their doorsteps.
It's a hearty trek up through the old town up to the castle. The first fortifications began on this spot in 1305 by order of King Dom Dinis and once enclosed the town. It was specified that the walls should be 455.4 metres in length, 6.6m high and 2.2m thick. Its vantage point on top of the hill left it exposed to the elements. During the 14th century, the town's populace migrated down the hill to more sheltered environs. The clock and bell tower built into the wall near the main entrance tows the hour and receives a whitewashing every year. Inside the walls is the sole remaining building, the 16th century Igreja Nossa Senhora do Castelo church. Inside there are many beautiful pieces of artwork on display. [ More About ► ]
Tucked away within the undulating landscape of Central Alentejo 50km (31mi) northeast of Évora is the largest of Alentejo's "marble towns". Marble is so readily available in the area it's the chief building material. Estremoz is a town of two halves, enclosed within star-shaped ramparts the upper town surrounds the 13th-century castle and former palace of Dom Dinis. The upper town is characterised by picturesque narrow cobbled lanes which ascend the hillside.
The lower town dates from the 16th century and has the Rossio Marquês de Pombal square as its centrepiece. Along with marble Estremoz is also famed for distinctive reddish earthenware, wood carvings and leather work. The cheeses of the area are some of the best in Portugal, mainly made from ewe’s and goat’s milk. Agriculture and viniculture still play an important role within the area. The fine produce found in Estremoz is available from the Saturday market. [ More About ► ]
The small attractive town of Borba is located within a very picturesque and particularly fertile region of the Alentejo. Situated six kilometres (4mi) north of Vila Viçosa in an area renowned for its high-quality marble and the land here is pot marked with quarries. The marble trade has brought Borba great wealth. The town has a predominance of marble on door and window frames, chimneys, street signs and monuments. It was the building material for not only local mansions and the palace at Vila Viçosa, but its high quality was also prized internationally, most prominently in Italy. As well as being used as a building material, marble is the key ingredient for the whitewash traditionally used on buildings across the region. One key feature of Borba is the remains of the medieval perimeter walls. Throughout history, they have defended the town over many battles. The first mention of fortifications here dates back to King D. Afonso II who took the town from the Moors in 1217. [ More About ► ]
| Montemor-o-Novo Castle
| Grutas do Escoural
Thirty kilometres northwest of Évora is the sleepy town of Montemor-o-Novo, the birthplace of São João de Deus, patron saint of the unwell, his bronze likeness can be seen in the main square helping an injured beggar. Although the outskirts are nothing to write home about the central areas certainly have their charm. Following liberation from the moors by D. Sancho in 1201 Montemor-o-Novo became a strategically important border town. It was here Vasco da Gama finalised his plans for opening up the sea route to India. Today the town's empty cobbled streets are full of old mansions, attractive churches and small squares worth investigating. There's a feeling of abandonment about Montemor-o-Novo as if the town has played its part in history and then nothing more.
The main attraction of Montemor-o-Novo Castle is the large castle that dominates the high ground just out of town. Local legend says the fortifications here were constructed over a Moorish stronghold. During its lifetime it has undergone several stages of remodelling and has played a pivotal role in Portugal's turbulent history. The castle has resisted attacks from Castilian armies during the Portuguese Restoration War and then later against the French in the Napoleonic war. It also served as the headquarters for the liberalist troops of the Duke of Saldanha, during the Portuguese Civil War.
Access to the castle grounds is gained through the Porta da Vila gate. Once inside the Torre de Relógio (Clock Tower) can be climbed to appreciate the amazing views from the top and get a true appreciation of the castle grounds. The Paço dos Alcaides is a former governor’s palace used by royalty and now lies in ruins. Also inside the ramparts is the 16th-century Saudação Convent which has a façade adorned with azulejo tiles in the Baroque style.
The Grutas do Escoural is a system of caves situated Twelve kilometres south of Montemor that was used for human habitation as long as 50, 000 years ago. The oldest of the rock art scratched on the walls here is believed to 30, 000 years old. During the Neolithic period the caves were utilised as a burial site. Since its discovery in 1963 the archaelogical site has offered up numerous interesting finds which are now on display in the interpretation centre in the near by village of Santiago do Escoural. Guided tours of the caves are available and arranged at the interpretation centre.
Tuesday – Sunday: 09h00 – 13h00/14h30 – 18h00, Monday: CLOSED
48 Rua Dr. Magalhães de Lima, 7050-555 Santiago do Escoural, Portugal.
38° 32' 25.9" N | 08° 10' 05.0" W | +351 266 857 000 | email@example.com
Gently rising 300 metres over the Alentejan plain lies the ancient town of Évora. Colloquially known as the museum city (Cidade Museu) due to its long history. Behind its defensive walls lay monuments that span thousands of years, a fact validated in 1986 when the old town gained UNESCO world heritage status. Evidence of human settlement in the area date back to the Neolithic times and the city is surrounded by archaeological monuments. The Romans were here too and left their mark in the guise of Portugal's best-preserved Roman monument, the miss-named Templo de Diana.
The Moors were here for a long time, their presence is more felt than commemorated in stone. Giraldo Sem Pavor (Giraldo the Fearless) did a thorough job of removing the Arabs when he re-conquered Évora in 1165, an event remembered on the city's coat of arms. Évora's fortunes have ebbed and waned over the centuries since it became a university town in 1559. The remarkable thing about Évora is how much history is preserved. Increasing visitor numbers only helps rather than hinders its restoration. [ More About ► ]
Twenty-nine kilometres northeast of Évora, towards Estremoz, the castle at Evoramonte. The structure dominates the landscape perched on its vantage point high above the tiny village below. The castle sits on Roman foundations. A medieval castle was constructed here in 1306 however, the current castle dates from the 16th century. The style of the castle is unusual for the area and takes its inspiration from the Italian Renaissance. Four circular towers occupy each corner of the quadrangular fortress. In the interior are three vaulted chambers, each displaying intricately carved granite capitals. A perimeter defensive wall around the castle houses a small settlement with its own four circular towers and two gatehouses. A newer settlement sits below the mount where's places to eat and where the bus from Évora stops.
| Praça do Giraldo – Évora
The origins of Redondo go back to 1250 when it received its first charter from Dom Afonso III. The town fortifications were added in 1318 at the behest of Dom Dinis. The town was an important staging post for those travelling between Évora and Vila Viçosa. By the mid-16th century, the town had outgrown its bulwarks. What remains of the ramparts have UNESCO status. The town's wealth comes from the soil. Redondo is famed for both its colourful ceramics and fine wines. The Cooperativa de Redondo Winery is one of the largest wine cooperatives in the Alentejo region consisting of over two hundred winegrowers. The Redondo Wine Museum (Museu do Vinho de Redondo) is a small exhibition space highlighting the regions wine making herritage and an insight into production techniques.
Here you can still see artisans at work and buy your item directly from the workshops. Every two years, the streets of Redondo are decorated with various objects, mostly brightly coloured paper flowers. The festival dates back to the beginning of the 19th century. The region is contains numerous megalithic monuments such as the Antas da Vidigueira, Colmeeiro, Venda do Duque and Candeeira. [ More About ► ]
The village of Alandroal sits at an altitude of 341m close to the Guadiana river and the border with Spain. Alandroal was founded in 1298 by D. Lourenço Afonso, Master of Avis, and elevated to the status of a town in 1486. The name of Alandroal is derived from the Oleander shrub that grows in the vicinity of the town and is used as a raw material in many of the Alandroal crafts. In the centre of Alandroal is the Castle that was constructed 1294 and 1298 during the reign of Dom Dinis. It was built by the Order of Avis and is Mudejar in style. Inside the castle are the Matriz do Alandroal church, and the Torre de Menagem, where the clock was installed in 1744.
Twelve kilometres south of Alandroal is the Santuário de Nossa Senhora da Boa Nova dates back to the 13th century. The structure is gothic in style and is fortified with castellations. The sanctuary sits on the spot of a pagan temple.
Monsaraz is known locally as "Ninho das Águias", which translates as "Eagles' Nest" and deservedly so. From its vantage point high above the Alentejan plains and the Alqueva Reservoir, the village has stood sentinel against invading armies for centuries. The village itself consists of a couple of streets that run parallel along the length of Monsaraz constrained within 16th-century ramparts. Monsaraz retains its enchanting medieval charm. Cobbled alleys are lined with restored whitewash houses with outdoor staircases and wrought-iron balconies. Off-shooting lanes tempt investigation where craft shops display their wares on the walls outside.
Monsaraz was first fortified by the Knights Templar following taking the villages from the Moors in 1232. However, the village's strategic importance has been exploited by previous peoples since pre-history and is one of the oldest Portuguese settlements in southern Portugal. Four thousand years ago the Monsaraz region was an important centre of megalithic culture and various dolmens, menhirs and stone circles have survived. Since then it has successively been occupied by the Romans, Visigoths, Arabs, Mozarabs, Jews, and since the Reconquista, Christians. Today the village is home to just a few hundred people as the fortified walls restrict the growth of Monsaraz. The main entrance into the village from the car park outside the ramparts is through the Porta da Villa gateway. The portal is guarded on each side by two turrets, one is crowned by a whitewashed belltower. [ More About ► ]
Viana do Alentejo is situated thirty kilometres south of Évora. it would be an unassuming typical sleepy agricultural small Alentejan town if it were not for a couple of outstanding local monuments. The first of these is the impressive 15th-century castle.
The town's castle is distinctive in many ways, for one it isn't built on top of a steep hill. Other features that stand out is the mix of Mudejar and Manueline architectural styles. The walls were built on a pentagonal plan by Dom Dinis in 1313 with cylindrical towers in each corner. Each tower is topped by a conical spire. One tower serves as a keep and has entry points on all sides.
Poking over the top of the walls is the beautiful white parish church, Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Anunciação de Viana do Alentejo. Entrance into the church is through an ornate carved double-arched doorway. The church is one of the finest examples of Manueline architecture in Portugal. It was the work of Diogo de Arruda, the brother of Francisco de Arruda who designed the Belem Tower in Lisbon and the impressive Janela do Capítulo at the Convent of Christ in Tomar. The interior is adorned with 17th-century tiles that line the base of the walls. In the transept, there are two beautiful stained glass windows representing Saint Peter and Saint John the Baptist. A smaller church was also the creation of Diogo de Arruda, the Igreja da Misericórdia, which sits along the northern wall. Many of its original features have disappeared due to successive restorations.
This large Baroque sanctuary seems out of place situated in the middle of nowhere. The church houses a sacred statue that has been the focus of pilgrmage since medieval times. The statue depicts the mourning virgin Mary holding the dead christ in her arms. Legend states the statue was unearthed by a farmer who was tilling the land shortly after the Moors fled the area. Today its encased within the carved rococo altar. The current building was constructed between 1743 and 1804 on the spot of an earlier 16th century hermitage.
| Viana do Alentejo
| Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora D'Aires
| Portel Castle
Portel is a small agricultural town on the conjunction of many of the roads that traverse the area. In the town itself, the points of interest are centred around its castle. The fortress is a fine example of 13th-century military architecture. The walls appear impressive from a distance but once inside there's little to see. The star of the show is undoubtedly the amazing views afforded by the castle elevation. The castle in the Gothic style built on a pentagonal plan reinforced by circular towers in each corner.
In a square in front of the castle there's a statue of D. Nuno Álvares Pereira mounted on his horse. Here too perched on the outer walls of the castle is the Igreja da Misericórdia de Portel church. [ More About ► ]
Mourão is located on the left bank of the Guadiana river and became part of Portugal in the 13th Century when the town's first castle was built. The fortress that exists today is a 17th Century reconstruction and fortifications were added in the Vauban style. Most the what lies within the walls is in a ruinous state. The guardhouse and the old town hall still remain. The castle sits on a quadrangular foundation and is strengthened by eleven square towers. Embedded within the walls is the Igreja Matriz de Nossa Sra. das Candeias church. It was built in 1681, in baroque style. Due to the earthquake of 1755, the church's interiors suffered serious damage, being later rebuilt by the Order of Avis. [ More About ► ]
| Mourão Castle
There are three realistic airport options when travelling to the Alentejo. Lisbon, with good public transport links, Faro in the Algarve and Badajoz in Spain, with connections with major Spanish airports. Sadly the airport in Beja has still yet to attract commercial airlines. There are three realistic airport options when travelling to the Alentejo. Lisbon, with good public transport links, Faro in the Algarve and Badajoz in Spain. Sadly the airport in Beja has still yet to attract commercial airlines.
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Since joining the EU Portugal has seen a vast improvement in its road network with the addition of a fine motorway network which speedily takes you from the major cities to the area you want to visit. In 2015, the country's road network was named as being the best in Europe and the second best in the world. For the more adventurous drivers, there is plenty of more rural windy yet very scenic roads available.
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Linha da Beira Baixa (comboios regionais): Regular trains to Belver, following the course of the river Tejo before turning north into the Baira Baixa. Train Timetable.
• Rede Expressos run nationwide coach services within Portugal.