Tag Archives: Estremoz

Thursday Doors, Estremoz in Portugal

 

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Thursday Doors is a weekly feature allowing door lovers to come together to admire and share their favourite door photos from around the world. Feel free to join in the fun by creating your own Thursday Doors post each week and then sharing your link in the comments’ on Norm’s site, anytime between Thursday morning and Saturday noon (North American Eastern Time).

Travels in Portugal, Estremoz to Evora

Estremoz,_portal

So reluctantly we left Elvas but although disappointed about that we were looking forward to our next destination, the nearby town of Estremoz.

With some difficulty we found our rural accommodation and after settling in we set off into the town to explore.  I find that I am rarely disappointed with places that I choose to visit but almost immediately I knew that this was one of them.

I cannot fully explain it.  Maybe it was because we had really liked Elvas and this didn’t compare, maybe our expectation bar had been raised too high, maybe it was because we turned up in the middle of the siesta, I don’t know exactly what it was but we just didn’t take to Estremoz.  The guide book said that it was a town of dazzling marble but we found it dull and untidy.  Sorry Estremoz.

Estremoz Street

I suppose it didn’t really help that the accommodation that we had booked and came highly recommended didn’t exactly match the reviews.

We spent an hour or so around the town centre without finding anything of special interest so we hastily abandoned the place and made instead to the old town and castle which are high above.

This was an interesting place sure enough, the original town of Moorish Estremoz settled around the castle sited on the highest point around but very much abandoned now as the town and its residents has had the confidence to leave the security of high walls and battlements and spread out in the modern town below.  The people that are left cling on to crumbling houses with sinking roofs with views of the stars, cracked plaster walls and weather scarred timbers. If this place doesn’t soon get some tender loving care and investment then it will sure enough become a ghost town.

The walk to the top took us through neglected streets and gardens, some youths played football and tinkered with motorbike engines.  Litter collected in the corners.  They eyed us with suspicion.  I eyed them with equal suspicion.  I felt uneasy, I didn’t feel comfortable there.  By contrast at the top was a five star Pousada hotel which to me seemed hopelessly out of place. Extravagance amongst poverty just seems incompatible and wrong.  There was a bar/restaurant with a roof top terrace with good views over the marble quarry spoil heaps and we liked it there so being a confessed hypocrite I booked a table for dinner later that evening.

So in the late afternoon we returned to the accommodation that we didn’t really like very much and spent an hour or so around the swimming pool that only someone with a disease death wish would have considered using.  I understand that Lord Byron used to swim the Grand Canal in Venice but I doubt very much that he would have risked this stagnant water. We sat and swatted away the flies, drank some wine and waited for evening and a return to the castle restaurant which turned out to be excellent despite the fact that some people thought it was acceptable to smoke cigarettes in the room and the owners and staff didn’t seem to mind.

Estremoz Sunset

The food was good, Kim had roast lamb Alentejo style and I had black pig pork cheeks. It was quite expensive. We had walked nine miles today.

We slept well but at the breakfast table there was a plague of flies of Biblical proportions which meant that everything was completely inedible including the tea and coffee so we abandoned it as soon as we could, paid up, left and set off or the city of Evora. We didn’t even look in the rear view mirror as we left, we were just glad to leave. Sorry Estremoz.

Just a short ride out of the town we arrived in the small town of Evoramonte with an impressive castle sitting at the very top so we left the main road and drove into the village and took the single track road to the castle. Inside the walls was a small community with a church and a graveyard, more crumbling houses and a few tourist shops.

Evoramonte Castle Walk

The castle is rather unusual, it doesn’t look like a medieval castle at all but more like a German World-War-Two concrete bunker or a modern farm grain silo, very stout and very strong but also very ugly. We paid the entry fee (senior’s rates) and climbed to the top. There were some magnificent views over the plains of Alentejo but today was exceptionally windy and as a gale whistled through the stone battlements it was even quite difficult to retain balance and not get blown away and over the top.

Evoramonte was an interesting short stop over but now we continued our drive to Evora, the capital of the Alentejo region and the largest city in Portugal south of Lisbon, also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I had high expectations of Evora as we drove in and found our hotel close to the centre.

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Travels in Portugal, The Garrison Town of Elvas

Centro-Histórico-Elvas

Very close to the border with Spain is the fortress city of Elvas and after leaving the delightful city of Beja we stopped off there on our way to an overnight stay in Estremoz.

As it turned out my pre-travel research let me down rather badly on this occasion because this was a place that would have been good to stay longer but we found ourselves restricted to only an hour or so in what had become at this point a bit of a cramped and overly ambitious schedule.

We arrived around mid morning and parked the car close by to the impressive city aqueduct.  The Amoreira Aqueduct has a length of over seven thousand metres from its spring in the nearby mountains.  It is the longest and tallest aqueduct in Iberia. It is a truly impressive piece of sixteenth century architecture that was constructed to supply the frontier garrison with fresh water as the city wells became inadequate and one-by-one dried up.

Elvas Aqueduct

To reach the centre we passed through one of the many garrison gates that were designed originally to keep people out but were now easily accessible and we quickly discovered that we were in one of Portugal’s hidden gems.  Elvas is located in the far east of the country and of the Alentejo region and it seems that many tourists rarely consider visiting which is a shame because those like us who make the journey are rewarded with a fascinating town rich in history and beauty.

But wait just a minute because that would make it one of those Instagram destinations that I have previously complained about?

A border fortress city naturally required strong defences to protect the country and Elvas is among the finest examples of intensive usage of the trace italienne (a star fort) in military architecture, and has been a World Heritage Site since 2012.  A star fort is just that, a celestial shaped design which made it easier to defend and difficult for besieging armies to successfully attack it.

Elvas, it turns out is the biggest fortified town not only in Portugal but all of Europe. Inside the fortress town we walked through the ancient whitewashed streets, cobbled streets which were painful to negotiate in tourist sandals.  Along narrow passages lined by houses with blistered wooden doors,  Shutters thrown back like the wings of butterflies basking in the midday sunshine.  Sagging washing lines groaning under the weight of the dripping laundry.  The rich aroma of lunch time cooking seeping out from open windows.  Outside of the front doors pots of flowers in various stages of bloom and decay.  Fabulous.

Elvas Street 01

At the top of the town we arrived at the ancient Moorish castle which has had the benefit of considerable and extensive renovation and we paid the modest fee to climb to the top of the battlements and enjoyed expansive views over the plains of Alentejo and the neighbouring country of Spain.

Walking down from the castle we made our way to the Praça da República, which in Portugal is sort of the equivalent to the Plaza Mayor in Spain but rarely ever so noisy or busy and we found a spot in the sunshine to join local people for a lunch time drink and a simple lunch before it was time to move on.

Much too soon really, I would gladly have stayed in Elvas for much longer and an overnight stay but we couldn’t rearrange our schedule now so we returned to the car and headed in the direction of nearby Estremoz.

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Travels in Portugal, Across the Alentejo to Beja

Beja Landscape 01

After three excellent days on the south-west coast of Portugal we were rather sad to leave before setting off inland so after we had settled the bill and driven away we first of all headed north towards the smart seaside resort of Vila Nova de Milfontes where we stayed for just about an hour or so before reluctantly setting off east.

After a short while we stopped for coffee in the delightful village of Cercal where they were preparing for a festival, a tomato festival as it happened, which was to take place next weekend.  The region is famous for tomatoes as it happens and this was another narrowly missed party.

Now we were in the Alentejo Region and soon we were in an Iberian wilderness with miles and miles of open countryside and barely any inhabitation.  One of the poorest, least-developed, least-populated regions in Western Europe, the Alentejo has been dubbed both the Provence and the Tuscany of Portugal. Neither I would say is entirely accurate, it is more subtle and nowhere near as busy as the poster regions of Italy and France and the charms of this land are made up of wheat fields, cork oak forests, wildflower meadows and tiny white-washed villages and absolutely no ‘A’ list celebrity villas..

Alentejo Map

First we drove through endless miles of cork oak plantations, bark stripped trees with vivid orange scars and without any sign of human activity and then the cork gave way to olive groves.  It is an interesting fact that olive trees only grow well in the Mediterranean region (there are some attempts to grow in the Americas and the Far East but these are not especially successful) and Portugal is one of the leading producers (Spain is the World’s largest producer with annually over five million tonnes).  Interestingly (or not) I have an olive tree in my garden in England which continues to grow quite vigorously but sadly without fruit.

After the olives then the grapevines twisting away like Chubby Checker until giving way further east to open countryside where fields of golden stubble stretched out forever all around us as far as the eye could see until they finally met the yonder big sky.  Long straight roads took us between towns and villages and for a time through the mess of marble quarries where spoil heaps decorated the countryside in an unsightly sprawl.  This area of Portugal is the second largest source of marble in Europe after Carrera in Italy.

This is what it looks like inside a deep mine marble quarry.  I didn’t take this picture of course…

Alentejo Marble

We arrived in the city of Beja just as the siesta was beginning and doors and shutters were closing tight as we walked through deserted streets searching for our hotel we eventually came upon it and it turned out to be a delightful family run place in the middle of the busy city.

We liked it, we only had one night in Beja and we were already regretting that it wasn’t two so with only limited time to look around the place we set off immediately onto the street. In mid afternoon the temperature was rising and there was a stifling heat so we weren’t surprised to learn that Beja is statistically the hottest place in all of Portugal.  Later that day someone told me that if it was 40° in Lisbon then it would be 45° in Beja.  Thankfully it wasn’t quite that hot today.

Beja Street

Away from the modern city shopping centre Beja was a delightful place with a labyrinth of old streets with flaking wooden doors and rusting iron balconies, it is a place of classic elegance even though it perhaps gives the appearance of being slightly past its best.

The walk took us past Roman excavations and remaining parts of the medieval city walls with detours into churches and museums and an interesting art gallery but all the time we were making our way to the highest point in the city and to the tallest castle in Portugal.  There were one hundred and fifty steps to climb to the top of the granite and marble tower but that didn’t bother us, last year in Bologna in Italy we climbed five hundred to the top of the Asinelli Tower and two hundred and fifty at Milan Cathedral.  It was a climb well worth making because from the top there were massive views in all directions across the Alentejo plains.

Beja Castle 01

A town like Beja is a real find, not really on the tourist trail so booking an overnight stay in a place like this can be a bit of a gamble but this one really paid out.  From the castle we explored more streets as we began to look for somewhere suitable for evening meal later.  We found what we were looking for close to the hotel, a simple sort of place with plastic menus and good Portuguese food so we had no hesitation in returning there later.

Kim ordered beef ribs and I had pork with clams which seems to be a popular combination in Portugal.  We had walked seven miles today.

We should have stayed an extra night and spent more time in Beja but the next morning we had to leave soon after breakfast because we were driving to our next destination, the town of Estremoz.

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