Evora, Portugal and Surrounds

We drove from Seville back into Portugal passing over the largest man made reservoir in western Europe formed by the The Alqueva Dam.

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View of lake from Monsarez

We couldn’t get a grasp of the immensity of the lake formed by the dam until we stopped at the hilltop town of Monsarez. This small fortified hilltop has been in use for over 2000 years as it holds a very strategic position in the region.  It looks quite imposing from below but when you get there, well, it is tiny. We walked the two streets of town discovering the wine shop of one of the local wineries, Ervideira.  

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Monsarez arena

They produce a wine called the invisible wine that looks as clear as water but is fruity, light and actually made from red grapes.  After a glass of wine, we walked the walls and found this small dirt forum / arena. We learned from the daughter of an old woman who’d grown up there that it used to be a bull fighting ring. Really? It was tiny!  The fights must have been something to see…and to fear; the audience must have had to wear armor to (hopefully) prevent being maimed. The olive oil here was amazing and the rabbit pie a little splintery but good.

 
DSCF0691We were able to sniff out a winery on the way to Evora (Jose De Sousa), but after a failed conversation with the cleaning lady at the empty tasting room, she made a phone call and the owner drove over to see us. He explained that they were by appointment only (a note for anyone traveling, wineries are this way throughout Portugal) and that a bus of Americans were showing up in an hour if we wanted to do the tour and tasting. We declined the tour but were able to pick up  a couple of bottles for tasting later. It turns out we stumbled into the largest wine producing region of Portugal, the Alentejo. 
 
DSCF0727Evora is a very delightful, walled city. We spent a day and a half wandering inside the city walls discovering the aqueduct (still in operation), the cathedral,  various churches, fountains, an ancient roman temple and most fascinating (or disturbing) a bone chapel. Inside the small chapel, the walls are lined with bones of the long-deceased, exhumed from the city’s graves as the city expanded. The monks who built it wanted to transmit the message that life is transitory; over the entry is inscribed “We bones that are her, for yours await” (translation). By the way, if you need a large knife, you can buy one nearby at the entrance to the garden, from an old lady with a folding table. 
 
One of our favorite moments was watching some guys rappelling to paint fake windows on a building near the university. Click here to download the funny video.
 
The area around Evora offers some great sights. We were able to tour a lot of interesting areas:
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Estremoz – Streets, stairs, curves – all marble
  • Estremoz – This town is literally built on marble. The streets are paved with it, the sidewalks are made of it, the curbs, the stairs, the door frames, you name it, marble marble marble, even the castle at the top of the town. We arrived the day before they were to have a medieval festival so we only got to see them setting it up. We wandered a bit around the town, rescued a runaway puppy that escaped from an old resident and “visited”
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    Marble quarry

    (found a back driveway to) the marble quarry. 

  • Évora Monte – It is a tiny hilltop town with a small square castle with a circular towers at each corner.
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    Our little Puegeot getting out of Évora Monte.

    There was only the fortification, a church and graveyard at the top. The one way in and out was NOT for cars bigger than a matchbox.

  • Cromelegue Megalithico dos Almendres – The construction of these structures dates back to the 6th millennium BC. but really don’t compare to structures like Stonehenge. An interesting site to see how the ancients aligned theses stones with celestial events. 
  • Viana Do Alentejo – the strangest castle we’d ever seen as it had a marble church built into part of the structure and the whole thing was tiny. We decided to just have lunch in town and skipped touring the castle. 
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    The ruins of Castelo de Portel
    Castelo de Portel – Our last stop of the day (whew!). We

     weren’t sure what to expect, but after we parked and walked up to the castle, it turned out to be a ruin.  That means no admission fee and we were able to scramble around the old walls. 

 

Evora Food Experiences:

  • Rabbit Pie in Monsaraz. 
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    The cured pigs leg at O Parque dos Leitoes where they get you freshly sliced prosciutto

    At a restaurant called “Vinho e Noz” the pork medallions were excellent and the boar stew was good. It was a lot of food and we couldn’t finish our meals. The waiter tried to get us to have dessert, so Cynthia asked “where would I put it? In my pocket?” He laughed and translated that to the staff. 

  • We also ate at “O Parque dos Leitoes”. We had duck rice and lamb stew, both were excellent! The food along with an 8 euro bottle of wine of exceptional red wine made of a wonderful and filling evening. 
  • Our last night we decided a small meal would be good so we headed to Vinarium, a small wine tasting/tapas place where we had olive oil mushrooms and a cute, candle-lit fondue pot.  Sara spoke excellent English (even when explaining the purple flowers in the fields had nettles and even used “shut the front floor”)
 

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