|When daughter, Leanne, and her husband Derek arrived in Portugal, their only demand was to see castles - so we drove from the Atlantic coast on the west of Portugal to the east and border with Spain in search of mountaintop villages. Fortunately, not a serious undertaking, as Portugal is only 220 Km wide!
Castelo do Vide is one of the Alentejo's most appealing fortified hill-top villages just west of the Spanish border. It provided us with everything we were looking for: a 14th century castle; fabulous views of the valley below and of the mountain range behind; and the old Jewish Quarter, a medieval enclave of cobbled paths and dazzling white cottages with Gothic doorways and flower filled window boxes. To add to our adventure, we woke to a city shrouded in fog the next morning. As we ran around the old castle and climbed up over the walls, the fog kept drifting in and out, providing glimpses of the old convent on the mountain behind, and then as quickly, shut it off from view.
Our second hill top fortress was Marvão - stunning because of its location at the top of a high mountain that you can see from miles away. You could stand up on the castle walls and look out at the vast expanse below and imagine being a sentry 300 years ago watching invading Castilians approaching from the border, knowing that they were still days away. We climbed down slippery, mossy marble steps deep into the ground to see the huge 17th century cistern that is still half full of water. Exhilarating, but very creepy....
This part of the Alentejo region is rife with megaliths (engraved boulders, stone circles, towering fertility objects and cave-like stone tombs) built 5000 - 6000 years ago. Stonehenge, in England, has turned into quite a tourist attraction - you have to buy pricey tickets and are prohibited from getting close to the stones. Here in Portugal, many of them are found in farmer's fields in amongst the cork and olive trees, down peaceful country roads - making the impact of finding them even greater (e.g. "WE must be the first ones to find this megalith!"). The Menhir da Meada is a 7 m high phallic stone, the largest in Iberia. It was rather striking (!) and seeing it standing alone in the field made us imagine white clothed virgins dancing around it during some spring fertility rite!
Most impressive was the Almendres Megalithic site outside of Evora, built about 7000 years ago. Here in the forest of cork trees, at the end of a dirt track were 96 huge stones that formed almost two circles - placed to relate to the movement of the sun and moon on the horizon. It was enchanting to be there at dusk, alone with all those magical stones that had been placed there for whatever reason 2000 years before Stonehenge.