The Alentejo Region
Jul 14, 2008
|July 14 2008
We had most of our items packed to go in the morning. The idea was to have a big English breakfast before our drive, but the two places we tried were not open until 9 am. Therefore, we had another Portuguese style breakfast at a café. Then we were on the road again. Our drive was on the Super Highway toward Beja, and then jump off onto the N18 to Evora/Estrimoz. On the drive, we hashed out that we were going to try and stay North of Evora considering the prices that were quoted in the tourist books.
The drive had splendid scenery. It was even better when we got off the highway and onto the 2 lane road N18. The beginning of the drive was similar to Kansas, except with wheat, and hey. The crops had already been harvested, so lots of bails out in the fields. The rolling hills were covered in gold from the crops. Soon we began to see cattle farms, with some sheep farms tossed in here and there. We even ran across one sunflower farm which dotted the sides of the road.
This is Portugal, considering that this country is predominately agricultural. The Tourist sites our nice, and the coast is full of lovely resorts, but this, this is what we came to experience. The rural area of Portugal. Once to Evora, we drive right on through. I have decided that I like the drive so much that we are just going to continue to Estrimoz. The fields of hey and wheat began to give way to vineyards the closer we get to Estrimoz. The cities are only 20 miles apart. We round a corner and there it is, a huge castle on top of a mountain. Another executive decision is made, we are going to explore. Climbing a very bumpy stone road at a very extreme angle, winding up roads with no barrier, we reach the town gate. I quickly round up the food, and try to hustle everyone out of the car and into the city.
What an experience, Evoramonte. The place is small and medieval. Joseph and I climb sections of the wall. We walk the road up to the castle. Unfortunately today the castle is closed. But the shade is resting on this side of the façade, so we take a seat on the steps and unpack our make shift picnic. What a view! The pictures we took will not due this place justice, it was just spectacular. When the meal was done, Joseph and I sprang into camera action. Bob decided to rest a bit due to the heights and the heat. Joseph and I rounded the castle and found more city. The town continued on. Joseph and I set our sights on the church at the end of the road. In the process of walking there we happened across an artisans shop, which was open, on a Monday. I guess I should mention, practically nothing touristy is open on a Monday.
There were all kinds of items inside, and I had fun trying to communicate with my limited Portuguese to someone who had even more limited English. We decided to return with Bob once our explorations were done. Again we directed ourselves toward the church. The surprise was the lovely cemetery that was across from the entrance. It was locked, but you can tell it is still a modern place of burial. Everything was very nicely kept and it was pristine. Joseph and I made our way back toward Bob utilizing the city wall. We had to come down a couple of times, because homes had been built into the wall. This led us past the preparations for a party, I guess some people due live on top of the hill. Once we returned to Bob, we went back to the artisans shop and looked around a little more intently.
The trip down the mountain was just as much fun, if not more so, since we meet a car on it’s way up. We drove to Estrimoz, which is only about 8 miles away, and stopped at the hotel on the way in. I must admit, we have stayed in much fancier hotels this trip than in the past. In the past it was hostels and peoples homes as our residences. This time we stayed in a 3 star hotel in Lisbon, a Vila in Albefuria, and now a 3 star hotel in Estrimoz. Bob got us a good deal: two nights, plus breakfast and dinners, all included in the reduced price. The room is a little tight, but we only are here two nights. The dinner, that is the deal maker in the whole agreement. Wait until you read about the food. That comes later, first we dumped our bags in the room and jumped back in the car.
Off we zoomed to Elvas, a town only 7 miles from the border of Spain. This town was constantly under siege by the Spanish, but only fell once. We stopped at a café right at the edge of town to have a sandwhich. Once we had a little food in our belly’s we headed to the top of the city. It took us a couple of times around to find the castelo. We kept missing a sign, which told us to go right, and we would go left and end up back at the bottom of the hill. When we finally found the castelo, we all went onto the ramparts. Joseph and I took lots of pictures of Bob, since this was a big achievement for him. Bob is not a fan of heights. Other than Joseph and I scooping out the church after the castelo, there really wasn’t much for us here. The town is huge, a massive fortress, and I think the best view to give you the true impact is arial. We could not see the star shaped citadel on which the town sat, because it was just to large in scale, you could only see one side at a time. We did try to see another hilltop convent right next to the city, but the road had a red circle with a white slash through it. When we translated the words it basically came down to no trespassing. The place must still be in use, dang nuns :-)
We zipped back to Estrimoz to have an early dinner, 6:00 so that we could make it to the Castelo in Estrimoz before it got dark. We were the only ones in the large dinning hall. We had two waiters and the head of the kitchen who waited on us. Cloth napkins, wine glasses, bread plates, multiple silverware settings, and then the three of us scrubby just of the road travelers. First we had appetizers of olives, roasted peppers, chirozo, bread, butter, and olive oil. Then we moved onto the soup: Bob and I had Gazpecho, and Joseph had vegitable soup. Our main courses came out next. Bob originally wanted the Brazilian beef, but changed the order to rump steak. Joseph had Salmon, which was great. I am the risk taker, I had a local dish, the Alentejo ???? A broth soup that is very heavy on garlic, coriander seed, bread, and cod. It was very unique, and very tasty, however the amount could have served all three of us. Dessert was next: Bob enjoyed a caremal cream flan, and Joseph and I had the chocolate mousse. The mousse is made fresh at the hotel and has godiva chocolate liquer on the bottom, with a fresh cream on top of the mousse, and a cheery for Joseph. What a meal.
Even though we are stuffed to our gills, we jump into the car and head up into the castelo. We made it in time to take in the sunset. They converted the Palacio in the Castelo into a Pousada, which means a 4 star hotel with only 8-12 rooms. The façade’s of the buildings were well worth the rush back from Elvas and an early dinner. It was a treat to have our first night in the Alentejo start with the view of the sunset through the castelo’s medieval gates. The church also had some striking features which we photographed extensively. Once the sunset and it was two dark to take more pictures we headed down to the town. We stopped in the main square and found a busy little café bar. It was the right place to be, considering the number of children riding bikes, families gathered around small tables, and townsfolk strolling the square. We grabbed a table and ordered up the local vino. Joseph lgot the chance to pet a puppy which was being lead around by it’s 9 year old owner.
We made a couple of attempts to make our way out of the city before we were successful. The combination of dark and closed streets for pedestrines made it a chore to get out. We made it back to the hotel and quickly drifted off to sleep.