Cultural Attractions, History, Hotels, Museums

Evora: The Alentejo’s Capital City

October 27, 2017

The Vasco da Gama bridge led us away from lively Lisbon to the rural beauty of the Alentejo.

An easy 90- minute drive southeast of Lisbon takes you to the expansive Alentejo region. Home to medieval villages, castles, palaces, pousadas, megaliths, wine producers, and vast agricultural lands, this beautiful area has something to please nearly all visitors. We made Evora, the capital of the region, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, our headquarters. This delightful small city is a great base from which to launch day trips to the many attractions in the area.

The Alentejo’s capital city is best explored on foot– wearing comfortable shoes, of course.

Remember to look up as you wander!

The historic city of Evora has interesting sites and several museums to explore. Just walking the winding streets is a fine way to spend a day, especially in the area around the Largo Conde de Vila Flor. After a pleasant stroll through the Praca do Giraldo, Evora’s bustling main square, we considered our options.

The busy Praca do Giraldo is at the heart of the city. Numerous shopping streets fan off from the Praca.

Cork is king in the Alentejo and is featured in souvenirs from sandals to handbags.

Portuguese pottery is also a popular souvenir.

Time was short so we had to make choices.  We decided to save the Contemporary Art Museum for our next visit and headed over to the Museum of Evora, which was hosting a Chinese porcelain exhibition along with its permanent collections.

The Museum of Evora is housed in a former Episcopal palace built in the 17th century.

Beautiful Azulejos tiles line the stone staircase inside the museum.

Teapots, serving pieces, jewelry and other treasures from China are featured in the current exhibition at the museum.

Placards describe the fine Chinese porcelain plates on display in Portuguese and English.

The museum features paintings from the 15th through 19th centuries, drawings, engravings, 17th and 18th century furniture, and Roman sculpture from the 1st and 2nd centuries.

The museum is known for it’s 17th and 18th century painting and sculpture. This piece is by Antonio Teixeira Lopes.

Religious articles, like St. Blaise’s arm reliquary from the 17th century, are part of the permanent collection.

Visitors can see this striking bronze sculpture, statuary, mosaics and other artifacts from the Roman era.

Interesting archeological finds from the Neolithic Age and a collection of silver and gold religious pieces, and jewelry are also on display. There were few visitors on the day we were there.

Antiquities from numerous ancient civilizations are on view.

Artifacts from the Roman era line a courtyard hallway.

Just outside the museum is the Roman Temple from the 1st century AD. Today, the ruins are undergoing restoration and are under wraps, but it is possible to see several of the Corinthian columns.

The Roman Temple which dates from the 1st century is mentioned in all the guide books, but until the restoration is complete, there isn’t much to see.

There is a small park behind the temple that offers nice views over the area beyond Evora and across the way you’ll find a lovely pousada, once a monastery that is now an upmarket hotel called Pousada dos Loios. Feel free to wander inside and take a step back into Portugal’s past. The restaurant here is open to the public.

Here’s a peek at the courtyard and restaurant at Pousada dos Loios.

This small park behind the Roman Temple provided a nice place to relax and enjoy the views over the city and surrounding countryside.

Many people line up at Evora’s Church of St. Francis to visit the Chapel of the Bones or Capela dos Ossis. The 16th century chapel displays the bones and skulls of monks. We’ve seen the creepy Capuchin Crypt in Rome so felt no need to stop in after our visit to the church. The public gardens beside the church were much more appealing.

Inside the Church of St. Francis.

The Chapel of the Bones is a popular tourist attraction inside the Church of St. Francis.

If you have time, stop into Evora’s Cathedral or Se.  It’s one of the largest medieval cathedrals in Southern Portugal and is said to be built on the site of a former mosque.

Here are the marvelously mismatched spires of Evora’s cathedral.

Close to the Church of St. Francis, you’ll find Evora’s morning market.  The market is indoors and was smaller than some we’ve visited, but we also arrived fairly late in the morning after many of the vendors had closed up shop.  Happily, there were several purveyors of tasty cheeses, cured meats, and fruits and vegetables still open.

Many vendors had already packed up and gone home by the time we arrived at the market but there was still plenty to choose from.

Everything you need for a nice picnic is right here–local pork products, sheep and goat’s milk cheeses and other tasty treats.

Evora has lodging options to fit many budgets and preferences. We chose to stay at two very different, but both delightful properties in and near the city. We began our stay at the lovely Albergaria do Calvario, just inside the walls of the city www.hotel@albergariadocalvario.com.

 

We enjoyed our stay at the small, well-located Albergaria do Calvario.

Located just inside the ancient Roman walls, it was easy to walk all around the city and access the freeway quickly for daytrips from our hotel.

The location made it easy to walk to Evora’s important sites as well as to dinner each evening. It was also convenient to reach the freeway for our day trips further afield. We’ll discuss dining and day trips in additional posts.

The comfortable bar area welcomes guests for drinks and light bites.

Ours was a large, comfortable room with a big balcony overlooking the hotel’s courtyard where many guests enjoyed breakfast, aperitifs, and conversation. Rooms vary substantially in size so be sure to explore your options when booking.

Our room was large and bright with a huge balcony overlooking the courtyard.

The marble used here is mined nearby. There is a Museum of Marble in Vila VIcosa we”ll visit next time.

There is no restaurant per se in the hotel, but they do provide a substantial breakfast buffet and have small meals, snacks, and drinks on offer in the bar. Anything ordered can be enjoyed in the courtyard, the bar area or one of the comfortable sitting areas.

This is just a small part of the bountiful buffet breakfast greeting guests each morning.

The courtyard provides a pleasant place to enjoy breakfast, drinks, or just relax.

Friendly staff are happy to help with restaurant bookings, excursion ideas or whatever you need to make your stay memorable.

The staff is extremely helpful and will even park and retrieve your car for you. Parking is available onsite at no additional charge. Laundry service is also available at a very reasonable price. The only thing we missed at this charming, small hotel was a pool, but we got that at our next hotel–Convento Espinhero.

Welcome to the Convento do Espinheiro.

We also spent several nights about 15 kilometers outside of Evora at the stunning Convento do Espinheiro. The converted convent was built in 1458 and is managed by www.starwood.com. The property has traditional rooms in the original buildings as well as two modern wings.

We had a large room in the modern wing of the hotel, complete with a nice balcony.

We enjoyed our stay in the modern wing where we had a very large room with a balcony and views over the property towards to the inviting swimming pool. After nearly 10 days of non-stop touring it was the perfect place to take break.

The pool provided the perfect place for relaxation, lunch, drinks and a refreshing dip.

There is also an indoor pool and a nice spa on site where I enjoyed a relaxing massage. There are tours given daily of the expansive Convento which covers the property’s fascinating history.

Ancient olive trees dot the property which dates back to 1458.

These stone benches have been here since the property was a functioning convent.

The complimentary tour includes a visit to the beautiful church (which is still in use), monk’s cistern where a complimentary wine tasting is held each evening, the former dining area and kitchen, as well as the vaulted storage cellar which now houses the hotel’s terrific restaurant.

Convento Espinheiro was one of the three wealthiest convents in Portugal. The church is still in use today.

The bells, one original, ring out to announce a wedding has taken place.

The wine cellar is housed in the monk’s former cistern, which was once filled with water.

A complimentary wine tasting take place each evening at 6 p.m. in the wine cellar.

We ate dinner there each night of our stay. The food is artfully prepared and beautifully presented by top-notch staff. Be sure to reserve for dinner or prepare to be disappointed—the dining room fills up. Should you choose to go offsite for your dinner and prefer not to drive, the helpful staff can arrange for a taxi into Evora.

Fresh local fish elegantly prepared is served with flair.

Luscious lamb chops with squash puree are featured on the menu.

Save room for dessert.

Where monks once stored their wine, olive oil and honey, hotel guests now enjoy a bountiful breakfast buffet. It is possible to enjoy your morning repast out on one of the terraces or in the courtyard area, as we did.

The former storage for olive oil, wine and honey, now serves as the hotel’s elegant dining room.

We also arranged to see some of the traditional rooms including the “royal suite” used by many honeymoon couples. It is truly spectacular in a beautiful old-world way and features a  contemporary bathroom and private rooftop terrace.

The “royal suite” often used by honeymooners offers old world charm and opulence.

The suite’s bathroom features modern fixtures like this free standing tub.

A private rooftop terrace, one flight up from the suite provides glorious views of the area around the Convento.

Next up, we’ll explore the Alentejo.  Join us for a few day trips and a wine tasting.

 

 

 

 

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