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 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.
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 features paintings from the 15th through 19th centuries, drawings, engravings, 17th and 18th century furniture, and Roman sculpture from the 1st and 2nd centuries.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 email@example.com.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Next up, we’ll explore the Alentejo. Join us for a few day trips and a wine tasting.