Medieval Evora

One of the many things I have come to rely on from using the Lonely Planet Guide to plan my travels is their “Suggested Itineraries” section.  Located in the front section of their guides, these recommended itineraries not only help me plan which direction I want to venture, but also help me make sure I don’t bypass any of the “not to be missed” stops along the way.

I have been loosely following the Lonely Planet’s recommended “Highlights of Portugal” itinerary, which heads south from Lisbon, east along the southern Algarve coast, then turns north to Evora, then back west to Lisbon before heading north to Porto, forming the shape of a lower case letter “b.”

Having now come within 15 miles of the border with Spain, it’s time to leave the Algarve Coast and continue my counter-clockwise loop of the bottom of the letter “b” and loop back up toward Lisbon. While I’m not ready to leave the beaches of the Algarve, I know there will be more opportunities as I head north along the coast to Porto. So with a pang of melancholy, I leave the beach behind to board the bus bound for the medieval town of Evora.

Charming narrow cobblestone streets make up the walled city of Evora.

Aqueduto da Agua de Prata, or Aqueduct of Silver Water, Evora’s Roman aqueduct dates back to 1537, when it brought clean water to the marble fountain in the Praça do Giraldo.

All streets in Evora lead to Praça do Giraldo, or Giraldo Square, constructed in 1573, named for Geraldo Geraldes, the man who conquered Evora from the Moors in 1167. Forming one of the four sides of the square is Santo Antão Church, built in 1557.

It’s easy and also fun to get lost wandering the narrow streets of the walled city.  I liked the color coordination of this person’s laundry.

And speaking of laundry, one might wonder how this is handled on a two month trip with only carry-on luggage. Many hostels offer laundry service, however for those of us who prefer to do our own laundry, Portugal has the nicest laundromats I have encountered! They even include detergent.

Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986, Evora is often referred to as the most beautiful of many medieval cities lovingly preserved throughout Portugal.  Surrounded by 14th century walls, the town is filled with all the landmarks one would expect from an ancient fortified city; winding, narrow cobblestone streets, ancient ruins. Cathedrals, cloisters, and yes, even a collection of skulls and bones.

Though a bit macabre, the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones is probably Evora’s most popular tourist attraction. It even made the Atlas Obscura Guide.

By the 16th century, Evora was reported to have 43 cemeteries taking up valuable land. Not wanting to condemn the souls of the people buried there, the Franciscan monks built the Chapel to relocate the bones.  To describe the magnitude, these round knobs are ends of femurs placed perpendicular to the wall.

There are an estimated 5,000 skeletons arranged here in decorative display.

The eerie inscription over the chapel door reads, “We bones here, for yours await.”

Evora is also the heart of the Alentejo wine region, where wines are described as “fat, rich, and fruity.” A designated wine trail runs around the area, but sadly, it’s yet another activity where one really needs a car, as public transportation to vineyards is really more like private transportation, which translates to scarce and costly. However, all is not lost, as my trusty Lonely Planet Guide tells me the “Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo,” or “Wine Route of the Alentejo” the not-for-profit headquarters has a tasting room right in the heart of the walled city, with over 70 wineries represented. Each Monday, a new lineup from four different wineries is on offer for free tasting.

Sampling one of the many robust reds from the region in the Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo tasting room.

This local restaurant, Adega do Alentejano, is known for its typical Portuguese dish, Sopa de tomate Alentejana, or tomato soup with poached egg.

It is here in the Rota dos Vinhos do Alentejo that I learn about the different regions from which Portuguese wines originate, as well as the regulating bodies such as DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada, or protected designation of origin) that govern them.  He also tells me there have been discussions that the price of exported wine to the USA should be increased, because “Americans equate the quality of wine with the price.”  It’s true, as I often equate any wine under $10 to “Two Buck Chuck.”  However, it is possible to buy a beautiful bottle of really good wine in Portugal for under five Euro.

One of the most significant historical landmarks in Evora is he Roman Temple.

The temple, considered one of the best preserved Roman ruins on the Iberian peninsula, is located at the highest elevation of the city.

The temple, built in the first half of the 1st century AD, is dedicated to Diana, ancient Roman goddess of the moon. (Note near full moon rising in upper right corner.)

When selecting restaurants during my travels, I rely almost solely on Trip Advisor these days, as the site contains first hand reviews from travelers posted as recently as the same week. I typically find the reviews “spot on,” as fellow travelers are eager to share their impressions, photos, and suggested menu items. It’s pretty easy to tell which reviewers are “legit” as Trip Advisor posts their review history and contributor level achieved beneath the name of each reviewer. From this one app on my phone, I can filter restaurants by food type, location, price, and even which restaurants are “Open Now,” while clicking through to Google maps to get walking directions.

However, occasionally I go “old school” by reading the reviews in the Lonely Planet to see which restaurants have stood the test of time. Such was the case with “Botequim da Mouraria.” Not only has it achieved high marks all around in Trip Advisor, but Lonely Planet refers to it as “a culinary shrine for gastronomes.” A shrine?  What better way to pique my curiosity! To further my interest, I am intrigued by a restaurant that has achieved such notoriety despite being closed on weekends, and consists solely of eight barstools at a small wooden bar for seating. Nothing does more for the popularity of a restaurant than exclusivity, it would seem. I had to check it out!

Evora also has one of the most beautiful Gothic Cathedrals in Portugal. made from rose granite. Construction spanned from 1184 to 1746.

It’s possible to climb up a series of staircases to reach the terrace which affords a phenomenal view.

The lantern-tower with rock scales on the top.

The cloisters of the cathedral were built between 1317 and 1340.

Inside the cathedral, there is something quite rare and very unique about this statue of the Virgin Mary. Can you spot it?

This 15th century painted marble statue
shows a very pregnant Mary, which is extremely rare. The belief is that local priests thought they would have better success in converting local pagans if they displayed signs of fertility.

The first time I tried for a seat at Botequim da Mouraria, I arrived shortly after opening time to see a paper sign on the front door saying “COMPLETE.” All eight stools were filled, and there was no second seating. So much for my theory of “There’s always room for one more.”

For my second attempt, I decided to arrive half an hour before the restaurant opened. I was number eleven in line. No point even waiting, as customers one through eight weren’t going anywhere.

Would the third time be the charm? It was Friday night, and the restaurant was not open on weekends. I already had my train ticket to Lisbon on Sunday, so it was now or never. I would try an hour before opening this time, taking a book to read so as not to feel like a complete fool for standing there outside the door for an hour looking like a beggar. It was no longer about wanting to try the food. It had now turned into a personal challenge, like fighting over the last pair of snow shoes on the bargain table in Macy’s the night before the first snowstorm during my first winter in Manhattan.

But my arrival an hour in advance did the trick. I was first in line. In fact, I sat alone on the stoop for the first half hour before anyone else showed up. I could have been a little less fastidious, but I didn’t want to leave this small town behind without having paid homage to the “gastronome shrine!”

Finally, my wait pays off, as I am the first one of eight to be seated at the bar.

“Maybe our fish of the day?”

I choose an entree of “porco preto,” or “Black Pork” for which Portugal is famous. Named for their black skin, the pigs graze on acorns, which gives the meat a more rich flavor.

It wasn’t just the food. It was the ambiance of feeling like I was dining in Domingo, the owner’s home. His wife could be seen through the narrow doors into the tiny kitchen, preparing the entrees, while Domingo tended the bar, made recommendations, consulted each individual on taste preferences, and lovingly described each dish. He mixed salads and sliced bread, and plated each item right across the bar. Each refill of the wine glass required only eye contact, followed by a nod at the glass. Between the warmth from the wine and aromas from the kitchen, it was an intoxicating experience, like poetry in motion. It should be, after all, this husband and wife team has been serving behind this eight-seat bar for twenty-five years.

While there are plenty of reasons to visit Evora, from the architectural beauty to the robust, affordable wines, I expect my experience sitting at the bar in Botequim da Mouraria will hold the most lasting memory.

Tavira and Her Islands

A heartfelt thanks to everyone for their lovely comments! It was like turning on the light in what I thought was an empty room, only to find it full of friends! 😉 I love that many of you said you were enjoying the tour through Portugal, as like-minded travel companions, arm-chair or otherwise, are a treasure. Only a couple of “unsubscribers” hopped off the train at the last stop, so off we go back to Portugal…

When doing research on “don’t miss” places along the Portuguese coast, Tavira, along with the expanse of barrier islands off her coast, comes up consistently as a recommended stop. Reputed to be one of the most charming towns of the Algarve Continue reading

Back in the USSA

It’s been a month since my last post, and I’m starting to get those “Are you still alive??” emails from my dear friends and followers — at least what friends and followers I have left after diverting the blog to Portugal for two months. 😉 Thanks to those who have written to inquire.

I still have about 10 glorious places visited in Portugal that I had planned for the blog – lighthouses toured, fortresses explored, beaches adored, wine poured, seafood devoured, etc. etc. And I still plan to post them. I must after all, substantiate my claim that I write the blog to preserve the memories and not for the comments, right? Continue reading

Seven Hanging Valleys Hiking Trail

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Surfers and Sinners of the Algarve

I did a few day trips around the south coast while staying in Lagos. It’s a good base with an active bus network from which local bus lines spider out in all directions. I have yet to encounter a bus station attendant that doesn’t speak English in all of Portugal, making it easy and affordable to explore the southern coast, as well as the rest of the country.

One caveat to convenient bus travel in Portugal is weekends. Bus schedules are just about cut in half on Saturday and Sundays, even to tourist destinations. Since I am Continue reading

Lagos: Two if by Sea

As I mentioned in my previous post, my guesthouse while staying in Lagos is located only two blocks from the Lagos Marina, where dozens of boats come and go daily. There are a plethora of boat tour operators working from kiosks along the dock offering kayaking tours, speedboat tours, and sightseeing trips to the grottoes.

One trip that has piqued my interest is a little further away, to a cave known as Algarve de Benagil. It’s not only a massive cave with two entrances to access a small a beach, Continue reading

Lagos: One if by Land

When deciding on an itinerary for Portugal after leaving Lisbon, I wasn’t sure whether to head north first toward Porto or south to the Algarve region along the southern coast. All research said the beaches became a mob scene during July and August, the time period when Europeans typically take their vacations. Sun-worshipers arrive in droves during the doldrums when the spring winds die down, and the scorching sun makes swimming in the numbing Atlantic Ocean bearable. But not only do the temperatures soar, so do the prices. I’ve got a good six weeks before the high season rolls around, so I figure I’ll head south first and get a jump on the crowds, then work my way back up north after I’ve had my beach fix. Continue reading

Sintra on a Sunday

Friends and family have asked about Portugal, “Is it crowded?” My answer has always been, “There are people everywhere, but it’s not crowded” Until, that is, I got to Sintra.

I knew I was pushing my luck by going on a weekend, but due to travel schedules, museum closures, and nonrefundable hotels I had now booked onward, there was no other option. It was go on a Sunday or not go at all. Another of Portugal’s many Continue reading

Day Trip to Belém

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A Medley of Museums

I have been known to label myself as “not a museum person,” yet I rarely miss a famous one, and always enjoy them once I get there. I’ve gone out of my way to visit them, been to all the big names, and have enjoyed countless hours wandering the halls with my favorite niece Hannah. So instead, I should probably say I have a low museum tolerance. It’s a battle between my eyes and my feet to see which one will cry “uncle” first. Continue reading