The road took us to Sesimbra, a small coastal seaside town
with stretches of lovely sandy beaches, and music bellowing
from loudspeakers set up along the promenade. As it is a fishing
town, we were regaled with displays of fresh fish outside
restaurants, where it was cooked on open barbeques. With
the sun shinning, we enjoyed an inexpensive lunch in the
It is worth noting that restaurants put such things as bread,
paté, local cheeses and butter on the table, and charge extra for
each item. If you don’t want some or any of them, send them
back and you won’t be charged.
Our second night we dined at nearby Setubal. Leaving
the car, we had to climb a flight of steps, passing a chapel tiled
in blue and white, to reach the pousada. Set in the S. Filipe
fortress, we enjoyed stunning views across the Sado estuary
and the Troia peninsula while sipping glasses of muscatel
made from local grapes.
Our next stop took us to Evora, a UNESCO world heritage
town encompassed by a 14th century wall. The buildings
have not changed since the 16th century. Fortunately, in
every town we visited there is a tourist information centre
which is centrally placed and provides information on the
We had wanted to take advantage of a guided bus tour but
found that, as with all national monuments in the country,
most buildings are closed on a Monday, and therefore it
wasn’t running. The streets here, as in most of the places
we visited, are cobbled and uneven, and tend to be hilly,
so wearing comfortable shoes is a must.
Although there is a pousada in Evora, we had been recommended
to the one in Estremoz towards the Spanish border.
The country isn’t very wide, but unless you are driving on
the motorways, for which there are tolls, the roads can be
very windy and a journey can take longer than you might
The pousada at Estremoz, once a castle, is very grand. It was
one of the most important fortresses in Alentejo, and one of
the favourite residences of the country’s kings and queens.
Vasco da Gama received the royal standard here, and the place
itself conveys grandeur. The sweeping staircase and the dining
room with its high ceilings are particularly outstanding.
Such things as hairdressers or beauty treatments are not
available at pousadas. Here, as with some other pousadas, there
is a lovely outdoor swimming pool. Worth noting are the
hairdryers in the rooms which are old-fashioned with flat
nozzles, so if you do need a good one to style your hair, bring
it with you.
As the places we stayed in are historical, there are two
types, historical and regional, they tend to be located in out
of the way places, so nipping to a local shop or hairdresser is
not a possibility.
Portugal, at least in the most of the areas we visited, is
extremely poor and therefore it is worth bringing everything
you need with you rather than hoping to buy it here. Another
drawback is that the shops, such as they are, tend to be closed
for a couple, if not three hours at lunchtime.
This was our problem when we visited Arraiolos, the
centre for carpet making. Here, you can have a rug of any
size handmade to your specific design and colour. Visiting
historic places, you soon become accustomed to the distinctive
style of weaving.
Vineyards are everywhere. The pousada arranged a visit for
us to the J. Portugal Ramos 400 acres of vineyards. Several
varieties of grapes are grown, and our tour included not only
the cellars but their bottling and labelling plant. Tastings are
available for a small fee, but as I was driving we just bought
a bottle of their Marquês de Borba, a DOC Alentejo wine.
Another ‘must’ to visit in the area is the Vila Viçosa, used
as a summer house for the Royal Family, and now run and
owned by a private foundation. The Vila has been beautifully
restored and houses many tapestries and paintings. Many of
the ceilings are painted, too. Every month concerts are held
in the 16th century chapel, which if you are lucky enough to
be there, are open to the general public, unlike the beautifully
maintained gardens. This area is also famous for its marble,
of which quarries can be seen while driving around the area.
From Estremoz, we drove north to the Flor da Rosa in
Crato, a notable example of medieval architecture. Once a
monastery, built in the 14th century by the Military Order of
Malta in the time of the Crusades, a new part has been added
housing modern bedrooms. Excavation work is still going
on, and entry is via this. The area is particularly favoured by
walkers, as we discovered from some of our fellow guests.
En route, we visited the Alter do Chão. Covering 800 acres,
Portugal’s oldest stud farm. Included is a carriage museum, and
one relating to horses and the dress of people involved, dating
back to the Middle Ages. Training courses are held here on
riding, coupling, falconry and carriage-making, with an open
air arena used for events throughout the year.
(above) A bedroom at Crato