May 23, 2013
A Trio of Castles
The Alentejo Region in central Portugal is the largest region in the country. It stretches from the Atlantic coast to the Spanish border. As a result of its history and strategic location, the Alentejo is dotted with medieval castles.
I drove through the central and eastern areas of Alentejo, across plains and over hills, to cities, towns and villages. The country roads and the modern highways are all excellent and mostly empty of traffic.
I visited three castles.
Arraiolos (pop 3351)
As a not infrequent purchaser of small, local, hand woven carpets, I had high expectations as I drove to Arraiolos, a small town founded in the 2nd or 3rd Century BCE.. Tepetes have been in production here since the 12th Century.
I visited a lovely showroom and the owners were most helpful. The colors and the designs were attractive, but I just didn’t care for the overall style.
What I found quite by accident was a 14th Century castle overlooking the town. So here I am, wandering among the ruins and wandering among a herd of grazing sheep.
Évoramonte (pop 700)
My guidebook mentions a three room hotel with fantastic views, and a “smart” restaurant. How could I resist a detour to Évoramonte (and a long uphill one lane drive) to this tiny town? The owners were overly hospitable as they plied me with snacks, hearty soup and their regional red wine.
And whaddayaknow? A “quaint” 16th Century castle. “The exterior stone carving shows unwarlike small bows, the symbol of the Bragança family. The knot symbolizes fidelity.” *
On a pedestal beside the castle sits a small section of a marble pillar. The Romans were also here, before me!
Marvão (pop 150)
Now this is a castle! With all the classic elements: Gatehouse, keep, bailey, towers, battlements, crenellation and arrow slits (loopholes). No moat. The rolling hills provide a natural defensive barrier. **
Marvão lies just 10km (6 mi) from the Spanish border. Romans, Visigoths, Moors, Christians all prized this location. Now the small population of Portuguese still live within the walls of the castle, in a town – a retreat really - of whitewashed walls, tiled roofs, flowers and stimulating views … and for me, another vigorous climb.
Don’t you just love castles?
*Portugal. Lonely Planet Publications Pty Ltd. March 2011. Page 212.