Alto Alentejo to Beira Baixa
Alto Alentejo – Beira Baixa
May 24, 2013
On the road.
From the Upper Alentejo Province, across the Río Tejo to Lower Baixi
Let’s face it. I can read a hundred guidebooks. But as I am an independent traveler with a life-style part casual or “cavalier” as I was once told, and part impulsive, part impatient, part lazy, and even somewhat disorganized, I never really never know what I’ll find, when I go wherever it is I decide to go on any given day. That is, if I decide to go anywhere. Why not just hang around awhile? Admire the scenery. Order a coffee. Chat.
Take for example,Vila Viçosa. The guidebook tells me that this is a lovely town famous for the marble quarries and sculpture. I didn’t see much of the town itself (impatient?) but the cemetery was crammed with marble monuments. Nearby was a large church and nearby a medieval castle built on the foundation of a Roman fortress – the columns and carvings provide the clues for the ancient history here.
Elvas is my next stop. I am here to see the 17th Century aqueduct. I also find a bright town with an enormous central plaza decorated with Portuguese style artistic pavements. Best of all, I chat with several new friends – young university students who insist I visit them again.
Driving north I pause at El ríoTejo, the longest river on the Iberian Peninsula. El Tego (the Tagus) rises in Spain and flows west, across the border of Portugal, and continues west and then south to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at Lisbon.
At this point in the river’s journey, the current is serene. The mirror-like water reflects the green of the hills and the bright blue of the sky. The placid scene belies the disagreements, disputes and battles that took place between the Iberian neighbors.
Idanha-a-Velha is one of the oldest towns in Portugal with recorded settlement back to the Romans. For two thousand years, the town was repeatedly invaded and looted. Now a quiet place with less than 100 inhabitants, the town is surely of interest to historians and archeologists. But for this “casual” traveler, the ruins are mostly in ruins.
So what do I find on this (finally!) warm and sunny day as I wander through the residential area? Flowers! Flowers, everywhere. And for good measure, storks!
In 1938, Monsanto was voted “the country’s most Portuguese village.” I hike the path through town and attempt to climb the boulder strewn trail up the mountain to the castle at the top.
So, what tempts this lazy and impulsive traveler halfway up the mountain? A small handwritten sign. “Terraço Panorâmico!” Sandwich. Dessert. Coffee. And the view from the terrace? Panoramic!
The castle? Maybe next time.
Alice was right. I do have a “cavalier” life-style.