The big trinity of tourism in Portugal is Lisbon, Porto, and the Algarve. Most Europeans head to the Algarve and the beach, and few Americans and Canadians have the time to get past the charms of Lisbon or Porto. However, to people who know and love Portugal, trips to the Alentejo are never far from their mind, and at the heart of the Alentejo is historic and lovely Evora.
Evora is pretty easy to reach from Lisbon. There are both buses and trains, and these are cheap at roughly 10 euros. Alternately, you can rent a car and drive the 140km along a major highway to get there. Once there, most of the major sites in Evora can be done on foot, but excursions out of town will require a car.
See the Sights
Two of the main attractions in Evora are ruins from Roman times. On the outskirts of the old city is a solid section of Roman aqueduct, and in the center of town are the ruins of an old temple (probably to Diana/Artemis).
Another thing that is not to be missed is the town Cathedral and Cloisters, with their ossuary. Praça do Giraldo is also very scenic, and it is worth stopping to linger here. Finally, plying a path between these points will involve navigating the small, medieval streets of a truly old Portuguese town, and all the little charming sights that go along with doing so. Stroll the little streets with their whitewashed walls, wrought-iron balconies, and azulejos (decorative tile) facades, and be sure to take your time.
Wine and Cheese
While Port Wine is famous around the world, the Portuguese love their Alentejo wine first and foremost. This is the region that produces the best of the country’s red table wine, many of them from grape varietals unknown to Americans. The region is also home to inumerable artisan cheeses (Evora alone has a few different lesser known varieties), a unique kind of hearty bread, is prized for its beef and pork, and has its own style of Portuguese cooking. Be sure to partake of a glass of vinho tinto when you take a break from your stroll around town, and take some care in choosing where you have dinner, so as to partake of some truly authentic local cooking.
Those interested in wine tourism will be gratified to learn that a major winery, Herdade de Esporao, is located only 45 minutes from Evora. The grounds are lovely, the facility does tours of the winery and cellar, and the selection of special reserve wines to take home is excellent.
Day Trip: Monsaraz
About an hour from Evora is one of Portugal’s most attractive surviving fortress towns, Monsaraz. Perched on a crag near the Spanish border, this walled town retains all its medieval charms and regional distinctiveness. The courtyard of the fortress’s small castle is still used for area bullfighting, and the shops have distinctive regional handicrafts. Monsaraz is no tourist trap, however, being well off the beaten path. It makes for a lovely visit, or a great place for anyone looking for a quiet getaway in a hilltop medieval town so small you will learn every nook and cranny in half a day.