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davidx Marvao - A travel report by David
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Marvao,  Portugal - flag Portugal -  Portalegre
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davidx's travel reports

Castles and Views – the north of Alentejo

  17 votes
Page: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Although all Bajo Alentejo seems low, not all of Alto Alentejo is high. However the northern part with Portalegre as its capital is a high area, rich in its historical role with wonderful towns, villages, castles and views.


Portalegre Cathedral - top of a long steep street
Portalegre Cathedral - top of a long steep street
The north of Alentejo is mostly covered by the Natural Park of the Serra de São Mamede. The height of the mountains here is not great by European, let alone world, standards but is very like the highest English mountains, in the region of 1000 metres. The difference is that whereas ours in England have bleak bare tops, several of those in north Alentejo have villages on the top with fortifications used in the battles between Moors and Christians and those between Spaniards and Portuguese. I wasn’t able to savour the more ancient history although the area is rich in prehistoric remains, dolmens in particular, because that needs a car. On the other hand there are buses from Portalegre to most of the villages on weekdays, albeit not many. I did manage to get from Evora to Portalegre and, in the same day, from there to Castelo de Vide and back and lastly out to Marvão, where I stayed for a night. The only downside to this was that the journey to Marvão was in the dark but I was able to enjoy the lovely mountain scenery on the return journey next afternoon. I suppose it was too much to hope to see some of the raptors and vultures that grace the area as well as black storks. Certainly it would be more probable with a longer stay and a bit of walking on the numerous way-marked trails. In general the delights of the area are accentuated by the fact that, from most places, the approach is over extensive plains. In particular this allows views from the mountain tops deep into Spain and it’s virtually impossible to look out without, in imagination, seeing an army approaching from the far distance. Portalegre itself is a historically interesting city with tapestries playing a major part in its history. There is still one factory and there is an excellent Tapestry Museum. Unfortunately this was the one place where the works seriously spoilt my visit. The cathedral is not my kind and the castle was hidden in awnings and scaffolding.

Favourite spots:
Marv*o's castle
Marv*o's castle
Marvão wins the accolade for favourite but Castelo de Vide, reserved for the next section, is the sort of place which easily could. You know that Marvão is going to be special from the enthusiasm of those mentioning it and darkness didn’t diminish this as both the village walls and the castle on the top were beautifully floodlit. I had quite a job working out which bus to get from Portalegre – worth a bit of exploration here in case, as I hope, others are interested. The website http://www.rodalente-jo.pt/ seemed to point to an 18.30 bus but the one person emerging from the ticket office to meet the public at the Portalegre bus station told me that it was the 19.15 bus. The notice-board revealed that there were two buses leaving at 19.15 and so I ventured to ask which one I needed to get. He wanted me to get neither – but the bus at 19.20 to somewhere I forget. There were numbered bays but the buses didn’t use them – just stopped near the exit of the station. Continued

What's really great:
Th castle seen over the town
Th castle seen over the town
Castelo de Vide is a gorgeous little place, more like a town than a village, except that I found very few shops. There are three historic areas, the medieval, the Jewish and the 17th century onwards. It was an important place for Jews after they were banned from Spain, along with the Moors, in 1492 and there is a small building that served as a synagogue. There are also two streets with what were Jewish houses. The medieval area is based around the castle, another where there’s no entry charge and although the houses are obviously changed, the medieval ground plan has not. The other area gives another high point with views back over the village to the castle as well as out towards Marvão. Coming back down, after a quick lunch, to the bus stop, I had also to admire the gracious houses and other buildings around the main church.

Sights:
To the inner castle area
To the inner castle area
Marvão continued.
To cut a long story short, I felt foolish as I asked the drivers of the first two buses I found – with neither bus posted as going where the attendant had said - but the driver of the bus to Portagem assured me he would take me. He dumped some of us out just before Portagem to transfer to another bus waiting there to take us up the hill. This bus dropped me just outside the village walls. Others vanished and I walked through the gate into the village alone. It was bitterly cold and it seemed dark as the floodlighting was the other side of the wall. There was not a soul in sight.
Fortunately the accommodation was well signed on low finger boards. Up, up and more up went the signs for D. Dinis, where I’d booked, higher than the Pousada until only the castle, the Turismo and one other accommodation were left with the D. Dinis and there at last it was in front of me – welcoming, warm and well equipped. [see accommodation/travel tip.]
[continued under Clubs]

Accommodations:
marv*o - distant view from the castle
marv*o - distant view from the castle
I stayed at the Pension Casa D. Dinis, mentioned under sights here and given as a travel tip. It really is the sort of place you always hope to find, wonderfully situated and excellent value for money, well equipped without being luxurious, good breakfast and with a snackbar across the road. In December, though, it’s probably the change in temperature as you enter and the two hot radiators in the bedroom that will do most to form your initial attachment. See http://www.portugalvirtual.pt/_lodging/plains/casa.d.dinis/ukmarvao.html and enjoy the photos there.

Nightlife:
The village gate near the bus stop
The village gate near the bus stop
Marvão continued
In the morning I realised that I was near to a superb castle – the sight of it from my bedroom window being quite a give-away. It is indeed outstanding, a children’s paradise and if you don’t have a bit of the child in you, I’m sorry for you. What’s more it didn’t cost anything – unless you wanted to go into the military museum [€1.] There are inner parts of the castle connected by arches and staircases, underground chambers, towers, walkable walls and numerous battlements affording grand views to other mountains and across the plains into Spain.
Outside of the castle the views were marred by the extensive works that were taking place but it was still possible to enjoy a walk along the top of the mountain ridge past the church and a public garden area – and the main museum [another €1.]
Lower in the village, near the main square and the Post Office, is the old pillory.
The visitors’ book at the D. Dinis was full of enraptured comments from all over the world.


Hangouts:
Castelo de Vide - view from castle
Castelo de Vide - view from castle
It’s difficult to separate pubs from restaurants in this part of the world, as quite a few places that call themselves bars, including a snackbar among their attractions, serve prodigious meals. So it’s almost legitimate to use this space to make a couple of comments about eating out in Portugal. The first is that, unless you are positively ravenous, what they call a half dose will suffice very well. The second is that nothing is free – including those good pates that come with the butter. However there is often a cover charge that’s waived if you pay for the bread, butter and olives!
A number of white wines are ‘fresco’ [slightly sparkling] but you can have ‘natural’ if you prefer.


Restaurants:
Castelo de Vide - the Synagogue
Castelo de Vide - the Synagogue
There was only one restaurant open in Marvão the night I was there, although there are two in the village most nights. This one, A Varanda do Alentejo, is located right by the main village square and fortunately didn’t exploit its monopoly position. It sells enjoyable local dishes for very reasonable prices and seems to attract considerable local custom.
In Castelo de Vide I went in for ‘lunch’ to a restaurant, ‘O Miguel,’ a short way up the third [I think] turning steeply to the right from the bus towards the square. . I am never a great eater at lunch time [except Christmas Day!] and the Portuguese portions in the evening were so big that soup and bread were sufficient for lunch – but anyone who serves simple soup as good as this must surely be OK for a bigger meal.

Other recommendations:
Portalegre - the castle was swamped by works!
Portalegre - the castle was swamped by works!
I seem to be the first to write on this part of Portugal for Globo, which may make it particularly desirable to put some websites that I found useful. Sadly a number of good sites are Portuguese only or have their English version in preparation. Some of these can be found by referring to the answers kindly given in response to my request fro information in the European forum.
Those here are in English.
All three of the places here are covered in http://www.portugalvirtual.pt/ _tourism/plains/#Portalegre.
Castelo de Vide is covered fairly fully in http://portugal-info.net/alentejo/ castelodevide.htm
Marvão is covered in http://viajar.cli x.pt/en/dst3228.php?lg=en
A good starting point for Portalegre is http://www.visitportugal.com/N R/exeres/D09DD8A8-61CC-4C 02-A69A-A53ACFCA9322,fra meless.htm

Published on Friday December 30th, 2005


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Sat, Jan 07 2006 - 11:16 AM rating by frenchfrog

Really good report David, the town looks really great (quiet, is the way I like it!). You gave goo infos.
Many thanks, we can travel in our own armchair!

Sun, Jan 01 2006 - 10:37 AM rating by jorgesanchez

Thanks for this beautiful report discovering interesting places so close to my country!

Sat, Dec 31 2005 - 01:58 PM rating by marianne

The perfect read. Excellent!

Sat, Dec 31 2005 - 11:15 AM rating by jesusferro

of course, 5 points for your oustanding report!!!
I hope one day to write my first report about my dear Buenos Aires at least 50 % as good as you write yours!

Sat, Dec 31 2005 - 04:50 AM rating by shinto

good and informative

Sat, Dec 31 2005 - 02:35 AM rating by eirekay

Terrific report with WONDERFUL photos! Long live the child within!

Fri, Dec 30 2005 - 06:22 PM rating by rangutan

Espantar! Thanks for this first ***** report on Portugal, a great experience with super photographs. A small point but also important to other members: web-links change all the time, please quote only a main domain or really permanent URL.

Fri, Dec 30 2005 - 06:07 PM rating by horourke

Thank you David for this beautifully detailed account of this most interesting place.
Hugh

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