Places to see     Things to do

The Alentejo 

Connoisseurs of The Alentejo like to compare the region to Tuscany unspoilt by mass tourism. The Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region and an area of outstanding natural beauty. It makes up one third of the area of the country but has only 12% of the population. The rural way of life has stayed much the same for centuries and generations have worked the land almost untouched by the busy world around them. The growing of olives and chestnuts, the processing of cork, and the production of locally baked bread, wine, honey, and goats and sheep milk cheeses remain an essential part of everyday life. 

The area is steeped in history, for the Alentejo was a battleground for centuries, invaded by Visigoths, Moors, Spaniards and French. The legacy from that time can be seen in the magnificent old walled towns and castles that guard many hilltops and command breathtaking views. Badajoz and Albuera were the scenes of famous Peninsular War engagements and there is a small British military cemetery in one of the bastions of the fortress at Elvas commemorating these events. 

Castelo de Vide and Marvão are all within 45 minutes drive and Evora, the regional capital and a World Heritage site, is an hour away to the south-west. A little further afield in Spain, the historic cities of Badajoz, Merida and Caceres are easily accessible. 

The São Mamede Natural Park to the North of Assumar stretches to the Spanish border, covers an area of 320 km² and is a haven for many of Europe´s rarest birds and animals, including its largest colony of bats.

Easily accessible from Lisbon by motorway and a network of excellent roads, a warm welcome awaits all visitors.

 

 

 

Places to see

Portalegre

The bustling town of Portalegre is one of the largest manufacturers of tapestries in Europe, and there is a modern and fascinating tapestry museum located in the old part of the town. The castle, which dates back to the fourteenth century, has been largely destroyed to accommodate the modern town, though parts can still be seen forming archways over streets or walls of houses. There is also a cathedral which was founded in 1556. Also in Portalegre is the Robinson cork factory and museum.

Distance from Casas Novas: 20 km.

Castelo de Vide

Castelo de Vide was a border defence post for centuries, as its old walled town and ruined castle suggest, and was first fortified by the Romans. The pretty, narrow cobbled streets are good to explore and in the old Jewis h quarter you will come upon an ancient synagogue. The Senhora da Penha Chapel, on the mountain peak opposite the town, is worth a visit. In addition there are many shops, bustling bars and restaurants. There is also the Spa, which is open from 16th March to 15th November

Distance from Casas Novas: 40 km.

Marvão

Marvão sits 1000 metres above the plain, on a mountain top with sheer precipice all around. It is totally walled and its 13th century castle is at the tip of the pinnacle. The far reaching views in every direction are simply spectacular. In the 1960s emigration emptied the town of most its inhabitants. To prevent an international tourist resort company from buying the town outright and destroying it, Portuguese artists and writers started to buy up the old houses themselves. Many of these houses have been carefully restored and the town remains as it has been for centuries. Near Portagem, which lies at the foot of the road leading up to Marvão, is a museum and excavations of the Roman town of Ammaia.

Distance from Casas Novas: 40 km.

Alegrete

The small walled town of Alegrete is on the Southern boarder of the São Mamede Natural Park and is well worth a visit. It is believed to have originated as a fortified hill town of the Iron Age and the many Roman remains that have been found indicate long Roman occupation. Although the castle is in ruins you can still see the medieval attlements, ramparts and tower, and Gothic doorways. The town itself is a network of steep narrow streets.

Distance from Casas Novas: 20 km.

Alter do Chão

Alter de Chão is a charming old town with a castle in the centre dating back to 1359. The town was made the royal stud farm in 1748 and it is possible to visit the stud to see the famous Lusitanian horses that originated there. Occasional dressage displays are held.

Distance from Casas Novas: 40 km.

Monforte

Monforte was a Neolithic hill town that was taken over by the Romans so both Neolithic and Roman remains abound in the area. Nearby are the ruins of a Roman town and of a fourth century Roman/Christian basilica.

In Monforte you can also see fine examples of the Rafeiro Alentejano dog breed. These make excellent guard dogs, and are docile, safe and confident. You will be able to get to know the breed or even buy a dog at the breeding centre set up by Monforte City Council, in partnership with the Association of Breeders of Rafeiro Alentejano Dogs.

Distance from Casas Novas: 10 km.

Elvas

Elvas is an ancient walled town whose approach is dominated by the 16th century aqueduct. The town’s roots that can be traced back to the Celts and Goths. It was under Moorish occupation for 500 years from 714 and repeatedly resisted attacks from Spain (in the 16th and 17th centuries) and from Napoleon’s army in 1808. Wellington used Elvas as his general headquarters during the Peninsular War. The British military cemetery is in one of the castle bastions with views over the battlefields of Badajoz and Albuera. A number of Wellington’s senior officers who were killed in these battles are buried here. It is beautifully tended by The Friends of the British Cemetery, who are mainly British people living in Spain and Portugal. There are many shops in the centre of the walled town selling linens and towels in particular. The famous Elvas plums, which are similar to greengages, also originate here.

Distance from Casas Novas: 40 km.

Evora

Evora is the main city of the Alto Alentejo and was, for a time, the capital of Portugal when Lisbon was occupied by the Moors. In 1986 UNESCO declared Evora a World Heritage site because of its many beautiful and valuable monuments. The town has been important artistically, culturally and politically since the country’s history began and is well worth a visit. Included in sites to see are the Roman Temple, the ancient University, the Old and New Castles, the Cathedral, the Regional Museum and various churches, including the gruesome Chapel of Bones in the São Francisco Church. There are numerous squares in which to sit and good restaurants and shops abound.

Distance from Casas Novas: 85 km.

Vila Viçosa

This pretty town, with streets lined with orange trees, contains the fine Ducal palace of the Dukes of Braganza, who rose to the Portuguese throne in 1640 and stayed until the foundation of the republic in 1910. There is also a very impressive Pousada in the old convent next to the palace, good for dining, and the old castle and Royal hunting grounds.

Distance from Casas Novas: 50 km.

Estremoz

Estremoz is a totally walled town with white buildings surrounding its impressive castle and towers on a very high hill. Many of the older buildings are clad in marble, which is quarried nearby. Visit the Castle and Royal Palace and the Archaeological and Ethnological Museum.

There is a weekly Saturday market in the Rossio, a large square surrounded by 17th century ramparts in the lower part of town.

Distance from Casas Novas: 35 km

Spain

If you want to travel further afield the town of Merida in Spain has wonderful Roman ruins (Theatre, Amphitheatre and bridge over the Guadiana river) and is well worth a visit. Also there is Caceres, Badajoz and even further afield Trujillo from where many of the greatest conquistadors came.

 

 

Things To Do

Swimming in Reservoirs/Lakes

There are numerous reservoirs/dams (Barragems) in the area where one can swim, fish or pursue other water sports. These include the following: Barragem de Apartadura (near Marvão), Barragem de Caia (at Campo Maior/Arronches), Barragem de Maranhão (at Avis), Barragem de Montargil (at Ponte de Sor) and Barragem de Povoa (at Castelo de Vide). Generally you need to take your own equipment, though hire may be possible at Avis and Ponte de Sor. Sometimes late in the summer during very dry seasons, the water level falls substantially and the quality of the water deteriorates. At times like this it may be better to avoid lake bathing.

Public Swimming Pools

There are many public pools in the area, often in the open air. There is a particularly attractive pool at Monte Carvalho. There is a new open air pool at Portagem and a complex at Elvas on the road between Elvas and Estremoz. Pools also exist in Arronches, Avis (next to Club Nautico), Campo Maior, Castelo de Vide, Estremoz, Evora and Vila Vicosa.

Also on the road between Elvas and Estremoz, close to Elvas, is a holiday complex called Elxadai Park, which has a pool with three waterslides.

Walks

There are many walks to be taken in the Serra de São Mamede Natural Park, often on ancient ways that have been paved and may date back to Roman times. The walks are particularly beautiful in the Spring when the wild flowers are very much in evidence. Leaflets giving details of marked circular walks are available from the São Mamede Tourist Office in Portalegre.

Exploring Castles

Virtually all the larger villages and small towns in the region have defensive structures of one sort or another. Whilst a few may date back to Roman times, the majority are Moorish in origin and this applies both on the Portuguese and Spanish side of the border. After the Moors were eventually driven from the area, many of the castles passed into the hands of the Knights Templar and other chivalrous orders and many of the structures were extended. Marvão is a typical example and because of its isolated and impractical position from a commerce point of view, it has remained virtually unaltered for centuries. Other castles in the area worth a mention are Castelo de Vide, Alegrete, Juromenha and Albuquerque (Spain).

A few towns played an important part in the Peninsular War. Prime examples are Elvas and Fort da Graça where the ramparts were substantially reinforced to withstand assault by the cannon of the 1800s.

Ancient Sites

Menhirs, dolmens and other prehistoric remains are scattered thoughout the region, though they can be difficult to find. A tour by jeep can usually be arranged through the tourist office in Castelo de Vide or Elvas. The most notable Roman excavations are the settlement of Ammaia just outside Portagem near Marvão and the Roman stud farm of Herdade da Torre de Palma at Monforte. Of course the most impressive Roman remains are at Merida an hour´s drive from the border into Spain. The aqueduct, theatre, amphitheatre, circus and museums are spectacular.

Trip along the Monforte megalithic route

Dolmens - Anta da Serrinha, Anta Grande da Rabuje, Anta da Quinta de Santo António, Anta de Bósios, Anta da Carrajola and Anta da Gafa.

Trip to the Roman Villa of Torre de Palma, Vaiamonte

The footprint of a luxurious residence and a vast latifundia dating from the 1st to the 6th Century A.D.  http://www.torredepalma.com/

Horse Riding

Valerie Clarke, an English expat who lives near Estremoz, offers dressage and show jumping instruction and excellent rides through wonderful countryside for the experienced and competent rider.

Go-karting

In Portalegre. A big open open racecourse with lots of bends. A big hit with over 12´s. Click here to learn more about go-karting in the Alentejo.

Water Skiing

Sud Euro Ski offers water skiing at the lake at Avis (enquire at the Club Nautico or www.sud-euro-ski.com ) on a turn-up basis at weekends or by appointment at any other time. The equipment appears excellent (at least two Mastercraft ski boats, two slalom courses and several jumps) and the lake is ideal for waterskiing.

Golf

2009, sadly and as a result of insolvency, the Marvão course is closed until further notice. The nearest golf course is in Elvas.