We picked Evora as a stopping point on our travels mainly down to its location. A little over an hour’s drive from Lisbon and pretty much in the centre of the Alentejo region, it seemed the perfect place to use as a base for a trip around this central chunk of Portugal.
A car is a necessity to get around this part of the world. While there are occasional buses between Lisbon and Evora and between the local towns, the timetables seem to have been created with no joined up thinking and day trips on public transport are pretty much impossible. Renting a car from Lisbon was very good value and allowed us the freedom to explore the Alentejo once we had seen the best of Evora.
So what is there to see and do in Evora? Here are just a few of our highlights:
Temple of Diana
Known by this name even though most believe there was no intended link whatsoever to the goddess Diana. It was constructed in the 1st or 2nd century AD and destroyed around 450 AD. It now serves mainly as a historical artefact and a striking backdrop in this attractive city. The temple sits on a 3 metre high stone base and is brightly illuminated at night. Visitors are not allowed to climb on the ruin itself but plenty of photo opportunities exist at any time of the day.
Evora Cathedral (Sé)
Dominating the skyline of the city is this marvellous 13th century building, surely one of Portugal’s finest cathedrals (among many contenders). Two imposing towers dominate the facade of the building, while the interior in renowned for its stunning marble work.
A visit to the cathedral takes in three areas: the interior (no photography allowed), the tranquil cloisters and the roof of the church, where on a fine day it is easy to see for many miles across the vast, featureless plains of the Alentejo. We climbed the stairs to the top on a showery day; the sight of scattered storms across many miles of farmland was a dramatic one.
Another Roman remnant to be found on the north end of town, the aqueduct stretches for a massive 9km. The end closest to the town has been built up with houses and shops between its arches, and as a result looks more impressive from a distance than it does close up.
For the best views in town look out from the park next to the Diana Temple, or better still from the cathedral roof.
Winding Streets of Evora
Evora is a city best explored on foot, and indeed a walk from one end of the city wall to the other will take no more than 30 minutes, even at a gentle pace. The twisted cobbled streets hold many surprises with various examples of quirky architecture from the many centuries of Evora’s history on display.
Cafes and restaurants abound, with plenty of good honest Alentejan produce on offer. The shops that are dotted along Evora’s main streets cater well to the tourist crowds, with plenty local fresh food and wine for sale, along with many items made from local cork.
I really enjoyed our time in Evora and could have taken in its quaint lanes, striking architecture and relaxed feel for another day or two. If it was anywhere else in Europe it would probably be swarming with tour groups. Here in the relative quiet of the Alentejo, you’re more likely to find yourself next to a friendly local in a good restaurant than another visitor.
by Andy Jarosz
More on exploring the Alentejo region in next week’s post. Our new direct flight from London Heathrow to Beja starts on Sunday May 22nd.