Monsaraz sits high atop a bluff overlooking the River Guagiana, Alqueva Lakes and the Spanish border. It is shielded by the original walls of the castle which were fortified in 1167 by Geraldo Sem-Pavor (Gerald the fearless) and is a beautiful, largely untouched and unknown slice of historical preservation.
The town has suffered several times throughout history, not least at the hands of the Spanish who sought to control the borderlands as part of their plan to capture Portugal. In 1381 the castle and town were ‘sacked’ by the Earl of Cambridge who is said to have been furious after his marriage to Dom Fernando I’s daughter was annulled.
The views from the walls are staggering and you can almost see across the entire grape growing heart of Alentejo. Evoro si visible clearly as is Mourão and the newly dammed river.
The centre of the town consists of a few narrow, cobbled streets which are filled with gift shops, restaurants, cafes and bars. There is also a lovely church (I wasn’t allowed to take pictures), an internet centre and a handful of galleries and museums.
The castle lies at the southern end of Monsaraz and its imposing keep serves as a reminder of times when Spain and Portugal were at war, not only with each other but also the Moors.
The slate roofs of Monsaraz sparkle in the sun and down every street there is something spectacular to see; whether it be the castle or glimpses of the surrounding countryside through the gaps between houses.
The castle is still used for different events. We saw a group running an abseiling day (and canoeing at the Nautical Centre) but in the Autumn it is used as a temporary bullring where fledgling Matadors can test their skills against young bulls. It’s plain wrong.
Monsaraz, Alentejo, is a magical place made more-so by the friendly locals and wonderful location. Miss it at your peril.
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