Monsaraz in the Alentejo region of Portugal is blessed with an abundance of attractions ranging from views of the surrounding countryside, the River Guadiana, Alqueva Lakes, the Parochial church of Nossa Senhora de Lagoa and the incredibly well preserved castle.
As you approach from any direction the castle at Monsaraz stands out above all else; the highest point in the vicinity and a great spectacle that evokes feelings of times long gone.
It was captured in 1167 by Geraldo Sem Pavor who set about the task of improving the town’s defences. To complete the task he ringed the town with thick walls and defence towers, the tallest of which still stands – Torre de Menagem.
Today Monsaraz is a major pull for visitors to the Alentejo region; the views from the walls cast across much of the wine growing region, beyond the border with Spain and nearby Mourão and Evoro.
On the day we arrived the castle keep was being used as an abseiling wall by a local adventure group but during the autumn it has another purpose – a trainee bullring.
Between September and November young matadors pit their wits and guts against young bulls; the latter increasing in age and weight as the matadors progress. As if the castle hasn’t seen enough bloodshed down the centuries it is still subject to a completely unnecessary form of ‘sport’.
Outside bull fighting season you can wander the walls and courtyard of the castle, take in the views and try to summon the nostalgia of medieval Portugal as it was fought over by Christians, Spanish Conquistadors, Muslims and the Portuguese. You can also get some more history at the local information centre.
Although a small town, Monsaraz is worth the visit for the castle alone. Everything else is a huge bonus.
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