While in the Alentejo, Portugal, I decided to see more than just Evora, so hopped on a bus and went the 46 kilometres north-east to Estremoz. I was amazed by the light there – we arrived in the afternoon – and the square had the kind of pure, clear light I associate with a few of the Greek islands in the Cyclades, Delos, Mykonos, Ios and Santorini in particular. I had thought that it only had that quality on these islands so was very pleasantly surprised to experience it in the mountains of the Alentejo.
Estremoz is one of the largest of the “marble towns” and the buildings, streets and fountains reflect this fact. The main square with its arched buildings was sleepy when we first got there, but it came alive in the evenings and on Saturdays when the market takes place. You can buy the traditional earthenware pots which have been made in the area since the 16th century. There is also fresh produce and extra virgin olive oil and real honey, which is a delight!
I was in love with Estremoz! I liked everything there! We walked up to the old Kings’ residence which, from the outside, looked like a prison, but when you ventured inside the old furniture and furnishings transported you back to a more ancient time. There was a pleasant courtyard with citrus trees and flowers in bloom even though it was almost February.
There is a museum to see and various churches which have survived the ravages of time and earthquakes. At the start of May there is a 5 day festival or feira the Feira Internacional de Agricultura e Pecuaria, which combines a cattle market, concerts and arts and crafts such as ceramics and earthenware (more elaborate than that sold in the Saturday market).
I think it was in Estremoz that I sampled the local firewater “aquadente” but as you can imagine I preferred to stick to the wine. I do love the crisp white vinho verdes which we seem not to get in the UK. The Portuguese keep the good wines for themselves and send us their least favourites, I’m sure, like the Italians and their cheeses.
I stayed in a Residencial (a cheap hotel) in Estremaoz which had thick oak doors and heavy old metal keys to open them. The room was huge, but cold, although there was plenty of bedding so once in bed, it wasn’t cold at all. It was rather like a room you would imagine not to have been out of place in a mediaeval castle.
The cheeses in the Alentejo are wonderful and those made around Estremoz were no exception. If you visit Portugal you should try these!
I wonder if you understand what I mean by pure, clear light? If you have experienced this anywhere in the world, please can you leave a comment and let me know where you were?