Let’s visit Estremoz, one of the 3 marble cities in Alentejo. We drove about 51 minutes from L’and Vineyard Resort, Montemor-O-Novo via the A6 and E802 roads, before parking at the Rossio carpark, Estremoz. A word of caution: The Rossio carpark is available except on Saturday market days. There is so much to do in Alentejo thanks to the power of the Internet.
On first impression, I felt that Estremoz had wished to showcase to the world its marble producing credentials by its extensive use of marble from buildings and houses to commonplaces such as streets and squares. Why not? If you have it, then flaunt it! Estremoz is a magnificent city with a Moorish feel to it. As I stroll along Estremoz’s streets, I can’t help but rest my gaze contentedly on the white to creamish coloured buidings with red tiled roofs and ornate wrought iron balconies, trees devoid of leaves, fountains, arty cobbled streets and the wild orange trees dotted about town. I was also attracted to a little old blue Renault 4 car parked on the roadside.
I did not attempt to pick any wild oranges this time. For a dose of humour at my expense, do read my blog on my journey from Porto to Alentejo (Alentejo-Journey to A Road Less Travelled) to understand my lessons learnt on wild oranges of Portugal.
My first foodie stop at Estremoz was for egg tarts (Portuguese: Pastel de nata) and an almond cake-like cookie (Portuguese: Queijinhos de Amêndoa) at Pastelaria Formosa. The Pasteis de Belem egg tarts were more delicious that these ones at Pastelaria Formosa. The egg custard was a little dry and a tad too sweet for my palate. It was my first time eating Queijinhos de Amêndoa therefore I could not comment if this cookie was truly the best in the land. Pastel de nata is a must eat when you are on vacation in Portugal. The Pastelaria Formosa is a little cafe that is ideal for breakfast, teatime or if you are peckish for some snacks.
At lunchtime, we ate at the Gadanha Mercearia restaurant in Estremoz. In Portuguese, Mercearia carried the meaning of a grocer. I was very impressed by this restaurant. Gadanha Mercearia had the feel of an amalgamation of the Carlucios restaurant and a mini version of Fortnum and Masons in the UK. Gadanha Mercearia produces its own homemade chocolates and stocks a fine collection of local Alentejo produce of olive oil, tinned seafood, jars of pickles, pasta, ham and cheeses. I could see legs of presunto de porco preto hanging from the ceiling with a white paper cone strategically positioned underneath it to catch any of its fat drippings.
We were seated by the friendly waitress at our table. I remembered admiring a heart shaped picture made from used corks and a wreath of inter-twinned twigs made with love hanging on the wall. With my rusty Portuguese, I could also decipher and piece out a Portuguese recipe of how to make a butter cake written beautifully with chalk on the black-coloured feature wall near the kitchen. We had some Alentejo olives and freshly made bread dipped in Alentejo olive oils for starters. For mains, we had the lombinho de porco preto (Grilled Iberian pork loin with mashed potatoes and apple puree) artistically decorated to form a rooster shape on the plate, roasted Alentejo lamp chops, rabbit pie and steak. We had our cafe latte with some petit fours. Our meal was made with love and was utterly delectable. We were so impressed by our dessert that we bought Gadanha Merceria’s chocolates as souvenirs. When we returned home, the chocolates still tasted absolutely divine and it served its purpose as a great momento of our escape to the enchanting Estremoz.
After lunch, we drove southwards through the other marble cities of Villa Vicosa and Borba and past various wineries, corktree woodlands and olive tree groves to the pottery town of Sao Pedro do Corval. I have had the pleasure of a few pottery lessons before and I will always try to include a visit to the local potter wherever possible in my travel itineraries. So far, I had managed to make a cup using a potter’s wheel and various creative hand moulded objects thanks to my ever so patient teacher. Lining the roads were pottery studios interspersed with decorative huge clay jars, at least 5 feet 5 inches tall, used to contain wine in the olden days. We visited a few pottery studios such as Olaria Antonio Janeiro to buy some affordable and beautifully handmade pottery. The good thing about handmade pottery is that each item is uniquely made just for you. Sao Pedro do Corval is a great place to buy souvenirs for your kitchen. Psst! Sao Pedro do Corval is the place to fill the nook and crannies of your luggage with arty but functional souvenirs. The potteries of Sao Pedro do Corval are cheaper than the touristy shops in Evora and Belem. If you are really lucky, you can even catch a local potter at work. There were colourful serving dishes, mugs, espresso cups, salad bowls and round and pear-shaped decorative wall plates for sale at very attractive prices. The only difficulty I had was to stop myself from buying more that I could safely carry for my flight journey home. Each morning when we drink our filtered coffee from the Sao Pedro do Corval mugs, we were reminded of our great Alentejo experience.
What’s your greatest travel souvenir? Do let me know.
Finally, we visited the nearby Monsaraz, a charming village perched atop a hill with a walled majestic castle ruins, whitewashed stone wall cottages with a medieval village feel. Monsaraz is located near the borders of Portugal and Spain. Walk through ancient archways and on its famed narrow and slightly steep cobbled streets.
I heard that Sabores De Monsaraz is an excellent authentic Portuguese restaurant to visit. Have you been there? It’s just too bad that I had already had lunch at Gadanha Merceria. It would be great to eat at Sabores De Monsaraz next time.
It was raining quite heavily during our visit but we still braved climbing the slippery stone steps up to the top of the castle just to catch fantastic views over the rooftops of Monsaraz cottages, the Alqueva dam and the Alentejo plains and beyond. I saw bull pens with an amphitheatre style seating area at Monsaraz Castle. If you are at Monsaraz at Easter or in September, don’t miss out on the bull fighting festival of Monsaraz.
The town of Alqueva is the first starlight destination in the world and Alqueva attracts astronomers and romantic stargazers yearly. See Dark Sky Alqueva website for further details. There is also the Xerez cromlech megalith monuments in Monsaraz should you be interested in ancient relics. The rain and foggy weather added a real sense of mystique to our Monsaraz trip. I had missed out on the glorious bougainvillea in bloom in the summer but March in Monsaraz is still pretty awesome. Monsaraz is indeed a grand finale to our memorable Alentejo vacation. I felt quite chuffed for managing to cover 3 beautiful Alentejo towns in one day.
I hope that my Alentejo travel blogs will inspire you to create your own little memories of this lesser known corner of the earth. The Alentejo region is truly a hidden gem. It’s a little remote but you will be able to escape from all the cares of the world and discover an authentic Portuguese experience. Travelling is indeed a window to the world. Greetings from Monsaraz and the greater region of Alentejo with love. Tchau!
- Pastelaria Formosa
Signature dish: egg tarts
Address: Zona Industrial Lt 103, Estremoz, Évora, 7100, Portugal
- Gadanha Mercearia
Signature dish: porco preto, lamp chops
Address:Largo Dragões de Olivença 84, 7100-457 Estremoz, Portugal
- Saborez de Monsaraz
Signature dish: bacalhau, porco preto, roast lamb and slow-roasted beef cheeks
Address:Largo de Sao Bartolomeu, Monsaraz 7200-175, Portugal
- Olarias of Sao Pedro Corval
Address:Rua Primavera, Sao Pedro do Corval, Portugal
- Monsaraz Castle and Walls
Address:Largo do Castelo, Monsaraz 7200-175, Portugal