26 October 2019
Leaving the fascinating market of Estremoz behind, we climbed into the hills of the Serra de São Mamede, a natural park where the forests were showing their autumn colours – evergreen oaks interspersed with silver-barked aspens whose yellow-gold leaves were startlingly bright in the afternoon sun. In the distance we caught a glimpse of Marvão castle perched on its huge rocky outcrop, the highest land in Alto Alentejo.
We climbed the winding road to the old Aire set below the walls where daytime parking is allowed, conscious that the police have started to fine €200 for overnight parking despite no signs forbidding it. It’s a lovely spot, a ledge on the hillside with between an attractive convent and a rocky outcrop with great views and, rather disconcertingly, a lean-to behind a large boulder where an old man appears to live.
Marvão is a stand-out in an area of pretty and dramatic hill-top fortresses, really lovely. Fortified by the Moors in the 8th century and named after a Moorish ruler, its steep, narrow cobbled streets twist and turn up to the castle between pretty buildings.
Its small museum in an old church has an eclectic mix of stuff from megalithic remains to a wall of azulejo, the famous Portuguese tiles.
But it’s the castle that is really impressive. From the huge cistern that can hold enough water for the whole village and echoes marvellously, to the encircling walls and the highest point on the keep tower with amazing, no stunning, views of the town, Alentejo & Spain all made better by sparkling autumn sunlight.
Back in the town we wandered up and down the enchanting streets and along the walls. It made us want to stay and experience the town at night.
We walked down to the GNR station (national police) and got the ok from a local cop to stay overnight. This allowed us to enjoy a drink looking out over the rooftops at a bar -with a parrot for company – which we really enjoyed, and a meal at a restaurant that felt very touristy and overpriced with very average food which wasn’t so great. Can’t win ’em all. Still it was nice to dander back down through silent streets to the dark of the aire where the blackness of the sky allowed us to make out the milky way. And there was no ticket on the van. A great way to end the day.