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PORTUGAL Fall 2001 (12)
Index of this travelogue

Monsaraz | Redondo vicinity | Elvas | Borba | Vila Vicosa | Redondo

We had visited the Alentejo region in 1997 and thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Evora and the day trip we took to Estremoz. Our stay at that time was limited because we were traveling by bus and train and it is very difficult to easily get to the other towns and villages without a car.

Now, with our own wheels, we left Lisbon via the Ponte 25 de Abril and proceeded to highways A2 and A6 east to the land of cork, olives, wheat, wine, whitewashed villages, open spaces and easy-going lifestyle. This diverse region occupies about thirty percent of Portugal and has its share of historical treasures; Roman temples, Moorish castles, Baroque churches and renaissance palaces. We would be staying in the Redondo area our first two nights and decided to head directly to Monsaraz, south of Redondo, before checking-in at the Hotel Convento de Sao Paulo, Aldeia de Serra-Redondo.


Route 114 took us around Evora to route 256, past Reguengos de Monsaraz, one of the most important wine-producing centers in Portugal, to Monsaraz, one of the two best preserved villages in Portugal (the other being Marvao, where we would be staying after Redondo). This tiny, stone-walled village rises high above the vineyards and cork trees. We followed the stone walkway from the parking lot below through the huge, main gateway through the walls into the captivating sight of a clean, pure white village.

As we walked the main street and glanced down the narrow side streets, we became aware of the superb maintenance of each and every old building. It was a sunny Sunday and a few locals were about and the inviting restaurants were packed with tourists. We noticed that many homes offered lodging.

The long main street leads to the thirteenth century castle, which had been part of the border defenses. It's courtyard is still used for the occasional bullfight. The castle's pentagonal keep offers terrific views of the entire area. This is a picture perfect place.

The drive on route 381 north through Redondo and toward Estremoz past vineyards, lakes, farms, and the ever-present cork and olive trees was a delightful way to wind down the day.
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Redondo vicinity

Convento de Sao Paulo is about ten kilometers north of Redondo on the slopes of the Ossa mountain range. It was built in 1182 by monks who wanted a place where they could pray and find spiritual peace. Being surrounded by vast gardens, 600 hectares of woods and spectacular views sure must have made it easy to accomplish their goals. The monastery was rebuilt in 1400, 1578 and 1796, when it acquired its present shape and style. It was refurbished in 1993 and is now a four-star hotel.

The long corridors and public spaces display over fifty thousand tiles dating from 1640 to 1810, created by some of the most prominent Portuguese masters, the largest collection of its type in Portugal.

The outdoor pool and patio sits in the middle of gardens and woods and adjacent is the exquisite Four Seasons Courtyard (four stone carved heads depicting the seasons) and an amazing Florentine marble fountain. The marvelous ancient cloister is a wonderful spot to enjoy a beverage or take a late night stroll after dinner.

The Monks cells along the wide, tile-lined corridors have been converted into 29 rooms with private bathrooms, individually decorated, cozy and comfortable. All rooms have air conditioning, TV and telephone.

Our room was in a new annex reached by going through the games room. We had a nice size sitting area, bedroom and enormous bathroom, all nicely furnished and equipped.

The original chapel and church is a visual delight of stone, brick, tiles, marble and frescoes. It is used for religious ceremonies, concerts and will soon be a venue for ballet performances.

We enjoyed a Splash in the lounge in front of the fireplace before dinner. The splendid dining room has a marvelous high, frescoed ceiling, stone floors and tiles along the walls - a room full of Portuguese flavor, as is the menu. The kitchen prepared traditional Alentejo cuisine, using produce grown in the monastery's orchards and gardens and livestock raised on the land and the wines come from well-known local vineyards.

After finishing dinner, we immediately made reservations for our second night. And why not with local delights like codfish cakes delicately fried with onions, breaded, fried mushrooms, locally baked raisin bread. Tender lamb chops fried in a corn flakes and egg batter, fresh spinach, fabulous fries, chunks of lamb stewed with rice, herbs, onions and wine, migas (a trilogy of pork, ribs/loin/sausage, with a sauce of bread, garlic, red pepper and olive oil), roast duck in an olive oil sauce and a killing assortment of sweets and fresh fruit. The local wines were wonderful as well the service. Oh yes, if you're fortunate enough to dine here, ask to see (and feel) the strings of the tile with the harp.

It was a good thing I did a hundred laps around the cloister after dinner or I would not have been able to enjoy the homemade breads, cakes and cheeses on the buffet at breakfast.
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Route 373 east from Redondo took us to Elvas, about ten kilometers from the Spanish border crossing. The newer part of town feels like a border town with businesses aimed at the day-tripping shoppers. The narrow streets brought us to Praca da Republica, which is the center of the walled old town. The Nossa Senhora da Assuncao dominates the square. Equally impressive are the mozaic patterns of the square's stone pavement. The steep streets behind the church lead to the castle. There are good views of the old town from the battlements and an opportunity to admire the ingenious design of the fortifications.

We had lunch in a small churrasqueira, Canal 7, just off Praca da Republica. The locals were eating the daily specials of fried fish filets and rice and grilled chicken. If it was good enough for them, it sure was for us. The local olives lived up to their reputation. The fish, chicken and fries were quite good. It was a very reasonably-priced lunch, if you don't mind the rough and ready atmosphere and please don't use the W.C.
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Heading back west, we took picturesque local roads to Borba and its neighbor Vila Vicosa. Borba is an important wine-growing center. As we approached it was easy to see why. Hectares of vineyards were spread out in every direction in what seemed to be never-ending rows. As impressed as we were with the zillions of bunches of grapes crowding the road, we became more intrigued with the quantity and depth of marble quarries. It's no wonder there is so much marble used throughout the country. There were as many trucks being loaded with marble as there were with grapes.
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Vila Vicosa

The marble quarries and production continued to Vila Vicosa, where marble has long been the mainstay of the local economy. It's no wonder many of the homes in this renowned village are of glistening white marble. Fame came in the 15th century when the Palace of Vila Vicosa became the favorite residence of the Dukes of Braganca. The Paco Ducal runs along one side of the very wide Terreiro do Paco. The long facade dramatically dominates the square. At one end is the Pousada de D. Joao IV set in the former Convent of Chagas de Cristo. A statue of King Joao IV on horseback sits proudly in the center of the square. Nearby on high is the castle, which was the Braganca's residence prior to the palace. We strolled the lovely green grounds around the outside admiring the design, stonework, the ancient drawbridge and moat. The palace has many fabulous rooms, furnishings and art treasures and in the castle there is an exhibition explaining the history of the hunt.
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We had driven through Redondo several times coming and going and had saved it for our last visit in the area. Like Borba and Reguengos, it is a center of wine production and is famous for its traditional red clay pottery with primitive floral designs and scenes depicting agricultural life. We were intrigued enough to stop at Jeremias, rua Manuel da Fonseca to visit this typical family operation. After a tour of the process from wheel to painting and firing, we picked out three plates. We'd have bought a ton of them, they were so lovely, but they were quite bulky and very heavy so we were forced to exercise restraint.

The whitewashed village has a pleasant, open main square with a proud town hall. On this day the center as in all the villages was dominated by the senior men seemingly enjoying their retirement. The ruins of the castle and medieval wall sit above the streets of white houses.

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to next pageContinue traveling along with us or choose a link from below

(1) Porto
(2) Porto
(3) Minho
Viana do Castelo, Ponte de Lima, Ponte de Barca,
Soajo and Arcos de Valdevez
(4) Minho
Vila Praia de Ancora, Moledo, Camarido, Caminha,
Vila Nova de Cerveira, Valenca, Moncao, Melgaco
(5) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Regua, Sabrosa, Pedras Salgadas and Vidago
(6) Douro and Tras-os-Montes
Pinhao, Mirandela and Braganca
(7) Douro
(8) Douro and Beiras
Lamego, Britiande, Mealhada and Coimbra
(9) Lisbon
(10) Lisbon
(11) Lisbon and Coast
Cascais, Estoril and Sintra
(12) Alentejo
Monsaraz, Redondo, Elvas, Borba and Vila Vicosa
(13) Alentejo and Beiras
Marvao, Castelo de Vide and Belmonte
(14) Porto

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