PORTUGAL SEPTEMBER 2021
After a year of UK only activities we head to Lisbon. The flights are the remnants of a many-times-delayed trip to Sao Tome and Principe which we still hope to take. After uploading many tests and certificates, getting on the plane is easy enough, as is entering Portugal, where a cursory glance at a double-jab barcode is enough to satisfy immigration. Face masks are needed in the plane, the airport and the hotels, plus check-in at the hotel requires double-jab paperwork. Other than that, it’s business as usual. Arriving at midnight, we check in to the TRYP Lisboa Aeroporto Hotel and in the morning pick up our car before driving a shortish 1.5 hours to Evora, emphasis on the E not the O. It’s a pleasant enough rural landscape, and the electricity company has thoughtfully put platforms on the pylons to enable storks to nest.
Evora is east towards the Spanish border, and it is a reasonably twee walled city with the remnants of a tiny Roman building on the hill (six or eight pillars – nothing special). For this part of the world, it’s the usual mix of Turk, Moor, Roman and modern Catholic influences. The Hotel M’AR De Ar Muralhas is nestled against the old walls, and the swimming pool is pleasant when not populated by screaming kids. Half the staff are off with Covid so it’s a relatively down-home experience, offset by walking ten minutes into the centre of town for dinner at Piparosa. The wine in this Alentejo region is excellent.
The next we are off to Castello de Vide, higher up in the hills and right up against the Spanish border. Here we stay at the brilliant Convento Senhorada Vitoria, which is indeed a converted convent in an idyllic field of fig trees, olives and knackered old dry-stone walls. Our balcony on the top floor offers lovely views across the valley.
A 15-minute walk brings you to the centre of town high on the hill. It’s the classic mix of fort, church, cobbled streets, some random art, a few old men talking rubbish, and the odd artisanal shop. Lovely.
The road trip in reverse is just as pleasant and we stop off again in Evora, this time at the sister hotel, the M’AR de AR Aqueduto, which is indeed tucked in under the old Roman aqueduct that runs into the city from this direction. This is a posher affair than its sister hotel, and it’s a very pleasant day by the pool.
The next stop is Monsaraz to the east, where we check in to the very posh Montimerso Skyscape Country House, overlooking a charming selection of lakes. Our GPS thinks it is somewhere else, but we eventually find it. The lakes were created by a dam project and no construction is allowed on the shores, leading to a beautiful, eerie silence. The yellow scorched grass, punctuated by the occasional tree is reminiscent of a safari landscape. It’s a lovely environment in which to soak up the rays, dip in and out of a plunge pool, and wander around the surrounding natural landscape.
After a day or two we visit Monsaraz, an idyllic village high on top of a commanding hill, with a castle on top and a few tight, cobbled streets. Then the thunderstorms roll in, hammering down dramatically.
Montimerso is a great place but after 4 nights it’s time to move on, and we drive back to Lisbon just in time for it to be engulfed in a torrential downpour. It’s fun to watch this develop from afar as we cross the impressive bridge over the huge Tagus River estuary. It has gone in an hour or two, allowing us to check in to the impressive Torel Palace Hotel, some converted manor houses high on the hill overlooking the Baixa area. It’s really nice up here, with excellent views. Dossing by the pool is punctuated by dinners at different restaurants. Gambrinus in the Baixa is traditional Portuguese, and one of the waiters spends most of the evening outlining the history of the country in infinitesimal detail. Paparrucha on the opposite hill offers Argentinian cuisine – steaks and kebabs go down particularly well. In this part of town the hills are so steep you can easily spend 25 minutes trudging uphill, whereas a cab can get you there in 5 minutes for less than 5 Euros.
All in all, an overdue trip and a welcome antidote to lockdown isolation. If you have time, it’s well worth exploring further afield than just Lisbon.