Hi, my name is George and I’m a third year Spanish and Portuguese student at Hertford College. I am currently on my year abroad in Portugal studying at the University of Lisbon. During my time in Portugal, I would like to share with you some of my experiences travelling around the country, offering insight into Portuguese culture and history along the way.
I do not intend to create a travel guide as such, but rather to offer insight into a day in a different Portuguese city every week. I believe that much of Portugal is under-explored and would like to inspire others to visit places that perhaps do not instantly come to mind when planning a trip to Portugal. Portugal is a very beautiful and diverse country and I hope that you enjoy my articles.
Many thanks for reading!
Évora – a hidden gem in the heart of the Alentejo region
As a third-year Portuguese student, two weeks ago I began my year abroad in Lisbon. Having spent a large proportion of my time exploring the city and walking through the streets that the Lisboetas call home, I noticed that many shops and bakeries are named after the Alentejo. In terms of area, the Alentejo is Portugal’s largest region and spans the area of land between the central region, Lisbon and the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region. One of the most impressive buildings that I have visited in Lisbon so far is called the Casa do Alentejo (Alentejo house), an Alentejan cultural centre, located in the city centre, just a stone’s throw from Praça do Rossio.
Before visiting Évora, in the heart of the Alentejo region, I knew next to nothing about it. I’d done some research, heard there were several Roman constructions in the city and read about some of the famous Alentejan cuisine. It sounded great, so I proceeded to book a day trip. Only one hour and twenty minutes from Lisbon, with trains to Évora passing through the Oriente and Entrecampos train stations, taking the train is an easy and relatively inexpensive way to travel to Évora.
After a pleasant train journey through the Alentejan countryside, I arrived in Évora. The city was charming, with every building painted white with yellow details. Little cobbled streets lead from the edge of the town, bending and twisting before taking you to Évora’s main square, the Praça de Giraldo. Upon arriving, I took a seat at one of the café’s esplanadas (outdoor seating area) and had a bica (the name for a Portuguese espresso) before watching the world go by.
Évora feels like a large town, however the occasional tractor and three-wheeled truck remind me that we are in Alentejo, a mainly agricultural region famous for its olive groves and cuisine. I then wandered through the picturesque streets, admiring and at times dodging the bougainvillea and the trees that were weighed down with ripe oranges the size of small footballs.
Slightly lost, but also enjoying walking aimlessly, I came across Évora’s aqueduct, a historically important source of water for Évora, where temperatures soar in the summer months. Following the aqueduct, I arrived at another square, this one with the remains of a Roman temple in the centre, a temple that was built in the first century CE. Next to the temple, there was a café overlooking the viewing platform of the countryside, where I had some lunch, a tosta mista, or a ham and cheese toastie in English, something that’s available in almost all cafés and bakeries.
Évora’s cathedral is an impressive building with a staircase that takes you up to the roof for panoramic views of the city. As the city was stretching out before me, the sun was shining on the white and yellow buildings and the orange tiled roofs. I then walked to the Church of São Francisco, a church famous for its ossuary, a chapel made of human bones, which I didn’t know before entering. This certainly isn’t for the fainthearted, but interesting nevertheless.
It was now dinnertime. I headed to the Café Alentejo to sample a local speciality, Bochechas de porco, or Pork cheek in English. The Café Alentejo, like the other buildings in the city, was painted white with yellow details and had a rustic yet sophisticated charm in the interior, serving up some of the Alentejo’s most famous cuisine. Cooked in a tangy yet sweet shallot and white wine sauce, served with sautéed potatoes and a fresh salad, the pork cheeks were plentiful and tender. I thoroughly enjoyed my meal, all topped off with a Mango Iced Tea (yes, Mango!).
Feeling refreshed and ready to continue exploring, I went to the Jardim Público, a wonderful park in Évora boasting a wide range of trees that provided some much-needed shade on a sweltering afternoon. I sat at the café by the bandstand, drank coffee under the shade of a palm tree and continued reading Clarice Lispector’s A Hora da Estrela (I would certainly recommend). It was a serene and beautiful environment; a lovely way to spend an afternoon. Before I knew it, it was time to take the train back to Lisbon.
Évora is a wonderful place to visit. It is an authentic, working city with architecture that is both beautiful and historic and I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in Lisbon. Located in the centre of Portugal, Lisbon is a perfect destination for exploring the rest of Portugal. As the capital city, it is well connected by buses and trains to the rest of the mainland. I feel that I have just scratched the surface of the Alentejo region. My next trip there will be to Elvas, hopefully in November.
All photos from the author’s collection