Tag: portugal

5 Reasons to Add Evora to Your Portugal Itinerary

Roman temple of Evora

Evora is a quiet Portuguese town of approximately 56,500 residents. Located about 1.5 hours east of Lisbon, this little municipality could easily be dismissed as a “nothing to see here” kind of place. But we were pleasantly surprised by how much it actually offered. Here are just a few reasons why you should add Evora to your itinerary if you’re visiting Portugal:

1. Experience a Slower Pace

Lisbon is like any bustling city, with a go-go-go sort of frenetic energy. Once we left the big city and entered the medieval city walls of Evora, though, life’s pace slowed down considerably. There’s no reason to rush here, and you can feel it in the air.

evora town square at night

We wanted to book a day trip outside of Evora, so we spoke to our hotel front desk clerk to set something up. He said he had a friend he could call who took people on tours. We could do anything we wanted on the tour, we just had to ask. Want to go biking? Want to see the vineyards? Were we foodies, or more into history? Things were very flexible, including when we wanted to go. We decided we wanted to get a relatively early start, so we asked if we could go at 9:00 AM. The clerk said he would call his friend and let us know the plan.

When we returned to the hotel a few hours later, the clerk called us over. “My friend will come in the morning. Probably for 9. But maybe for 9:15. Maybe a bit later than that. You know,” he laughed and waved his hand casually, “you’re on Portugal Time now.”

Our guide was actually on time the next morning though, arriving at 9:05. We chatted back and forth as he drove. He was a sometimes-professor at a local university. Sometimes he was a photographer, some days he was a tour guide. We got the impression that he was a bit of a drifter, just picking up odd jobs when money got low. It was a very different lifestyle than the one we’re used to in North America.

When we reached our destination, the Almendres Cromlech megaliths, he told us we could take our time. We could hang out, we could leave whenever, he was good either way. We’d never met anyone so Zen before, it was almost disconcerting.

strolling near almendres cromlech

There are several reasons for this laid back attitude. Finding work can be hard in Portugal, so people have learned to go with the flow, go where the work is, and to take it easy in between. When the economy got really bad, our guide explained, people would just eat the fruit off the trees.

The Mediterranean climate also feeds into this more relaxed approach to life. When my husband asked about the growing season, our guide said, “oh, we plant in March. Or April. Sometimes May. Or June…” There’s no rush to get crops in, because they have a bigger window of favourable weather than we do.

It’s something you have to get used to, but there’s something to be said for this “unclench and chill” approach to life. The day after our tour, we saw our guide again. He was riding his bike through Evora, waving to everyone he knew, which seemed to be everyone in town, including us. And we found ourselves envying his low-key lifestyle, just a little bit.

2. Museums and Churches

For being a smallish town, Evora packs in some pretty impressive churches, cathedrals and museums. We only had time to visit a few. The most unusual church here is the Capela dos Ossos, or Chapel of Bones, which I posted about before. It can be found within the São Francisco church. You can read about it in more depth here.

Skeletons at Chapel of Bones evora

The Cathedral of Evora is no slouch either. It was built between 1280 and 1340, though the main chapel was rebuilt between 1718 and 1746. The exterior is rose granite. (I won’t get into the details as I plan to do a more extensive post on the churches and cathedrals at a later time).

cathedral of evora

Also worth a visit is the Igreja Sao Joao Evangelista, which features walls decorated with Portuguese tiles. You can gain entry with a combined ticket to the Palacio Cadaval, which is next door. (And yes, that is the shadow of Roman columns against the entrance of the church…but we’ll get to that in a minute!)

Igreja Sao Joao Evangelista entrance

Along with several furnished rooms, the Palace also houses interesting exhibits. This chair, for example, is a work by Gonçalo Mabunda. He’s an artist from Mozambique who creates art from weapons of war. Look closely: those are shell and bullet casings:

chair by Gonçalo Mabunda evora

The Cadaval’s Palace was built in the 14th Century on the ruins of a Moorish castle. It’s easy to find, as it’s right in front of the Roman Temple of Evora ruins. Once you get to the roof of the palace you get some pretty cool views of the temple:

roman temple of evora

Which brings me to the next reason to visit Evora:

3. Archaeology

If you love old ruins and buildings, this is the place for you. There are a handful of sites right in the heart of town, such as the Roman Temple of Evora, as I just mentioned above. The temple was probably built around the First Century AD, and is often associated with the goddess Diana. However, there’s no evidence that it was actually dedicated to her. It may have actually been dedicated to Jupiter.

roman temple of evora

The temple was destroyed by invading Germanic forces in the 5th Century. Some stones were later used in other building projects. Around the 14th Century the ruins were incorporated into a tower in the castle’s stronghold, and the spaces between the columns were enclosed. The temple later found use as a butcher shop, and it was used as such until 1836. Oddly enough, the constant re-use of the temple was what kept the remains intact.

There’s also the Aqua de Prata Aqueduct, which runs straight through the walled historic center of town. Built in the 1500s, it’s not exactly ancient, but it does give the town that medieval feel. Many shops and restaurants have taken advantage of the arched openings and are built right into the arches. There’s also a nice nature walk along the aqueduct that you can follow to the outskirts of town.

Agua de Prata Aqueduct portugal evora

Just a short drive out of town gets you to the Almendres Cromlech, a large series of standing stones, many with engravings which are still visible. It’s one of the largest groups of standing stones in Europe, and dates back to the 6th millennium BC!

megalith stones at Almendres

4. The Food

Portuguese food is really good. The fish is fresh, the fruits and vegetables are flavourful, and their pastries are heavenly (provided you don’t have an egg allergy. They use a lot of eggs.) And the food in Evora was no exception.

Before visiting the Capela dos Ossos, we decided to stop for a quick snack. We stopped at a little waffle cafe called Uafas. I indulged my sweet tooth with this chocolate ice cream-topped beauty:

waffle with chocolate ice cream evora

Later that night, we were walking up and down the streets trying to decide what we wanted for supper. We didn’t want anything too fancy, so we found a small family-owned restaurant with casual fare. The owner didn’t speak much English, but he went out of his way to make us feel at home. He gestured around to show us the size of a charcuterie plate we could share, and pointed out a few suggestions on the menu. I was craving meat, so I ordered a hamburger. Interestingly, it had corn and shredded carrots on it, which were unexpected additions but surprisingly not terrible. Mark went a little more exotic with an octopus salad.

octopus salad in evora

If you look closely, you’ll see some interesting flavour combinations. Yes, those are peach slices on the tomatoes, and strawberries on the cucumber slices!

And did I mention the pastries in Evora? When I ordered a chocolate croissant in a coffee bar the next morning, I was expecting a dry croissant with that little hard chunk of chocolate buried way deep in the center. But this was sinfully packed with so much warm, smooth chocolate that I ended up with a lot of it all over my face and hands. I looked like a toddler who’d just tried to feed itself for the first time.

chocolate croissant in evora

And going back to point number 1, that easy-going attitude you get here…well the locals spotted us as tourists right away. When we ordered coffee at this cafe, it took maybe 10-15 minutes for them to bring it out to us on their back patio. And wow, were they apologetic. We were surprised at first, because we didn’t think we had waited that long. But, spotting us as outsiders, they knew we were probably used to faster service. It made me a little sad, thinking that previous tourists had given them grief about their speed. Especially considering what the coffee looked like when it arrived…it would have been worth waiting a half hour for! Look, they even came with little meringue cookies!

layered coffee in evora

5. Free Wine

Did someone say free wine? Yes, you can get that here in Evora. The Alentejo Wine Route Tasting Room is in the heart of historic Evora, and, at least when we visited in November 2015, wine tastings were offered for free. (I believe they still are, but if anyone has updated info, please let me know!)

I loved their wine dispenser. Each bottle had a description in front of it so you could read a little about the wines before choosing what you wanted to try:

alentejo wine tasting room evora

The tastings are used to advertise Alentejo wineries and their products. You can also purchase wines here or inquire about winery tours. The room also acts as an interactive exhibit.

alentejo wine tasting room evora

There are numerous display signs describing the varieties of grapes that grow in the region.

Alentejo wine tasting room interpretive sign arinto

The signs also have little fragrance stations so you can sniff the different elements in each grape variety.

alentejo wine tasting room evora fragrance samples

There are plenty of wine bars in Evora where you can order and taste the local wines. But if you’re brand new to Portuguese wines and don’t know where to start, then the Alentejo wine tasting room is a great place to begin your journey.

For a small town, there’s a lot to see and do in Evora, including day trips. It’s worth staying 2-3 nights to take in everything at a relaxed, locals pace.

You can now download this article at GPYMYCITY here: 5 Reasons to Add Evora to Your Portugal Itinerary

Spice Tour in Zanzibar

Tumeric field zanzibar

Do you know where black pepper comes from? Or what a vanilla plant looks like? How about nutmeg? We were lucky enough to take a tour of a spice plantation in Zanzibar, which answered a lot of these questions for us.

Zanzibar’s spice history goes back about 2000 years ago, when the Persian Zenj sultanate was established in 975 AD. The Zenj traded ivory, gold, spices and slaves with the Chinese merchants who sailed through India and Persia, bringing garlic and lemongrass to the island. As trade increased, Zanzibar received cinnamon and cardamom from Asia, while the Portuguese brought cacao and chilli from South America.

The plantation we visited was just a short drive outside of Stone Town. Below are vanilla beans before they are processed. Vanilla is part of the orchid family, if you can believe it!

Vanilla beans

One of the most common spices, of course, is pepper or peppercorns. Pepper grows as a flowering vine. So what’s the difference between black pepper, green pepper and white pepper? They all come from the same plant. Black pepper is the cooked and dried unripe fruit, while green pepper is the uncooked dried unripe fruit, and white pepper comes from the ripe fruit.

pepper plant pepper seeds

This is fresh turmeric. Isn’t the colour gorgeous? Turmeric is a member of the ginger family native to southwest India. It was once used as a dye, as well as for medicinal purposes.

TumericTumeric field

Speaking of dyes, this is how annatto grows, from a tree called anchiote:

anchiote tree

A close-up of the strange, fuzzy, heart-shaped seed pods:

Annatto seed

Annatto is used as a food colouring as well as in cosmetics. We were given the opportunity to try it ourselves straight from the source:

Annatto lipstick

annatto lipstick











I’m sure you’ve seen whole nutmeg seeds in grocery stores before. But have you ever seen the actual fruit the seeds come from?

Nutmeg seedThe shiny red coating around the nutmeg seed is where mace comes from!

After the main part of our spice plantation tour, we were treated to a lovely tea break.

tea break on spice tour

It included teas made of ingredients like lemongrass and ginger, before getting some slices of fresh fruit such as pineapple, papaya, starfruit and passionfruit, just to name a few:

passionfruit on spice tour

Afterward, we were treated to fresh coconut juice straight from the tree. Our guide climbed the tree all the way to the top, barefoot, to get the best coconuts for us. He made fast work of that knife too!

fresh coconut juice

opening the coconut














At the end of the tour we had the opportunity to purchase some of the amazing spices grown here. It was worth it for the labels alone!

Piripiri chilis from Zanzibar

My personal favourite:

nutmeg spice label

The Almendres Cromlech Megalith

megalith stones at Almendres

During our few days in Evora, Portugal, we wanted to take a side trip to see the Almendres Cromlech megalith. The standing stones weren’t accessible by public transit and we didn’t want to rent a car if we didn’t have to. Luckily, our hotel owner was extremely helpful in hooking us up with a friend of his who could give us a private, guided tour out to the standing stones.

The Almendres Cromlech megalith is about a half-hour drive west of Evora. The stones are estimated to be around 2000-3000 years older than Stonehenge, which is thought to have been constructed between 3000 BC and 2000 BC. The Almendres Cromlech is made of two distinct circles, and the smaller ring to the east was constructed around 6000 BC during the Neolithic period.

A few things about this site really stood out for us: the location itself, nestled amongst a cork tree forest, the fact that there was no admission fee or even fences around the site, and the amazing realization that except for one lone fellow riding through the area on his bicycle, we were the only three people there.

Almendres megalith

The site consists of 95 granite standing stones forming two rings, the smaller round ring being the oldest. The larger ring is oval and was built later, around 5000 BC. Over all, the site measures around 70 meters by 40 meters. Originally it began as a horseshoe shape opening to the east, but was modified over time.

Amazingly, it seems the site was in almost continual use until 3000 BC. As with Stonehenge, Almendres seems to have been built as a ceremonial calendar of sorts dedicated to a celestial religion. There are other megaliths in the area, but this one is considered to be one of the oldest and largest in Europe. It’s also believed to be one of the first public monuments ever created by humans.

Almendres stone

There is evidence that around 3000 BC some of the stones were moved to align with the celestial bodies such as the sun, moon and some stars. In fact, there is a lone megalith approximately 1km away called the Menhir of Almendres, and if a straight line is drawn from this point to the center of Almendres Cromlech, it point towards the sunrise on the Winter solstice.

Almendres circles

After the site fell out of use, centuries passed and its location was largely forgotten. It was rediscovered in the 1960s by a geologist named Henrique Leonor Pina. The site was excavated and the stones that had toppled over were placed upright once more.

Approximately a dozen stones had carvings on them, however they’re difficult to discern due to erosion. However we were able to photograph a few of the clearer images. This one had circles carved into the face:

Almendres stone with carved circles

These semi-circular carvings almost remind me of an octopus:

semicircular carvings at Almendres

It’s anyone’s guess what these anthropomorphic images were meant to represent, but theories suggest that they could be the first sculptural representations of guardian deities. Whatever they represent, there’s no denying that Almendres Cromlech is a very special place.

Almendres dramatic filter


5 Port Wine Cellars to Try in Porto

port wine barrels

On our recent trip to Portugal, we spent five lovely nights in Porto, which was voted Best European Destination in 2014. It’s also the birthplace of port.

Port is a type of fortified wine. Fortified wines are made by adding neutral grape spirit (aquardente) to stop the fermentation process and secure the remaining sugar in the wine. Port has a similar designation as champagne – only fortified wines coming from Portugal’s Douro region can be called “port”.

The location of the port wine cellars in Porto is slightly deceiving though; as the cellars aren’t actually located in the town of Porto itself. They’re found across the Douro River in the municipality of Vila Nova de Gaia.

The port cellars are often referred to as “caves,” but most of them are designed more like warehouses. In the time we stayed in Porto, we visited several of these cellars (although one wasn’t really a cellar…but more on that later). These are the five I would recommend if you’re so lucky as to spend some time in the Porto region.


Taylor's weclome signTaylor’s is probably one of the most recognizable port wine companies around, especially in Northern Canada where our port wine selection is rather lacking. But Taylor Fladgate is one that is seen consistently on local liquor store shelves. In fact, my first experience trying port was a bottle of Taylor Fladgate back in university.

The company is one of the oldest port houses (opening in 1692), beginning with an English merchant by the name of Job Bearsley. Joseph Taylor, originally a manager in the London office of the company and later a partner, became sole owner in 1826, giving the company the name of Taylor’s.

In 1838, a partnership agreement was signed between the Taylor’s company, and two merchants by the names of Morgan Yeatman and John Fladgate. This gave rise to the company’s full and present name of Taylor Fladgate and Yeatman. The company has since expanded to include the Yeatman, a luxury wine hotel just a short walk from the Taylor’s cellars.

Why it’s worth visiting:

Personally, I wanted to visit this cellar because it was the only port wine company I knew by name and I quite liked their product. So if you’ve ever had Taylor Fladgate then you’ll want to visit their cellars and take the tour, which runs about 30-40 minutes. Interestingly, I was under the assumption that they were the largest port wine company in Portugal, however that isn’t the case. In the top 15, they come in at number 13 on Ranker.com.

The tour itself was actually quite comprehensive, and covered the entire port wine making process from foot to mouth, as it were. Yes, although they have proper equipment to do the grape-crushing, apparently nothing comes close to the perfection of the human foot, which is able to crush the grape skin and fruit without also crushing the seeds, which adds bitterness to the final product. So went our tour guides’ claim, that they still often crush their grapes with foot-power, even allowing tourists to dance around in huge vats of the gooey stuff during the summer grape harvest. I’m not sure whether I believe it, but it’s a much more romantic image than big stainless steel machines doing the work.

Taylor's port tourTours of Taylor’s are available for a reasonable price too. For 5 Euros you get the tour of their cellars plus three port tastings at the end: a chip dry (the first dry white port, first launched in 1934), a late bottled vintage (also known as LBV, these are ports that weren’t quite good enough to be awarded “vintage” status, but are the next best thing) and a tawny 10 year old.

Taylor's port tastingMy only real complaint was their ceiling decoration, which made an otherwise-classy tasting room feel a bit like a circus tent.

Taylor's tasting room ceilingCalem

We also visited Calem, which is right on the main road along the Douro River, so you can’t miss it.

Calem exteriorCalem is much newer than Taylor’s, only getting its start in 1859. Initially it began life by exporting wines to Brazil in exchange for exotic woods. They now export their ports to about 30 countries around the world.

Why it’s worth visiting:

Calem is super-easy to find, so you can hit it as soon as you arrive in Vila Nova de Gaia. Calem also offers tours of their cellars, but in reality, the story of how port wine is made is very much the same everywhere you go, so the process doesn’t change and the repetition may start to get dull if you’re planning to do more than one tour.

That being said, the tour at Calem offered a visual of the numerous floods the region has experienced over the last hundred years or so, which was something we didn’t learn about anywhere else. Below is a timeline display, including a beam of light indicating the flood water levels for each great flood in the area. For example, 1962:

Calem port tourThe price of the tour also comes with a tasting, although this time it only included a white and a ruby port.

Calem port tastingTheir tasting room, while lacking aesthetically, had an impressive array of ports, olive oils and wine-related souvenirs for purchase. They also have fado shows if you care to take in some traditional Portuguese music. And if you want to visit the number 1 port wine company in Portugal? You’re looking at it!


Offley’s was opened in 1737 by William Offley. But it was a man named Joseph James Forrester, who joined the company in the 1830s that changed the course of port wine making in the region. He was the first person to physically map the Douro River and valley area. His passion for viticulture and the Douro region earned him the title of Baron in 1855 from the King of Portugal.

Since we were in Porto in the low season (November), some cellars weren’t offering tours, and we hadn’t booked anything in advance, we just showed up to a port cellar and asked if tours were available. By the time we got to Offley’s though, we had already had both the Taylor’s tour and the Calem tour, so we decided not to ask at Offley’s if tours were still available (the sign on the door said they were open from March to October, but it seemed like they were still running some tours of their facilities.) Their tasting room was still open, however, and that was what we were most interested in.

Why it’s worth visiting:

Offley’s had a great selection of menu options for port tasting, including port and cheese or chocolate pairings, and themed flights. Again, prices were reasonable; 4 euros for “the Classic” tasting flight, for example. We chose the Intense and the White flights to try.

Offley's port menu

Which brings me to the next reason to visit Offley’s – one of the most generous pours we experienced at any of our tastings:

Offley's port tasting

I mean, dang, right? Our server was knowledgable and gave us the low-down on each port, especially the Lacrima, a rich, even sweeter variation of white port. Their tasting room had a nice, calming vibe to it too, including a water feature.

Offley's Tasting Room


The Croft company is the oldest company still producing port wine. (They started way back in 1588!) The company began with Henry Thompson, a wine merchant from York. His main focus was in trading Portuguese wine to England, but he also chartered his sailing vessels to bring goods back from England, such as textiles. The company underwent a few name changes over the years as partners came and went. John Croft joined the company in 1736, and eventually the company name changed to Croft.

For being such an old company, they’ve managed to remain somewhat innovative, creating the first ever rosé port.

Why it’s worth visiting:

First off, let’s go straight for the visual: this was the prettiest tasting room we’d seen. Stone walls, thick, crooked wooden beamed ceilings, and even cobwebs. I could have stayed here forever!

Croft tasting room

Also, because we were here during the low season, it wasn’t very busy. When we arrived, it was us and two other people and that was it. When our tour guide appeared and announced the next tour was beginning, we were the only two who stood up. I guess the other couple was just there for the tasting. So we were lucky enough to get a private tour!

Our guide was very sweet and open to any and all questions since it was just us, and since we had already had two tours of other facilities, we didn’t need the Coles’ Notes version of how port gets made. Instead, we talked about the unseasonal weather, the impact of the weather changes on the grapes, and even traditional Portuguese Christmas traditions, with an emphasis on port, of course. It was definitely a specialized tour that no one else would have had!

But getting back to their tasting room. I mean seriously, how cozy does this look? Who wouldn’t want a cask of port in their sitting room?

Croft tasting room seating area

Another reason to visit Croft is their fascinating history. Specifically, the history of John Croft III’s son, known as Jack the Spy. An accomplished scientist and linguist, he was recruited by Charles Stuart, the British Minister in Lisbon, to collect intelligence on French troop movements in the north of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars.

And then there’s the port. These were probably our favourites, although maybe the atmosphere had something to do with the enjoyment.

Croft rose tasting


Quevedo is a bit of an honourable mention, as it’s not a port wine cellar proper, it’s really a port tasting room without the huge casks stacked up in a high-ceilinged back room.


Quevedo popped up after new European Union legislation was created, stating that both grape growers and wineries in the Douro could export their wines directly to the retailer. One of our tour guides in the Douro Valley referred to Quevedo as a “tourist trap”. But that isn’t always a bad thing.

Why it’s worth visiting:

When we purchased round-trip tickets for the gondola in Vila Nova de Gaia, we were given tickets for two free port tastings at Quevedo. Score! Even if something isn’t actually free, I like the illusion/impression of getting something for nothing. Quevedo was one of the busier locations for tastings, no doubt for this very reason, but it was a nice vibe. Prices were fair as well, if you wanted more than your freebie tastings.

Quevedo menu

The ports weren’t bad at all, and we went with one of each: a white, a rosé, a ruby and a tawny (which is a ruby aged in smaller casks so the wood adds vanilla and oaky notes). The tasting was straightforward and without pretense.

Quevedo port tasting

It was also kind of nice to do a tasting that didn’t include a tour, since there were other companies that had this in the bag. Quevedo also hosted live fado music in the afternoons, so you didn’t have to wait until late in the evening to catch a live show. So “tourist trap?” Maybe. But that suited us just fine.

You can now downloaded this article through the GPSMYCITY app here: 5 Port Wine Cellars to Try in Porto