Evora is a quiet Portuguese town of approximately 56,500 residents. Located about 1.5 hours east of Lisbon, you could easily dismiss this little municipality as a “nothing to see here” kind of place. But it’s surprising how much it actually offers. 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.
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 our start time. 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’s 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.
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.
There’s something to be said for their “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. The chapel is within the São Francisco church. You can read about it in more depth here.
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).
Also worth a visit is the Igreja Sao Joao
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:
The Cadaval’s Palace dates to the 14th Century. 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:
Which brings me to the next reason to visit Evora:
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, either for the goddess Diana, or the god Jupiter.
Invading Germanic forces damaged the temple in the 5th Century. Later, 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 took advantage of the arched openings and are now built right into the arches. There’s also a nice nature walk along the aqueduct that you can follow to the outskirts of town.
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!
4. The Food
Portuguese food is really good. The fish is fresh, the fruits and vegetables are flavourful, and the 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:
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. These were rather unusual toppings for a hamburger. But surprisingly, they weren’t bad. Mark went a little more exotic with an octopus salad.
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 croissant 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.
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. It surprised us at first, because we didn’t think we had waited that long. But, spotting us as outsiders, the staff assumed we were probably used to faster service. It made me a little sad, thinking that previous tourists had given them grief about their speed. Considering the care they took to make the coffee look this good…Let’s just say this was a drink worth waiting for! Look, they even came with little meringue cookies!
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:
The tastings help 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.
There are numerous display signs describing the varieties of grapes that grow in the region.
The signs also have little fragrance stations so you can sniff the different elements in each grape variety.
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 GPSmyCity here: 5 Reasons to Add Evora to Your Portugal Itinerary