Alentejo: Portugal's Cork CountryAuthor: Jayme H.
Date of Trip: June 2003
The cork oak is the only tree that can regenerate its bark. Natural wine corks are made from the bark of these trees, which are stripped every nine years. One particular tree, known as the "Whistler Tree" because of the many singing birds attracted to it, is said to be 212 years old. It is estimated that this tree alone had produced 1,000,000 corks by the year 2000.
Suggested Tour (north to south)
Portalegre: Among the towers and walls of the medieval castle stand the Paços do Concelho and Hospital da Misericórdia. Main sites include: the Cathedral, São Bernardo Convent, the São Francisco Monastery (13th to 18th centuries), and the Regional, Sacred Art, and Casa de José Régio Museums.
Marvão: Just south of Castelo de Vide lies impossibly high and fortified village of Marvão. Inside its impressive castle, Marvão offers wonderful views.
Castelo de Vide: This ancient market town is known for its ruined castle and Jewish quarter (with a 15th century synagogue). Sights include the charming village fountain, the chapel of São Salvador do Mundo (Visigothic) and the twin Paços do Concelho (medieval and 18th century).
Estremoz: A ship of walls rising above the trees, Estremoz is a marble town, with its a 13th-century castle, Santa Isabel Chapel (18th-century), Royal Palace, São Francisco Church and Convent (Romanesque-Gothic), Paços do Concelho (14th-century), Maltesas Convent (16th-century), and the Municipal Museum.
Évora: A museum-city with its historic center classified on UNESCO's International Heritage list. The well-preserved Roman temple, located close to the Cathedral, houses a Sacred Art Museum (Roman-Gothic). Among its many convents and churches are São Brás Chapel (Gothic-Moorish); São Francisco Church (with its Capela dos Ossos, a chapel walled with human bones) and São João Baptista Church (Gothic-Manueline); churches of Nossa Senhora da Graça ,Santo Antão and São Vicente (Mannerist). Palaces include: Archiepiscopal, Dom Manuel, and Dukes of Cadaval. Other many sites include the Praça de Giraldo with 16th-century arches, an aqueduct, the convents of Santa Clara, Santa Helena do Calvário and Lóios (currently a Pousada), the University, and an ancient Jewish quarter. Vila Viçosa: Built around the palace of the House of Bragança, the last Portuguese dynasty. Other places of interest: Castle, Santo Agostinho Church (13th-18th centuries), Chagas de Cristo Convent, Nossa Senhora da Esperança Monastery and Castelo Novo (Renaissance).
Elvas: Fortress town, with a Roman-Arab castle. Sites include the Amoreiras Aqueduct (15th-17th centuries), town church (Manueline), churches of Nossa Senhora da Consolação (Renaissance) and Santa Clara (17th century), and Archeology Museum.
Monsaraz: This is an inviting and beautiful medieval village, with castle walls and fortifications to challenge all enemies. Sites include the Santa Catarina Chapel, Paços do Concelho, Paços de Audiência and Porta da Vila.
Beja: This town thrived under the Romans and Moors. Sites include the Queen Leonor Museum, churches of Santo António (Visigothic) and Santa Maria, convent and castle of São Francisco (a Pousada), chapel of Santo André (Gothic-Moorish), and Misericórdia Church (Renaissance). Roman ruins are nearby at Pisões.
Mértola: This breathtaking place sits on the right bank of the Guadiana River. The town's preserved castle was built by the Moors. The main church, with its sculpted façade and elements from the Manueline period, was once was a mosque. Mértola is a hub of archeological activity. The Roman museum occupies the Town Hall building. The Islamic collection includes the country's essential archive of ceramic objects (9th to 13th-centuries). Other Cork Country Towns to Visit: Alcáçovas, Aljustrel, Alter do Chão, Alvito (Pousada), Arraiolos (handmade rugs), Avis, Borba, Campo Maior, Crato, Santiago de Escoural (archeological park), Evoramonte, Flor da Rosa (Pousada), Monforte, Montemor-o-Novo, Moura, Nisa, Ourique, Redondo, Serpa (Pousada), Viana do Alentejo, and Vila Nova de Milfontes.
Carne de porco à alentejana (pork with clams and coriander), Migas (bread crumbs), Coriander bread soup, Rabbit and hare, Soups (fish, tomato, gaspacho), Kid and lamb stews, Egg sweets, Cheeses: Nisa, Serpa and Évora Red and white wines: Borba, Redondo, Evora, Portalgre, Requengos, Vidigueira, Cuba and Alvito.
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