Short break: Évora, Por­tu­gal

An easy hop from Lis­bon, the main city of the crowd-free Alen­tejo re­gion is an ideal place to soak up his­tory and slow right down, dis­cov­ers Lyn Hughes

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Away from the more fast-paced Lis­bon, laid-back, Unesco-listed Évora is not only soaked in his­tory but – just as im­por­tant – it’s crowd-free

The lad with the gelled hair and fash­ion­able jacket was in his mid-teens, cool but in a rather self-con­scious way. He pulled out his phone, ex­tended his arm and grinned widely as he did a thumbs up to the cam­era. Just like any other tourist selfie re­ally – ex­cept that in this case he had care­fully po­si­tioned him­self so that a pil­lar adorned with hu­man skulls was just over his shoul­der. If he had read the slightly chilling in­scrip­tion at the en­trance to the chapel – ‘We, the bones that are here, we await yours’ – then he was show­ing no sign of con­tem­pla­tion or re­flec­tion.

Capela dos Os­sos, the Chapel of Bones, is per­haps the best known but most macabre sight in Évora, one of Por­tu­gal’s most beau­ti­ful towns, and chief city of the Alen­tejo re­gion. Dat­ing back more than five mil­len­nia, Évora has a rich his­tory. Prob­a­bly founded by the Celts, it flour­ished un­der the Ro­mans and ac­quired its maze of al­ley­ways un­der the Moors. In the 15th cen­tury the Kings of Por­tu­gal and the Court took up res­i­dence here and the city en­tered its golden age. Im­pres­sive churches and palaces were built, and it be­came an im­por­tant cen­tre of learn­ing – though things did get rather bloody at times, with heretics be­ing burned to death dur­ing the 16th cen­tury In­qui­si­tion.

To­day the his­toric cen­tre of Évora is recog­nised as a UNESCO World Her­itage site. Wan­der in­side the old town’s walls and you’ll stum­ble across layer upon layer of his­tory, from a Ro­man tem­ple and baths, to a 16th-cen­tury aqueduct, from a for­mer royal palace to Moorish ar­cades. But it’s much more than a charm­ing well-pre­served mu­seum piece. Si­t­u­ated around 90 min­utes by bus or train from Por­tuguese cap­i­tal Lis­bon, Évora is a vi­brant univer­sity town, with plenty of invit­ing restau­rants, cafés and bars to re­lax in once you’ve ex­plored its wind­ing streets and hand­some squares.

Évora also serves as a base or jump­ing-off point for ex­plor­ing south­ern Por­tu­gal’s wider Alen­tejo re­gion, which cov­ers a third of the coun­try and stretches from the wild beaches of the At­lantic coast in the west to the Span­ish bor­der in the east. The bread­bas­ket of Por­tu­gal, the Alen­tejo is also known for its world-class wine, its cork (it’s the largest pro­ducer in the world) and its black pork, de­rived from pigs that for­age for acorns.

Ne­olithic sites pep­per the area, show­ing the re­gion’s im­por­tance many mil­len­nia ago, while spec­tac­u­lar hill­top vil­lages gaze out over sun-drenched plains and gen­tly un­du­lat­ing coun­try­side. Even if you’re not a his­tory lover, you will pick up the time­less rhythms of life here. The Alen­tejo is the per­fect place to slow down, pot­ter around and un­wind.

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