Perched on the top of a hill, this little known tiny medieval town is a “jewel in the crown” of the Alentejo, if not Portugal itself. It consists of a small walled-in group of all-white dwellings that carefully preserve most of their original charm with gothic doors and arches everywhere and original quaint slated narrow streets, some of which are extremely steep as they fall away to the defending walls.
The panoramic views from Monsaraz’s 13th Century castle walls stretch over Alentejo plains all the way to the Great Alqueva Lake & Dam towards the Spanish border nearby; whilst the Keep of the Castle is used as an occasional bullring with viewing spectators lining the castle walls. Inside the Santa Maria da Lagoais church is the 13th Century tomb of Gomes Martins Anes, the first Lord of the town.
In high summer, this part of the Alentejo can reach temperatures up to 40°C; but visiting at Christmas time (2017), we encountered warm sunny days of 20°C and clear starry nights, albeit it somewhat chilly with the thermometer showing figures just above 0°C. And as we meandered the narrow medieval streets we found fabulous eateries to stop at and take in the atmosphere as well as charming gift shops specialising in local wares such as pottery and weaved blankets – formerly used by shepherds to protect themselves against the cold, Alentejo blankets are hand made and entirely made out of wool.
On Christmas Eve we attended midnight mass with the locals and enjoyed the ambiance of life-size characters of the Nativity created by sculptor Teresa Martins and placed all around the town – from beggars to wise kings on horseback, a donkey cart, a woman taking water from a well, and of course the actual nativity scene itself. Quite special.
The Alentejo Factory of Mizzete Nielsen manufactures all types of blankets and rugs/carpets and sells them in a shop of the same name in Monsaraz.
Traditional capes inspired by the woven Alentejo blanket.
The Alentejo is a wine-producing region with a long tradition.
Sem Fim, an old olive press building converted into a restaurant located in the nearby village of Telheiro, is a must-not-miss experience. Or book a unique boat trip on the Great Alqueva Lake aboard the old sailing barge of the same name.
Holiday Rentals in Comporta and the Alentejo by Almond Blossom Rental Villas.