It was late in the afternoon and a bright half-moon had appeared in the blue of the sky. It was a shade of blue that, nearing the horizon, faded to a pale white as blue skies tend to do on such hot summer days. It seemed very appropriate for the moon to be where it was: immediately above the mysterious circle of rocks that together form the Almendres Cromlech. And perhaps it was no coincidence, either, for researchers believe that this group of megaliths may have functioned as an astronomical observatory when they were positioned here some 8000 years ago – if they didn’t serve a ceremonial purpose. The ninety-five menhirs are set on a slightly sloping hill facing the east, the direction of the rising sun, and overlook the Portuguese countryside as it stretches out in the plain below.
This is the largest existing group of menhirs in the Iberian Peninsula, and one of the largest in Europe in general. To arrive here we had to drive a potholed dust road from the small village of Guadalupe in Portugal’s Alentejo region. The way to the historic site is indicated with a road mark but nothing else points out that these hot and dusty hills harbour one of Europe’s ancient and magical sites. This is representative of the Alentejo, a region in Portugal that hides in the shadow of its famous neighbour the Algarve and that draws comparatively few travellers. This is what made us love it, of course.
Earlier that day we had enjoyed the 90-minute drive from Lisbon to Evoramonte, a tiny village on a hilltop east of Évora. “Evoramonte? Why would you go to Evoramonte? There is nothing there!” a colleague exclaimed when I had told him of our weekend plans. He was almost right. Evoramonte has a medieval castle, less than a handful of cobblestone streets with whitewashed houses that are home to its total of twelve inhabitants, and a brilliant B&B with a terrace that has a view to die for. The road up to our bed for the night had to be driven carefully in the lowest gears as it was twisting and winding its way up along the shoulders of the hill. A final sharp curve and there was the city wall that revealed a gate that back in the days would have royally allowed a horse with its rider to stride through but that today requires careful manoeuvring with modern-day’s horsepower. Just beyond the city wall loomed the castle, and just beyond the castle was our bed and breakfast. Our hostess Vicki welcomed us by pointing out a griffon vulture that was using its nearly three meters of wingspan to glide on the thermal lift above the valley. We didn’t know where to look first: at the majestic bird or at the equally majestic view from the B&B’s terrace over the Alentejo plains dotted with olive and cork trees. It stretched out in front of us as far as the eye could see. This was magnificent.
After checking in and admiring the view doubled with the pleasure of eating some home-made cake and a pastel de nata we managed to squeeze our car through the city gate again and drove 30 minutes to the city of Évora, one of Portugal’s UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Alentejo sun nearly always burns hot and the city was radiating heat. We strolled around its streets past churches and the remains of a Roman temple. We enjoyed a simple lunch of local bread, meat, olives and cheese and strolled into the Capela dos Ossos.
Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos, reads an ominous welcome message above its entrance (“We, the bones that are here, await yours.”) And bones there are. Almost the entire interior of this macabre chapel is lined with human bones and skulls. The void in the empty eye sockets of skulls haunt you from the walls and from the pillars that hold up the ceiling, from which even more creepy craniums urge you to contemplate the fleeting essence of life. In the 16th century, Évora’s graveyards were filling up fast and had to be emptied, and some creative soul came with the cheerful idea to line all the skeletons up in this chapel of bones.
These were next-level decoration skills that somehow made us crave some good wine, so we drove back up the mountain of Evoramonte to sit on the terrace with a good bottle of red and some beautiful cheeses before savouring a home-made dinner fixed by Vicki’s husband, while we watched a spectacular sunset colour the sky. Another day had died, and what a good day it had been.
The next morning we found ourselves having a hard time saying goodbye to our wonderful temporary home on the mountain, so we lingered in the small streets of Evoramonte for a bit and climbed to the roof of the castle to enjoy the glorious 360-views once more before making off to Estremoz, a town half an hour away to the north-east. Another castle, some more cats dozing through the heat of day, some more streets quiet with that special Portuguese midday quality. They held the same silence of the bones in the chapel, of the vulture high above the plains scouring for something to scavenge, and of the prehistoric monoliths facing an equally quiet and ancient moon.
Create your own adventure! Visit Évora and surroundings and sleep in the perfect B&B in Evoramonte
A visit to the area around Evoramonte makes a perfect weekend break from Lisbon (or you could drive up there from the Algarve). The city of Évora is the most famous sight in this region and can’t be missed, but if you are planning to stay the night in this area and have your own wheels, then I highly recommend you to head out to Evoramonte and spend your night at The Place at Evoramonte B&B. This newly opened small-scale accommodation is housed in one of the village’s few small homes and has a number of beautifully renovated rooms with luxury bathrooms. Some rooms have a private balcony or terrace overlooking the grand view down the hill.
A lovely breakfast is served on the terrace of the downstairs café where you can also enjoy your lunch or dinner – with a complimentary sunset to remember. The food is very tasty and the local wines are great. Coffee and tea are complimentary for overnight guests. Although the village is very small, there is actually quite a lot on offer. Down the street there is a small gift shop selling local products and art created by one of the villagers, who has also created a project of painting cute little scenes depicting Evoramonte on random cobblestones down the streets. Across the street from the B&B live a mother and daughter who can provide walking tours in the area, or you can go bird-watching with a local guide. When my colleague said that there is nothing in Evoramonte, he was clearly dead wrong!
Evoramonte is very close to Évora and Estremoz, and also the castle town of Monsaraz and some smaller villages scattered in the area. These are all easily accessible by car and it’s not hard to find free parking at the edges of the towns.
The monoliths of Almendres Cromlech are situated at about a one-hour drive from Evoramonte and can easily be combined with a trip to Évora. Probably best visited early or late in the day due to the heat of the sun, drive to the small town of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe where you will see a road sign indicating the dirt road to the monoliths. About halfway down the dirt road that leads to the Almendres Cromle, look out for the sign pointing at the Menir dos Almendres, a large single menhir that sits desolately in the Alentejo landscape, a short walk away from the road.