Alentejo road trip: Stones, skulls and a splendid place to stay
It was late in the afternoon on the first day of our road trip in the Alentejo region of Portugal. A bright half-moon 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. On the contrary, researchers believe that this group of megaliths may have functioned as an astronomical observatory when they were positioned here some 8000 years ago. The ninety-five menhirs are set on a slightly sloping hill facing the east, the direction of the rising sun. They 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. It started from the small village of Guadalupe in Portugal’s Alentejo region. A road mark indicates the way to the historic site, 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. Interestingly, it draws few travellers in comparison. 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 to make a road trip to the Alentejo. He was almost right. Evoramonte has a medieval castle and less than a handful of cobblestone streets with whitewashed houses. These are home to its total of twelve inhabitants, and a brilliant B&B with a terrace that has a view to die for.
We needed to drive carefully and in the lowest gears up the road to our bed for the night. It twisted and wound its way up along the shoulders of the hill. A final sharp curve, and there was the city wall that revealed a gate. Back in the days, it would have royally allowed a horse with its rider to stride through. Today it 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.
Evoramonte Bed & 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 we admired the view with the added pleasure of eating some home-made cake and a pastel de nata. After that, we managed to squeeze our car through the city gate again. We 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. Then we enjoyed a simple lunch of local bread, meat, olives and cheese and strolled into the Capela dos Ossos.
Chapel of bones
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 up there, 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. 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. There we sat 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. We lingered in the small streets of Evoramonte for a bit. After that we climbed to the roof of the castle. We enjoyed the glorious 360-views once more before starting the last stretch of our Alentejo road trip. We started 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.
Planning your Alentejo Road Trip
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. Alternatively, you could drive up there from the Algarve). The city of Évora is the most famous sight in this region and you should definitely visit. 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. Here you can spend the 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. It 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.
You’re served a lovely breakfast on the terrace of the downstairs café. This is 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. She 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!
Driving in the Alentejo region
Evoramonte is very close to Évora and Estremoz. It is also close to the castle town of Monsaraz and some smaller villages scattered in the area. These are all easily accessible by car. It is not hard to find free parking at the edges of the towns.
Almendres Cromlech monoliths
The monoliths of Almendres Cromlech are at about a one-hour drive from Evoramonte. It is easy to combine them wit ha trip to Évora. It is best to visit them 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. This is a large single menhir that sits desolately in the Alentejo landscape, a short walk away from the road.
Enjoyed this Alentejo road trip story and want to discover more places in this beautiful country? Read our other travel stories about Portugal!
Wat een schitterende beschrijving. De foto’s doen de rest.Ik kan me voorstellen hoe heet het geweest moet zijn.En wat is het ‘licht’ mooi!
Evelien & Sanne
Ligt wel ongeveer op jullie route straks! Het is er schitterend.