Alentejo

Our first stop as we started to slowly head North was Castro Verde, which Mark had been told by a (knowledgeable) friend was a good place to see Great Bustards.

We parked up on the market area in town – free parking but no services – next to an old windmill. The next morning we were very lucky to see some Bustards just a few km to the East of the town, so Mark was very happy…

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Our plan from here was to head North following the border between Portugal and Spain as this border region has lots of old castles and things to explore.

First, though, we headed to Santiago do Escoural, a small village just West of Évora, where there is a cave with 25,000 year old paintings and engravings. You have to go to an office in the village and book a tour – the guide does a bit of a background talk at the office then everyone drives up to the caves individually, the guide disarms the impressive security mechanisms, and shows you what there is to see – all for 3 Euros each. We were very lucky that a tour was going that afternoon at 2.30 leaving us just enough time to grab some lunch……. No photos are allowed in the cave so here’s one I pinched from the internet….

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The cave art isn’t immediately obvious, but you can make it out when someone tells you where to look….. There were horseshoe bats in the cave that were much easier to spot and very very cute….

From the caves we drove on to our next overnight stop at Reguengos de Monsaraz. The next day we started off by visiting Monsaraz, a beautiful little fortified town. There’s a motorhome parking / overnight stop area with an amazing view that we’d definitely use next time (you can just see four vans lined up facing the view in the last photo and Kampington down in the lower car park, also facing the view)…

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There are lots of megaliths in the immediate area. We stopped off to look at a nearby menhir and a cromlech….

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Later that afternoon we visited neaby Mourão which has an imposing 14th century castle. Mark was very impressed that you’re allowed to clamber all over it, up and down all the little stairways etc – no Health and Safety here…

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We then had a couple of hours’ drive to our next overnight stop at Elvas, just below a huuuuge aqueduct built between 1498 and 1622. It has 843 arches…. very impressive!

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The next morning we headed off into/around the town. Elvas is another fortified town (in this case quite a large one) which had some very impressive Vauban-style fortifications added around the outside perimeter in the 17th century. The shapes are easily recognisable from Vauban fortifications we’ve seen previously in France.

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The afternoon saw us driving further North to Marvão, another medieval fortified village. The whole thing is situated on a high rocky outcrop and looked pretty impregnable. Our overnight stop came with an amazing view over the landscape (far) below and across to snow-capped mountains in the distance.

The next morning we explored the castle and town. Mark declared this to be the best castle we’ve been to this trip. The watery picture is of a huge underground water tank that would have kept the village going for 6 months in the event of siege.

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Another couple of hours’ drive North has taken us out of the Alentejo to a place called Mação, SW of Castelo Branco. There’s nothing much to see in the town. The big draw of Mação is that it has a free Aire complete with free electricity – which is a good opportunity for us to top up Kampington’s batteries before continuing our slow trundle North.

We still haven’t planned further than tomorrow, so are not sure as yet when or where we’ll cross back into Spain. The weather here is glorious and we’re finding plenty to look at, so we may continue combining tourism with a slow trundle North East for a few more days yet.

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