Visiting the Best Castles in Southern Portugal
We nearly traveled back in time by visiting the medieval villages of the Alentejo Baixo region of Portugal, where the castles and small lanes make you feel like you’re in another era.
Where is Beja?
Leaving Evora, we traveled south on one main highway, stopping for a coffee in Beja. This town gets few non-Portuguese tourists, and its list of attractions is small, but it does have a museum, a few nice look-out points, a church and a pedestrian street with shops and some cafes. This was an authentic slice of local life at the biggest city in this region of Portugal. There were no tour groups or rip-offs. We walked around and looked at the tiled buildings, the pedestrian streets and the outside of the main church. The castle of Beja, which in Portuguese is Castelo de Beja is located here, too.
Finding views atop the castle in Serpa
We continued on for the day’s second stop, Serpa, population 15,000. Serpa came recommended to us by Becca’s business contact in Lisbon He mentioned Serpa as a place where foreigners wouldn’t really find their way, but with a car, we were able to get there.
This charming (and quiet) little low-lying village has a castle and a famous aqueduct. The beauty of Serpa was that there was nothing going on. We couldn’t even find anywhere to eat because it was the time of day when restaurants close and then reopen for dinner.
Be sure to admire the hundreds-of-years-old wall surrounding the historical center, and then climb the steps to the roof of the Castelo de Serpa. From there, the view was great, with not only a view of the tops of the church and all the buildings but also the countryside and farms, framed by the castle.
Medieval castles in Mértola
Our road trip in Portugal wouldn’t have been complete without a stop at Mértola, a tiny medieval village of 7200 people. Driving next to farms and pastures during golden hour, we admired the emptiness of the roads. We arrived as the sun was setting in the valleys and found parking near the hotel we had booked only a few hours before on Booking.com.
Although we couldn’t see many other people around, we found that somehow, the town’s top restaurants were all full, with long waits, or were booked up for the whole night! We found an open table at Migas, where we had a happy hour of beer, wine and olives.
The town got quiet early, and we woke up the next morning for some exploring in the whitewashed alleyways, the historic medieval Castelo de Mértola, where you can climb and get some nice views and a few small markets with fresh fruit and tons of olives. We had a picnic at the river and then said “adeus” (goodbye, in Portuguese) to the Alentejo. It was time to drive to the Algarve region of Portugal and we were so excited.