(Templo Romano, Evora)
There are moments, while travelling, when I felt transported back home – like when the familiar red Staples button beckoned outside my train window or, when I sat contentedly munching a sandwich beneath the Subway logo.
But then you round a corner or glance up from your sandwich and the illusion is shattered by the sight of a centuries-old ruin or the fact that under your feet are cobblestones laid by the Romans.
And so it was in Evora, Portugal, a city shaped over 20 centuries (by the Celts, Visigoths, Romans, Moors, and Portuguese) where ancient architecture and modern businesses cohabit narrow, warren-like streets trimmed in yellow (to ward off evil spirits). Designated a “museum” by UNESCO, Evora’s historic centre is considered the best city example of Portugal’s golden age.
Once popular with royalty, Evora boasts a palace, several grand churches – including the 14th century Church of St Frances which houses the compelling Capella de Ossos (Chapel of Bones) – and an ancient Roman temple. But it was Evora’s Cathedral that made me smile – with its friendly volunteers, humble, earthy feel, rooftop architecture worthy of any dark medieval tale (I helped a very worried tourist find the route back to the hidden entrance), and a surprising art collection (My personal favourite – a painting of the last supper where a disciple slumps in front of a smirking Jesus).
(Top: Last Supper, Evora Cathedral; Bottom: View from the rooftop of the cathedral)
(Top: View of Evora’s Giraldo Square over my morning latte; Bottom: White and yellow dominate the streets)
I loved that, though there were tourists in Evora, we didn’t eclipse the landscape, especially if you strolled away from the main attractions. And since you cannot stroll through Evora without meeting the Aqua de Prata Aquaduct…one thing lead to the other until I found I could not resist its 16th century charm…and…
…here are the top 9 reasons why you should follow an Aquaduct into the Portuguese countryside:
9) It will lead you down obscure, pretty little streets – filled with children’s voices and flapping laundry – where houses are built right into the base of the Aqua de Prata.
8) You can seek shelter from the blistering sun in the shadowed entrance of the Santa Maria Scala Coeli Convent (founded in 1587) and eavesdrop on the nuns laughing within
7) You will have plenty of time to smell the flowers…or nuzzle horses…or ponder the existential questions of the universe. The Aqua Di Prata stretches for 9 km from Evora to the Ribeira do Divor (Divor River).
6) You will not have to fight for a great picnic spot (translate as pastry eating spot) in the shade of one of the mighty stone arches
5) You may be lucky enough to have two fighter jets escort you home, their signatures carved milky white in the brilliant sapphire sky
4) You will hike through cork tree groves (Portugal is the world’s biggest cork producer) and beneath giant stork nests perched atop every telephone pole.
(Cork: A sustainable harvest – the bark is harvested every 9 years and trees live roughly 270 years. It is illegal to chop down a cork tree without a government permit)
3) Hiking is great exercise and will render you ravenous for the vegetarian buffet at the Salsa Verde restaurant AND you will still have room for a couple (or even three) Pastels de Belém (custard tarts) or any number of delicious Portuguese pastries.
2) It will whet your appetite for more exploration – and the next day, instead of hanging out in the city, you will hail a cab with another solo traveller (who may happen to be a budding photographer from England), and drive 30 minutes west to the Almendres Cromlech (also called the Portuguese Stonehenge) – 95 megalithic stones that date from 5,000 B.C. (Making them 2,000 years older than Stonehenge) – while the sincere taxi driver, in shattered English, teaches you history.
1) You will go to bed that night with aching legs, a smile on your lips and a song in your heart.
And really, what more can we ask for?