My head now beginning to clear following that mid-morning wine tasting session, the intrepid “band of merry media” and I — 29 travel journalists and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its premium-escorted Iberian Adventure through Portugal and Spain — step down off the motor coach, cross the cobble and check into the M`AR De AR Aqueduto hotel-spa, our digs for the next two nights that’s located in the heart of the historic district of Évora, Portugal’s Museum City.
This five-star boutique hotel, with 64 suite-rooms, occupies the old Sepulveda Palace, a magnificent structure from the 16th century that’s framed by the arches of the Aqueduto da Água de Prata (Aqueduct of Silver Water).
While I drop off my bags inside 223, splash some water on my face and check my camera kit, feel free to have a quick look around before we head straight out to soak up the history of this capital city of the Alentejo and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Gathered around the Corinthian-columned ruins of the Temple of Diana, a 2 AD Roman structure, we start jotting down notes as Maria José, Insights’ animated local art historian, begins her narrative: “Évora’s roots date back more than 2,000 years to the days of the Lusitanians, and during Portugal’s Golden Age, this museum-city became the residence of the country’s royal family.”
An enchanting place to delve into the past, Évora’s 14th-century walls protect the labyrinth of narrow travessas that lead to a striking variety of architectural works in Romanesque, Gothic, Manueline, Renaissance and Baroque styles.
Take Sé, the medieval, fortress-like, Gothic cathedral of rose-colored granite, with its ornate main portal of apostolic sculptures and a unique statue of a pregnant Madonna.
There’s the atmospheric (read, spooky) Cappella dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones), a dimly lit ossuary inside St. Francis Church where the walls are lined with the skeletal remains of more than 5,000 lost souls.
Or, the town’s focal point, Praça do Giraldo (Giraldo Square), once the epicenter of countless bloody and violent events of the Portuguese Inquisition, today it’s a tranquil spot lined with restaurants and open-air cafes, like Café Arcada, an Évora institution, where I duck inside to enjoy a few more of those luscious pastéis de nata (egg tarts).
Spectacular architecture and rich history aside, Évora — a member of the Most Ancient European Towns Network — is also known for its superb food, like the mouth-watering regional dishes of the Alentejo served up daily by Patricia and Joao at Restaurante Maria Luisa, a casual eatery in the historic center’s First of May Square.
Gathered around a mesa, the “band of merry media,” armed with 25 or so sets of cutlery, flies into action on Insight’s euro, savoring an array of mouth-watering dishes and local wines, including my fave: lombo de porco preto (grilled black Iberian pork tenderloin).
Meanwhile, back at the ranch (M`AR De AR Aqueduto hotel-spa), I’m being turned down — actually suite 223 is — following my triumphant day in Évora, the Museum City.
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Get a good night’s sleep, for tomorrow we’ll need to be firing on all cylinders when we climb a steep hill to a whitewashed village, hop on board a sailing barge, and put the feedbag back on for more of that to-die-for Alentejo regional cuisine.
Bons sonhos (Sweet dreams).
©The Palladian Traveler