The largest city in the Alentejo region of Portugal, Évora, is one of those places that I love to visit in any season. We’ve spent many nights here on our way to the Costa Vicentina in the summer months or on our way to Lisbon during the winter holidays. It’s beauty and charm stands strong regardless of the harsh weather. The 1st Century Roman Temple here never ceases to leave me in awe as I walk up to the Convent dos Lóios where I stay with my groups. Centuries of history always rush through my mind and leave me a bit speechless.
Alentejo is known for its wine, excellent food, olive trees, cork and very relaxed way of living. That is just to name a few things. We have probably covered every inch of it throughout our travels in Portugal. Beautiful wineries, small towns with excellent food, and fascinating history is to be found everywhere. Being here during the grape harvest is extra special. At some wineries the grapes are still crushed by foot. The local food varies throughout the Alentejo from hearty meat dishes and soups in the interior to excellent seafood along the coast. One thing you must try while in the area near Évora is the black Iberian pork. These black pigs are raised happily, grazing on acorns from the local oak trees.
There is a restaurant in Évora that I have been wanting to try for an eternity. Tucked away in the old Moorish neighborhood you will find Botequim da Mouraria with seating for 9 people, no reservations accepted. It is owned by a lovely man named Domingos, who runs the front of the house and his wife Florbela, who is the miracle worker in the kitchen. I could only order one item off the menu since I was alone. But, I enviously watched my dining neighbors enjoyed grilled mushrooms, prawns drenched in garlic and butter, ham and melon, and grilled fish. My heart told me to go for the grilled filet of black pork and it was divine. There is no other word to describe this dish. It was served with a green salad tossed in front of me and homemade potato chips. Domingos was slightly annoyed that I didn’t eat the potatoes but the pork and salad were perfect together. If you go, you should really eat their fresh chips!!
I love the set up of the restaurant. Everyone is seated around the “bar” like a family. You can see all the fresh products they have on display along with the gorgeous wine selection. Domingos is kind and honest about how much you should order. It feels like a fine dining experience in an incredibly relaxed atmosphere. By the end of my meal I had taken up pleasant conversation with the Japanese couple to my right and the Irish Thelma and Louise to my left. Everyone was obviously as thrilled as I was to have gotten one of the lucky seats for lunch that day!
When Domingos served my beautiful pork I kindly asked him for some “piri piri” or spicy sauce. One of my favorite things about good Portuguese restaurants. He brought out this jar of fiery oil made with the spicy malagueta peppers used in Portugal, Brazil and Africa. Within 2 minutes the jar was being passed about the bar to the other guests. There is nothing like a piri piri made with love.
Domingos forced me to have dessert since I did not eat my potatoes. There are moments in life when you just can’t say no, like with my Nana Lena. She would have been appalled if we said no to any homemade dessert of hers! Siricaia is an egg custard traditionally served with candied plums that come from the beautiful town of Elvas right on the Spanish/Portuguese border. The perfect end to a perfect meal!
My partner said he wanted me to have some genuine rest and relaxation before beginning the busy Fall season and that he knew just where we should go for a week or so in August. So, we headed west from Madrid, spending one night in the beautiful city of Talavera de la Reina, before setting up camp near some of the most historical towns in the interior of Portugal.
Just crossing over the border from Spain a bit above the Tagus River we arrived in the small town of Monfortinho known for its hot springs. Considering the temperature that day was about 110 degrees we decided to move on to the charming town of Idanha-a-Velha. This town of about 80 inhabitants was founded by the Romans and is rich in history. We arrived fairly late for Portuguese lunch standards but we were bound and determined to find something to eat. Filipe went into the one bar in the town to ask about a restaurant. He came out with the information that the one restaurant in town was closed because they were in the main social hall serving the musicians that were in ldanha for a week long camp. So, feeling positive and quite hungry we went down to the hall to try our luck. The man told us that they had a buffet set up just for the musicians but he consulted with the owner to see what he could do for us. Five minutes later we were seated at a table and presented with quite a feast by smiling and gracious people. At the end of the meal we were even offered some local cheese from friends of the owner. Seven euros for a meal of various grilled meats, local wine, bread, olives and as always in Portugal; salad, potatoes and rice.
Later on that afternoon we strolled through the beautiful streets down to the Roman Bridge and also listened to a practice concert in the Visigoth Cathedral performed by the young people attending the music camp. Right before leaving Ildanha-a-Velha we walked by the community oven as the woman was just opening the door. She told us that they weren’t baking bread that day as it is only baked once a week but we did purchase some very crunchy cookies for our breakfasts. The people in the town were so down to earth and friendly that for me it was the best way to begin our two weeks in the Alentejo region.