The extraordinarily unique district of Évora is where we find Montemor-o-Novo, one of the largest municipalities in the area. Montemor-o-Novo is a secret waiting to be revealed, a treasure for you to discover.
Much more than just an Alentejo town, where traditional dishes fill the senses and delight our taste buds, where wine warms even the coldest souls, Montemor-o-Novo is a perfect peaceful mix between the past which built Portugal and the present which supports it. A town where battles were fought for the nation’s freedom, where heroes were born and left their mark in history, Montemor has kept itself hugely humble until today.
On top of Montemor-o-Novo Castle
Start by the ex-libris of Montemor, its ancient castle. Most likely built over the ruins of a remote Muslim fortification, Montemor-o-Novo Castle was rebuilt throughout the centuries. And it was also the set of some of the greatest moments in the history of Portugal. In 1496, this was the stage for the final plans of the sea crossing to India by Vasco da Gama.
Because of its proximity with the frontier with Spain, this castle was the first protection against the Kingdom of Castile (during the Portuguese Restoration War) and against the French Invasions in 1808. It also worked as a headquarters for the liberalist troops of the Duke of Saldanha, during the Portuguese Civil War.
Let’s go inside the Castle of Montemor. The Porta da Vila (Village Door) welcomes you. Next to this door, also known as Porta Nova (New Door) or Porta de Santarém (Santarém Door), you can appreciate the coat of arms in Manueline style of the Casa da Guarda (Guard House). Walk through and head towards the Torre de Relógio (Clock Tower). Go up carefully and, when you get to the top, rejoice with the privileged view over the 3rd-century citadel, or Paço dos Alcaides (Governor’s Palace), in ruins today.
Then, let yourself be guided by the almost triangular layout of the ancient wall. Make sure you visit each one of the remaining points of interest inside with the time and attention they deserve. See the serenely beautiful churches of São João Batista and of Santiago, as well as the ruins of Santa Maria do Bispo Church, all taking your imagination to other ages. Visit the monumental Saudação Convent, where you can see the magnificent “Joanino” cloisters, tile panels or frescoes in the lower choir.
Did you know that, according to legend, the Torre da Má-Hora (literally, “Bad-timming Tower”) may have gotten its name because a Moorish soldier forgot to close the Porta do Sol (Sun Door) one night? Taking advantage of the negligence, King Afonso Henriques’s army, which was besieging the Islamic fortification then, conquered Montemor-o-Novo from the Muslims.
Still at the top, enjoy the views that the castle offers over the Convento de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (convent) and the Ermida de Nossa Senhora da Visitação (chapel), the latter of Manueline style and where around two hundred “miracles” or ex-votos (devotional pieces put by faithful in thanksgiving to graces) lie. Go down towards the town and pass through the ruins of the Ermida de São Vicente.
Visit Montemor-o-Novo further below
Embrace the tranquility of the Jardim Público (Public Garden/Park), in Praça da República (square), and feel your energy being completely recharged. Keep on walking to Igreja Matriz (main church), formerly Convento de São João Deus (convent), which is currently Biblioteca Municipal Almeida Faria (library). Under the main chapel of the church, you can visit the crypt of the saint who gave his name to the convent. The ceiling of the church nave has a great original fresco that you don’t want to miss.
Close by, in the Largo dos Paços do Concelho (the Town Hall square), notice Chafariz de Nossa Senhora da Conceição (fountain), with an inscription dating back to 1646. In the same square, you will also find Chafariz do Besugo and the Roman-Visigoth memorial stone (considered a National Monument of Portugal).
Continue to walk through town discovering the secrets of history which reveal themselves at every corner, square and alley. Before going back to your hotel or before leaving Montemor-o-Novo, don’t forget to visit the masterly Manueline portal in Igreja da Misericórdia (church). You can see Igreja do Calvário too, where there is a sacristy completely covered with delicate tiles.
Take the opportunity to get to know Ermida de São Sebastião, right outside Igreja do Calvário. Finish your route through town entering Museu de Arqueologia de Montemor-o-Novo (archeology museum), once Convento de São Domingos (convent), where you can learn even more about Montemor and its outskirts.
To visit in Montemor-o-Novo municipality
Do you know what to do in Montemor-o-Novo with the kids? Well, in the cork oak forest in Lavre, you can find one of the most original and fun natural parks in Portugal. With over 300 animals of 70 different species, Monte Selvagem is the perfect place to spend some time with your family. Meet and hang out with kangaroos, zebras, yaks or lamas, on foot or by tractor. Alternatively, see the park from a whole different angle, jumping on the giant trampoline.
In the small village of Santiago do Escoural, you have got to visit the Grutas do Escoural (caves), well-known for their rock carvings and paintings. Found in 1963, they are considered a Portuguese National Monument today. There is a Visitor Centre in the village to learn more about the caves.
On the several small villages in the municipality (S. Brissos, S. Cristóvão, S. Geraldo, Lavre,…), don’t forget to look for parish churches and chapels. Go on some sort of treasure hunt!
The whole municipality of Montemor-o-Novo still offers infrastructures and excellent conditions to practise mountain biking, go trekking and many other sport activities. These are good reasons to be a tourist in the countryside. Who knows if you can even find some of the prehistoric remains, such as dolmens and menhirs… Oh, and don’t forget to try to see the Azinheiras Gémeas (Twin Holm Oak Trees) which are in Herdade da Serra (a farmstead), at kilometre marker 70 on the road 114 (Montemor-Evora).
For everything you read above, don’t waste any more time and come and see, with your own eyes, one of the most beautiful and not too well-known treasures near Evora. It doesn’t matter if you come to imagine adventures in remote times or to taste the typical empadas de galinha (chicken pies) or a partridge Montemor-style to die for. Or even to learn who the Portuguese were or to embrace Mother Nature in a unique and memorable way. Whatever your intentions may be, Montemor-o-Novo will impress you.