Hi all! We’re full swing with Fall and weather is getting cooler and rainier! Actually most of us can get put off by traveling this time of the year but well, I’m not. I like the feeling of less crowds, more misterious places, and lower prices. The only thing I don’t like is longer nights but nevermind. So in the next weeks I will show you some good travels you can do in Portugal in the winter. You could also do them in other seasons but yeah, I want to show traveling in winter can be good too.
If you read my post about traveling to Norway on a budget, you might know I now save for my travels using a piggybank where I put my daily exchange. The first trip I did using my piggybank was a weekend in Évora, Portugal for my yearly tradition of travel in December. This city is located 135 Kms southeast of Lisbon and is good for either a day trip or a weekend. Located in the relaxing region of Alentejo, the city is best known for the Roman Temple (popularly called Templo de Diana), the Bone Chapel and the University. However there’s more to explore!
First of all, back then I was only putting coins in my piggybank. Now I am wiser and put only bills. Before my trip to Évora, I had the fantastic budget for the whole weekend, including the round trip from Lisbon, of 103.50€. Doesn’t look much right? Well, I stayed within this and quite well. Let’s find out how.
The first step was taking care of the trip. I couldn’t take the car (which I recommend so that you can explore other nice places in the neighboring area) but our national railway company, Comboios de Portugal – CP, has a discount of up to 40% off the Intercidades and Alfa Pendular trains (long-haul trains) if you buy the tickets up to 5 days before the trip. The regular price of the round trip was 22€ and I bought the tickets online for 19.50€, but a few hours earlier I had seen the same trip for 15€ only. Oh my, why didn’t I buy straight away? If you want to go to Évora from Lisbon by bus, you can use the express buses from Rede Expressos. Rede Expressos offers a discount of up to 30% off the regular fare for European Youth Card holders.
As always, I’m super budgety when it comes to accomodation. Besides the ISIC Card that I mentioned a few times here already, I am also a holder of the European Youth Card, which is very nice when it comes to staying in Youth Hostels due to the discounts. The European Youth Card has a discount of 20% off the regular price in Portuguese Youth Hostels, while the ISIC Card offers a 10% discount. When you’re an European Youth Card holder, you can also have an additional 10€ discount voucher for a stay in an Youth Hostel in Portugal that you can use once a year. Since I was going with my boyfriend and he also has the European Youth Card, we both had our vouchers and, for the two nights we stayed in the Évora Youth Hostel, instead of 32€ per night per room, we paid 15.60€ per night per room! So yes, in accomodation for the two days I only spent 15.60€. The hostel has a nice breakfast included in the price and we stayed in a double room with private bedroom and the hostel is very nice and new.
We were lucky in the weekend we chose to visit Évora because a free guided tour of one of the main churches, Igreja de São Francisco, would happen on Saturday Morning. The tour was only in Portuguese. I’m going to be honest, I did not take many notes about what they said and the visit was almost one year ago but I remember they were very enthusiastic and the church is quite beautiful indeed, dating back from the 17th century.
The church we visited is right next to Capela dos Ossos, the Bone Chapel of Évora. The entry for students costs 1.5€. This is a really creepy place, like other Bone Chapels around the world are. The chapel was built in the 17th century by three monks who wanted to demonstrate the brevity of life. For this effect, the message in the entrance, “Nós ossos que aqui estamos pelos vossos esperamos” (“We, bones standing here, are waiting for yours”), is super effective. It’s astonishing however to think about the whole collection of bones. It’s a shame that the cloister was undergoing construction works back then and that the two skeletons that are generally hung in the chapel were also not present due to restoration works. This would have turned the church even creepier, but you get an idea from the pictures below.
The next monument in our list was Palácio de D. Manuel. This is a free entry monument and has a quite small section open for visitation. This palace has moorish artistic influences and was very important in the time our kings D. Afonso V and D. Manuel (15th-16th century), the kings associated with the Portuguese Discoveries, since they spent a considerable amount of time in Évora. Gradually the royal family started spending more and more time in Lisbon and this palace was abandoned until the 19th century with the conversion of the building into a theatre. Unfortunately a huge fire destroyed most of the building and only a small section remains, but we can only imagine the original size judging by the pictures in the exhibition.
After a quick lunch with “bifanas” (our pork steaks on bread, typical from Alentejo), we headed towards a guided tour we had pre-booked to Paço de São Miguel. The tour costs 3.50€ but students and European Youth Card holders have a 50% discount. The guide was very enthusiastic because he has a close relationship with the family Eugénio de Almeida who acquired this building in the 20th century. This was a very powerful family in the 19th century, especially in Lisbon. The patriarch, José Maria Eugénio de Almeida, was the owner of a lot of nowadays public spaces in Lisbon, such as the Zoological Garden and the Gulbenkian Garden. This building had been owned before by a noble family in the 15th-16th centuries who ended up becoming loyal to Spain during the Spanish occupation of Portugal. After Portugal regained independency in 1640, the family abandoned the area and fled to Spain. The Paço de São Miguel was quite damaged until a member of the Eugénio de Almeida family bought the Paço in 1957 to become his residency in Évora and recovered it. The frescoes in the ceilings are very nice and the view from the palace is very nice, definitely worth a visit! After the tour, we visited the adjacent Carriage Collection from the Eugénio de Almeida family for only 0.50€ more. Unfortunately no pictures are allowed.
The final attraction of the day was the University of Évora. Come on, as a good academic that I am, I had to visit the University! The University is located in an old college from the 16th century and has a very beautiful cloister. We entered a few rooms and they have very old tiles and a cathedra installed by the Order of Jesus, who ran the University until 1759, when the members of the order were expelled from Portugal. The University re-opened in 1973 but I assume that having classes here must be an experience of returning to the past. I also assume that the rooms must be crazy cold to have classes in.
Searching for a place to have dinner was not that easy because the restaurants that locals had recommended us were quite full. Talk about visiting a city the weekend before Christmas! The only one of the recommended restaurants that had a little free space was Choupana, right next to the main square (Praça do Giraldo). We sat at the counter to eat our tasty lamb ribs, eat the amazing and thick Alentejo bread (“pão Alentejano”) and drink Alentejo wine from a mug. The best was saved for last, since one of my favorite desserts is Sericaia, a tasty conventual pie based on eggs and cinnammon originally from Alentejo too. You cat it either with plums or not, I prefer without. For all this we only paid 10.30€ each! We even met a middle-aged couple from Porto who shared with us some facts about their travels around Portugal and the world. I totally recomend this place for a typical meal and cozy experience!
The night ended by going to a concert from Portuguese blues & rock musician Fast Eddie Nelson at Sociedade Harmonia Eborense. I love this cultural space and its bar. The society is now 167 years old and the building keeps the charm of other times, with its sofas, tiles and blue ceilings. This bad girl didn’t take any pictures and also with my cell phone they would have ended up pretty bad but you have to believe me that you should visit. You pay 3€ to enter since it’s the price of a temporary associate.
Our lazy Sunday began with a visit to the Cathedral. We paid 3€ each to visit it and also go to the cloister and climb up to the roof. The Cathedral is quite tall for Portuguese standards and dates back from the 13th century in Romanic and Gothic style. The interiors had additions in the 16th and the 18th century too. I liked the simple cloister with orange trees, reminiscent of the gardens in Andalucia, Spain. I also like that the central shrine is made with pink and grey marble, also reminding me of the churches I saw in Rome and this is a style that I like much more than the Portuguese Baroque, full of golden shrines.
Before lunchtime, we finally took some time to stop by and take picture of the main square, Praça do Giraldo. This square is named after Geraldo sem Pavor, a chevalier who was presumably key to the conquest of Évora from the Moorish in 1165, along with other cities of Alentejo. The main interest point of the square is the marble fountain from the 16th century, classified as a National Monument.
After a quite nice lunch at Cantinho da Beatriz that cost only 6€, we decided to visit Fundação Eugénio de Almeida and the Contemporary Art Centre since it was free on Sundays. Well, I just remember we walked a bit to relax and in the end there was a meditative experience that left us sleepy. In Alentejo it used to be common practice to sleep the afternoon “sesta” and we were so tired that I think this was perfect for a short unintended nap.
Since we were still good on money and because we wanted to visit Igreja dos Lóios, we paid 7€ to visit the church and the Palace of Duques de Cadaval, an important noble family in Portugal. The church is very nice, full of traditional tiles, which makes it quite different than most churches here in Portugal. However, I think 7€ to visit the palace is super overpriced. The palace has some important historical documents but it’s a very short visit and the absence of informations about the history of the family makes the visit quite empty. Not recommended at all. I think that there should be a separate ticket for the church only, that is worth to visit but not for a price of 7€!
The Palace of Duques de Cadaval is located in the same square as the Roman Temple of Évora. The temple is an UNESCO World Heritage site and was presumably built in the 1st century AD. Nowadays there is a belief that this was a temple for worshipping Emperor Augustus, but a legend from the 12th century attributes this temple as a place for worshipping Diana, the Roman Goddess of hunting. Due to this legend, the temple is commonly called Templo de Diana. This temple is the only Roman legacy standing in Évora to this day.
We then headed north towards the Aqueduct of Água da Prata, also an UNESCO World Heritage site. The aqueduct was built in the 16th century for water supply to the city and keeps this function to this day! Walking along it, it is quite interesting to see the houses that are built in the arches. This stroll was superb to watch the typical white and yellow houses of Alentejo, painted with “cal” (lime).
We walked even farther, outside of the city walls, to see Mosteiro da Cartuxa from the outside. This is the only male cloistered religious order in Portugal. Obviously we cannot visit but the façade of the church is really beautiful. I didn’t get a good picture but you can check the aerial view in the link above.
This concludes my tour of Évora! However, the best part of walking around any city is wandering through the streets and finding any nice colorful houses and details like these. You may seen in future posts how the typical architecture in Portugal varies so much from region to region!
Conclusion: I spent only 79.25€ for the whole weekend, with accomodation and travel included! I could have even spent less but I was really satisfied with this relaxing weekend. This is a huge feat for me since I love a fast paced travel in a big city and here in Évora I learned to embrace slow travel and to stop to savor the moment. Any slow travel fans? I’m sure you’ll enjoy Évora or any other place in Alentejo for the matter!
What are your favorite things about Évora? Would you include it in your next slow trip to Portugal?
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