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Castelo De Marvao and Gardens in The Alentejo District, Portugal

An unforgettable sojourn


by Anwar A. Khan

Lisbon is the capital and the largest city of Portugal. It is mainland Europe's westernmost capital city and the only one along the Atlantic coast. Lisbon lies in the western Iberian Peninsula on the Atlantic Ocean, the River Tagus and to the north and east by Spain. The westernmost portions of its metro area form the westernmost point of Continental Europe, which is known as Cabo da Roca, located in the Sintra Mountains. Lisbon Portela is its main Airport.

Distance from Dhaka to Lisbon is: 8029 miles / 12921.42 km / 6977.01 nautical miles. 243 Km is distance from Lisbon to Marvao via Estrada de Castelo de Vide by road, and by train is 170km.

Marvão Castle 


Marvão Castle stands at a height of 843 metres above sea level, on one of the highest points in the Serra de São Mamede, known as the Serra do Sapoio. The crag on which it stands is a fairly rugged escarpment, forming a natural point of defence, to which access can only be gained from the east, the direction in which the village has spread inside the walls. From here it was possible to watch over the nearby frontier with Spain and observe the Spanish town of Valencia de Alcántara, from where enemy forces were frequently expected to come.

The castle and its walls form a very well preserved whole, resulting in a superimposition of fortresses, corresponding to various well-documented periods of construction. Still remaining from the time of the Christian conquest led by D. Afonso II (12th century) are a few sections of wall, the Romanesque doorway of the keep (Torre de Menagem), the Gates of Treason (Portas da Traição) and the small cistern. At the end of the 13th century, D. Dinis ordered work to be carried out on improving and strengthening the fortifications, which can be identified in the pointed-arch gates and the town wall. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the various entrances were reinforced and the keep was altered to its present-day structure, whilst the large cistern was also built.

The other fortified gates, the Porta de Rodão, Porta da Vila, Porta do Fortim and Porta da Rua Nova were built later, in the 17th century, as part of a campaign to reinforce defences during the Wars for the Restoration of Independence fought between Portugal and Spain (1640-68). At the end of the century, some of the directions in which the watchtowers faced were changed and the entrances to the castle were altered. It was at this time that the kiln known as the Forno does Assento and the citadel´s workshops were built, although these have since disappeared.

Besides these military peculiarities, Marvão Castle is particularly appreciated for its surrounding countryside, with views stretching far into the distance. It is worth walking around the walls of Marvão and ending at the castle keep, from where, according to the popular saying, "the backs of the birds can be seen" as they fly around.

The neatly trimmed hedges and flowering trees of Castle Marvão's garden present a peaceful scene, but notice those stout stone walls and that looming tower - this place was built for battle. Cut into a hill high above the Alentejo plains, the Marvão Castle we see today was built in the 12th Century and was reinforced and remodelled in the centuries that followed. A walk to the top of the stony stronghold provides sweeping vistas across the Portuguese countryside. From there you can also get a bird's-eye view of the charming village washed in white and tucked into the narrow, winding streets below the castle.

The Marvão Castle was built up over a rock, in the West end of the village of Marvão, by the command of D. Dinís at the end of the 18th century, although almost everything you can see today is the result of some modifications made through the 17th century.

Close to the entrance there a huge vaulted tank, currently full of water. From the highest of the keep, you will admire some excellent views of the different enclosures of the castle, especially of the battlemented towers and the watchtowers built up on the edge of the cliff.

It is possible to walk around the city through the walls of the castle. From its battlements, you will enjoy imposing views of the city of Marvão, the Serra de São Mamede (Mountain Range), Serra da Estrela, Castelo Branco and Spanish mountain ranges.

The castle enclosure is surrounded by gardens full of bushes, from where it is accessed the Igreja de Santa Maria Church, which hosts the Municipal Museum.

Such places are definitely interesting for those who academically studied the history of this peninsula, development of these two neighbours through times and their fortification systems. We climbed up and had spectacular views of both Spain and Portugal. It was definitely worth the climb and was not at all crowded in October. This is a well-preserved castle that is an important part of …

Julie
The castle is in an amazing location. It offers beautiful views and has a few beautiful rooms. We choose to walk up the from the town at the base to the castle. It took us about 25 minutes. Your knees and legs need to be relatively pain free and in at least average shape. Once we got to the castle we waited for our appointed tour time. They heard you through with an audio guide. There is no time to really look at the finished rooms. No real guides to give tours or answer questions. I would like to have had much more time in the castle to really view the rooms because there is some amazing art work that you can't really appreciate in 3 to 5 minutes per room. While I would put it on my list of sites to see in Germany, the castle does not measure up to the hype.

When I first visited Marvão, in the Alto Alentejo region of Portugal, I was on foot and weary after a couple of botched attempts to follow a walking trail uphill to the village. After eventually finding the correct cobbled path through the cork oaks, I emerged in a fairy tale setting of whitewashed stone cottages, crowned by the gorgeous Marvão castle. This more than compensated for the adventures involved in getting there.
I was instantly smitten but this was back in the days before I started blogging about Portugal. I have wanted to share my love of Marvão with you but wanted to make sure my information was current before writing this article. To that end, 10 years later I made a return trip and spent a couple of nights discovering what to do in Marvão and the surrounding area.

This time, I arrived by car in time for the sunset along with my friend Ms. Julie and made a beeline for the balcony at our guesthouse only for the wind to practically blow us back indoors. We were not too concerned as we knew we had the whole of the following day to enjoy the privileged views as Julie told me earlier.

Imagine the disappointment when we woke up the next day to find ourselves in the middle of a cloud! We could barely see 20 metres in front of us.

Thankfully this mist cleared by about 10 am to reveal the picture-perfect castle in all its glory as well as the surrounding plains, lakes and Serra de São Mamede mountains. By the afternoon on our second day, the weather was warm enough for us to sit on the balcony with a cup of Alentejo coffee.

Marvão Castle was started in 876 by an Islamic knight and taken over by King Afonso I’s Christian army in the 12th century. Various innovative military reinforcements and embellishments were added over the course of the next five centuries and despite Spanish attacks in the 18th century, the castle is in remarkable condition.

The garden in front of the castle adds to its photo-worthiness but the views across the village and landscape are the best part. Marvao Castle is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

I had been in many village museums over the years and consequently had fairly low expectations of Marvão’s. I might even have skipped it if we hadn’t been waiting for the mist to clear. I’m more than glad we went inside.

Housed inside St. Mary’s church, with its frescoes of saints and dragons and decorated chapels, the small museum contains artefacts donated by the local community. Where else could you find such oddities as furry knee pads for pilgrims and contraceptive soap balls?

As Julie and I wandered around the cobbled village streets in the fog, I noticed a rather unusual letter box built into the walls of a cottage. Then I noticed another and another. It seems that Marvão is full of unique postal orifices!

Such a quaint village is bound to attract visitors and a natural extension of this is the sprinkling of souvenir shops and gourmet stores. Some of them stock good quality crafts from around the region, such as O Poial da Artesão. If you won’t have the opportunity to visit the pottery village of São Pedro do Corval near Monsaraz, this is a good place to buy ceramics.
We were lured into Marvão Com Gosto gourmet grocery store by the bags of homemade cookies on display in the doorway. The friendly owner gave us some samples and pointed to a narrow window through which we could see his wife busy making a fresh batch. I can highly recommend both the ginger and oat snaps. They also sell a range of Portuguese foods to be enjoyed here or to take home with you.
Mercearia da Vila is a useful combination of mini market that serves the needs of the local population as well as offering a range of carefully selected crafts and gourmet food and drinks. Another gem of a store is the artist’s shop within the castle. Dutch water colourist, Leone Holzhaus, paints adorable lifelike water colours of typical country scenes, such as, women doing laundry in the communal tank or old men gathered on a bench.
There are a few cafés scattered around Marvão. Among our favourites was the one that’s part of the cultural centre, Natural Bar, which was presumably an old grocery store or adega, judging by the counter. It now has an eclectic collection of furniture and serves nibbles and drinks including wine and craft beers.
My other top tip is O Castelo. In summer you can enjoy the views from the outdoor terrace or cozy up by the open fireplace in winter. It’s attached to Varanda do Alentejo, which serves lunch.

I was not sure that horse riding was going to be such a good idea. Both my friend Julie and I have lost weight over that time and neither of is a particularly experienced or confident rider so we were somewhat concerned about overburdening and controlling the animals.

We needn’t have worried. Caballos Marvão issued us with sturdy placid horses as requested and took us on a leisurely hack along old smugglers’ routes. Their farm has enviable views of Marvão and the surrounding countryside is really pretty.

Ms. Sara told us plenty about the area as we plodded along and surprised us by ending the experience with wine and Spanish cured meat (her family are from across the border) in their courtyard.

I am going to have to come back (poor me) to do some more walking in this area with a more willing companion. Thanks to Alentejo Feel Nature, there are several marked hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty.

At the foot of the hill, there’s a small village called Portagem. As well as having a great seasonal outdoor pool, there’s a river beach so you can pick your bathing spot to cool off on summer days.

We stayed at Casa do Arvore and chose it primarily for the views from the shared balcony. The husband and wife team have been running the guesthouse for many years and offer a warm welcome. If you are looking for a simple, cozy place to stay with stunning views and parking outside, it hits the spot.

For a more upmarket stay, consider the 4-star Pousada de Marvão, which combines comfort, style and charm with stunning views from the dining room, seating area and balconies in some of the rooms. There is parking but it’s limited and a bit tricky when full.

The 3-star hotel El-Rei Dom Manuel is in the heart of Marvão and offers classically decorated clean, comfortable rooms and good service. The onsite restaurant is very good and there’s ample easy parking outside the hotel.

If you wouldd rather stay closer to the main road and the swimming pool or river beach, the modern 3-star Hotel Sever Rio is a good option and has a decent restaurant onsite, not to mention great views of Marvão perched on its hill.

We loved Marvao! The castle was great, so where the tiny cobbled streets. We stayed at the pousada, very nice, and since it was March, lower priced. Both the pousada dining room and a charming place at the bottom of the mountain just beyond the gate offered really great food and wine.

-The End -

The writer is an independent political observer based in Dhaka, Bangladesh who writes on politics, political and human-centered figures, current and international affairs.

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