About 22km (14 miles) northeast of the town of Évora, in the centre of the marble-quarrying region of Portugal, you will find the beautiful little town of Estremoz, which although much smaller than Évora contains some fascinating monuments. It is also famous for its pinky glow, which is courtesy of the local marble from which many of the buildings in the town are constructed.
The old part of town, crowned by a castle now converted into a pousada, was founded by King Afonso III in 1258, but is most often associated with King Dinis, whose residence it was in the 14th century. His wife, the saintly Queen Isabel of Aragon, is honoured by a statue in the main square, and a chapel dedicated to her can be seen in one of the castle towers. The chapel is at the top of a narrow staircase; small, and highly decorated, it is where Isabel is said to have died, although some say that she died in the nearby King’s Audience Chamber. The chapel walls are adorned with 18th-century azulejos and paintings depicting scenes from the queen’s life. Behind the alter is a tiny plain room bearing a smaller altar, on which the Estremoz faithful have placed their ex votos, or offerings.
The most impressive part of the castle is the wonderful 13th-century keep, which is entered via the pousada. To get to the top you need to be fairly fit – or take a slow and steady ascent. The second floor has an octagonal room with trefoil windows, and from the top platform there is a breathtaking view. The red roof tops contrast beautifully with the whitewashed houses and the green plains beyond, much of which is planted with olive trees.
Across the square from the pousada is King’s Dinis’s palace. It must once have been a beautiful place, but all that remains standing after a gunpowder explosion in the palace arsenal on 1698 is the Gothic colonnade and star-vaulted Audience Chamber. It is used nowadays for exhibitions of work by local artists.
Having survived the narrow roads and hairpin bends on the drive up to the castle, the descent seems easy. The upper town is connected to the lower town by 14th-century ramparts and modern buildings; the wrought-iron balconies are decorated with coloured tiles.
Estremoz is known for the small clay figures known as bonecas which can be seen in the little municipal museum in Largo Dom Dinis. It is also famous for its brilliantly coloured pottery, which is for sale all over town.
If you like Portuguese wines then you may be familiar with the name Borba, where a cooperative produce a good red wine. The ancient village of Borba (about 11km/6 miles from Estremoz), which is said to date back to the Gauls and Celts, does not have much to show except for a splendid fountain, the Fonte des Bicas, built in 1781 from local white marble.
So the nest time you are planning a trip to Portugal, plan a visit to this beautiful little town. It truly is a delight.
(Adapted from Insight Guides Portugal – www.insightguides.com)