Monsaraz, not to be confused with Monserrate, is a true gem of the region. Most famous for its historic fort, the town offers a look into the quieter side Portuguese life in a place that hasn’t been ravaged by tourism at the detriment of its identity.
The expected cobbled streets along with the charming centuries-old architecture make for a stunning vista, especially at dusk. Minutes after thinking to myself how this would be an excellent location for a summer wedding, I had vindication a few minutes later, as over one of the town walls there was a wedding taking place right that moment on one of the piazzas below. If a wedding abroad doesn’t take your fancy, then getting engaged here would be just as special; just don’t let your bride or groom read this article.
Another notable place is the Aldeia de Luz, Portugal’s most recent official new settlement. It was specifically built to rehome the 373 residents of the previous Aldeia de Luz, the site of which now lies underwater at the bed of the Lake Alquieva. It was planned and made according to the local culture and each of the homes was rebuilt for each of the previous inhabitants using the style of their old house, safeguarding the community values and presumably to keep the people happy.
The unique attributes of the resettlement and the village it replaced have been immortalised in an international award-winning museum in the new village which is well worth a visit.
With the lake being untouched by anything industrial, the water is clean and clear, and the surrounding land is bursting with untouched nature. If you err on the energetic side, you can keep active by taking a swim in the deeper waters of the lake, go for a cycle, or even canoe using one of the rentable vessels from some of the Marinas.
If not, then sunbathing on the deck with a good book in the tranquillity should keep you satisfied.
One of the lasting memories of this trip is the respite it offers compared to the usual activity-and-party trips usually high on any city-dweller’s summer agenda. Perhaps we could all learn a little from the rural Portuguese way of life – I’ll be back next year.