Leave at least an afternoon or two to explore Évora’s environs, which have some significant attractions. Some, like the castles at Évoramonte, warrant a quick stop en route elsewhere, though the famed carpet town of Arraiolos, just to the north, is a popular day- or overnight trip from the city. The administrative district of Évora also contains over a dozen megalithic sites – dolmens (funerary chambers), menhirs (standing stones) and stone circles – which have their origins in a culture that flourished here before spreading north as far as Brittany and Denmark. The stones of Os Almendres, in particular, provide one of the country’s most extraordinary sights. With your own car, you can easily combine a visit to Os Almendres with the dramatic dolmen of Zambujeiro. While it’s tempting to take the fast road to Beja and the south, there’s an attractive detour to be made into deepest rural Alentejo, via the small historic towns of Viana do Alentejo and Alvito and the Roman ruins of São Cucufate. From Évora the first stop, Viana do Alentejo, is a simple twenty-minute drive down the ruler-straight N254. There’s no reliable public transport along this route – you’ll need a car.
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The Iberian peninsula’s largest and most impressive stone circle lies 13km west of Évora, just south of the small village of Guadalupe. To get there directly from Évora, take the N114 towards Montemor/Lisbon and follow the signs from Guadalupe. If you’re approaching from the south, from Escoural and Valverde, you need to turn left in Guadalupe, at the Café Barreiros.
You are directed out along a dirt road (largely flat and in good condition, fine for cars), reaching the Menir dos Almendres after 2km. This is a single, three-metre-high standing stone set in a quiet olive plantation five minutes’ walk from the road. Despite its obvious Neolithic origins, the local legend has it that it is the tomb of an enchanted Moorish princess, who appears once a year on the eve of São João and can be seen combing her hair.
Another 2.5km along the dirt road there’s a parking area beside the extraordinary Cromeleque dos Almendres, where no less than 92 stones are aligned for 70m down a dusty hillside. Placed here in several phases, between six and seven thousand years ago, they are thought to have been erected in a horseshoe shape as some kind of astronomical observatory and site of fertility rituals. Even today, the power of the site is undeniable, the stones resembling frozen figures gazing across the surrounding cork plantation to a distant Évora.