Portugal // Alentejo //

Castelo de Vide

Twenty kilometres north of Portalegre, the small town of CASTELO DE VIDE throws up one of the nicest surprises in the Alto Alentejo. Its blindingly white cottages cover the slopes around a fourteenth-century castle, while steep cobbled streets and placid squares are lined with well-watered pots of geraniums, tumbling house plants and two-metre-high sunflowers. Mineral springs pepper the local hills and the town is full of public fountains in gleaming praças and shaded gardens. It’s one of those places that begs an aimless, meandering stroll, and it’s very easy to find you’ve spent a couple of days here doing not very much at all quite happily.

The lower town stretches from the pretty public gardens to the main Igreja de Santa Maria, behind which are the cobbled lanes and twisting alleyways of the Judairia – the old Jewish quarter – which was first established by Jews fleeing the Inquisition in Spain. It’s a jumble of carefully kept cottages with Gothic doorways and windows, many with brilliant floral displays carpeting the steps. In one small square sits the Fonte da Vila, a Renaissance marble fountain dispensing Castelo de Vide’s famed mineral water, while further up the precipitous Rua da Fonte lies the thirteenth-century Sinagoga, the oldest surviving synagogue in Portugal. From the outside it doesn’t look very different from the cottages from which it was originally adapted, and inside the plain room only the tabernacle survives.

Keep on further up the hill and you reach the walls and gateway of the Castelo, whose foursquare keep squats within the wider fortifications of the original burgo medieval (medieval village). The views over the green and grey plains beyond are magnificent, while across town you can see the walls of the Forte de São Roque, Castelo de Vide’s other defensive bulwark. There’s nothing to see inside here, though it’s worth the punishing climb up any of the back-breaking streets from the main road in town to the aptly named Praça Alta near the fort, from where there are more sweeping views across the plain.

With a car or a bike you can also spend an enjoyable day tracking down dolmens, menhirs and antas, the remains of an important megalithic culture which lie between Castelo de Vide, the Barragem de Póvoa and the village of Póvoa e Meadas 10km to the north.

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