The attractive hilltop town of ELVAS, 40km east of Estremoz, was long one of Portugal’s mightiest frontier posts, a response to the Spanish stronghold of Badajoz, just 15km to the east across the Rio Guadiana. Its star-shaped walls and outlying forts are among the best-preserved military fortifications in Europe and the town succumbed just once to Spanish conquest, when the garrison was betrayed in 1580, allowing Philip II to enter and, for a short period, establish his court. Elvas subsequently made amends – in 1644, the garrison resisted a nine-day siege by Spanish troops, and in 1658, with its numbers reduced by an epidemic to a mere thousand, saw off a fifteen-thousand-strong Spanish army. During the Peninsular War in 1811, the fort provided the base from which Wellington advanced to launch his bloody but successful assault on Badajoz.
These days it’s much quieter in small-town Elvas (population around 25,000). Spanish day-trippers pop over to climb the steep cobbled streets and sit in the restored central square, while the Monday market (held on alternate weeks) is a big attraction – a vibrant, chaotic affair held just outside town behind the aqueduct. Otherwise, the town’s main annual bash is its week-long Festa de São Mateus, starting on September 20 and including the largest procession in southern Portugal.Read More