The thermal spa town of MOURA, 29km north of Serpa, springs another Alentejan surprise – an opulent place full of grand mansions and pretty squares. It’s also the closest town to the controversial Alqueva dam. The Moors occupied the town from the eighth century until 1232 – an Arabic well still survives in the old town – and Moura is named after a Moorish maiden, Moura Saluquia, who ostensibly threw herself from the castle tower in despair when Christians murdered her betrothed and overran the town.

But it was the discovery of thermal springs in the late nineteenth century that prompted Moura’s eventual prosperity. These are located at the entrance to the pretty public gardens, the Jardim Doutor Santiago, and are still in use – a euro gets you a brief soak in a marble bath.

West of the gardens rises the Manueline Igreja de São João Baptista and, beyond, the Castelo, built by Dom Dinis over a Moorish citadel and largely destroyed by the Spanish Duke of Osuna in 1701. One Moorish tower survives, plus a few sections of wall and a forlorn clock tower topped by a stork’s nest, but the castle grounds have been attractively landscaped and form the background for the summer “enchanted nights” of music, dance and other events held here. From the green lawns within the walls are expansive views across the surrounding land – a telescope is trained on the Alqueva dam wall, clearly visible 12km to the north.

The Moorish quarter is just to the south of the castle, off the elongated Praça Sacadura Cabral. Once a teeming hive of alleys, it’s now a quiet residential neighbourhood, whose few narrow cobbled streets only spring to life once the heat of the day diminishes. The surviving Moorish-era well – signposted “Poço Arabe” – forms part of a small collection of Arabic artefacts in the Núcleo Árabe. This is an outpost of Moura’s municipal museum, whose main building is at Rua da Romeira 19, behind the Igreja de São João Baptista. There’s not much to grip you here, though you might want to stroll up to the museum’s other outpost, the Lagar de Varas, at Rua São João de Deus 20, just around the corner from the Hotel de Moura. This is the old municipal olive-oil plant, a beautifully cool, dark building featuring the restored wooden presses and vats plus a small exhibition about the production of olive oil.

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