Thirty kilometres east of Beja, on the road to Spain, the small market town of SERPA offers the classic Alentejan attractions – a walled centre, a castle and narrow, whitewashed streets of handsome bougainvillea-clad houses and lush gardens. The town has at various times been occupied by Celts, Romans and Moors, and its highest point is capped by the remnants of its Castelo, blown up by the Spanish, whose surviving battlements you can climb for spectacular vistas of the plain to the north and the hills to the south. There is a tiny archeological museum in the keep and, close by, the thirteenth-century church of Santa Maria, containing an altarpiece of intricate woodcarving, surrounded by seventeenth-century azulejos. From the castle battlements you can track the course of the well-preserved eleventh-century aqueduct (closed to the public), which retains an antique chain-pump at one end. You can see this best from just outside the walls, on Rua dos Arcos.
Beyond these few attractions, the delight of Serpa is in wandering its quiet, little-visited streets that spread for just a few hundred metres within the encircling walls. Centre of the settlement is the Praça da República, with its palm tree and cafés. Arched gates provide access to the more modern town beyond – equally sleepy – with a Museu Etnográfico, flanking the eastern walls at Largo do Corro. This offers an interesting account of the changing economic activity of the area, with exhibits of agricultural implements, olive presses and local costumes. To the south, the public gardens provide shade in the hottest part of the day.Read More