The delightful small town of BELMONTE springs one of the best surprises in the Beiras, a charming place of sun-dappled squares, stone houses dripping with window boxes and lazy dogs basking on the cobbles. There are curiosities at every turn, such as the unusual pillory in the shape of an olive press, or the fire-blackened tree stumps outside the castle, which are the site of Christmas Eve carols and gambols. Meanwhile, in the Zêzere river valley, which Belmonte overlooks, vast peach and cherry orchards splash a blaze of colour each spring.
For the Portuguese Belmonte is best known as the birthplace of Pedro Álvares Cabral (1467–1520), the “discoverer” of Brazil, who was born in the tidily restored castelo overlooking town. Cabral’s father received the castle from Dom Afonso V, and adapted it as the family residence, though it later fell into disrepair. The Igreja de Santiago, just outside the castle walls, contains the Cabral family pantheon (though not the tomb of Pedro Álvares, which is in Santarém), while one of two tiny stone chapels on a hillock opposite is inscribed with the Cabral family coat of arms – two goats within a shield. The Cabral trail also extends to the main through-road named in his honour, where there’s a statue of the explorer clutching a large cross.