MONSARAZ – known locally as Ninho das Águias (Eagles’ Nest) – is perched high above the border plains, a tiny village nestled into fortified walls close to the Spanish border. With a permanent population of only a few hundred, Monsaraz has just two main streets that run parallel to each other, Rua Direita and Rua de Santiago. The Igreja Matriz lies at the heart of the village, just off the main square that’s home to a curious eighteenth-century pillory. The village does its best to attract visitors with a series of little galleries, craft shops and restaurants, but it’s really the castle, the higgledy-piggledy streets and magnificent views from the walls that keep people coming: to the north and west, you survey a typically flat Alentejan plain of vineyards and olive groves, while to the south and east a watery expanse glitters far below the village, part of Europe’s largest artificial reservoir behind the dam at Alqueva.
Four thousand years ago, the region around Monsaraz was an important centre of megalithic culture, and various dolmens (covered temples or tombs), menhirs (standing stones) and stone circles survive today. An hour and a half’s driving circuit takes in most of these, and if you throw in lunch and a vineyard visit at nearby Reguengos that’s a good day out.