Evora may play second fiddle to Portugal’s major cities of Lisbon and Porto, but this charming little town with a rich history back to the Roman age was one of the highlights of our trip to Portugal with our twins. It might have been the spectacular weather and one of the best places we’ve ever stayed as accommodations, but it may have stuck out more than Lisbon or Porto as a favorite on the trip for us. For a small town, there’s a ton to see and do even when pushing a stroller around the cobble-stoned streets.
We spent two full days in Evora and wished we had more. Even in early June the sun was phenomenal and warm, giving us the perfect excuse to stop for drinks and get some shade often. We also kept moving though to make sure we saw all the major sights from the centuries of history this town has built up over. We even got to experience the local culture and viticulture during a festival. We almost didn’t see any of it because we enjoyed our time so much both at the house we stayed in and again at a bar in a shaded former convent’s courtyard with drinks that we never wanted to leave either. Fortunately we did though and fell in love with this charming little city in the heart of one of Portugal’s (numerous) wine regions.
We stayed at the Carranca Lounge, essentially a guesthouse attached to the main house of the family who lives there and operates the property. Located about 10 minutes out of time, it feels like a different world, removed from the hustle of the larger towns and cities on a more pastoral setting. There aren’t many places one can stay where horses walk up to the window in the morning. Beyond the horses, there were also two massive Portuguese Estrella Mountain Shepard Dogs, a bred I’d never heard of but couldn’t quite believe. These gentle giants were super friendly to our little boys and seemed to watch over us while we were guests. Also looking after us were the fantastic family living there who prepared incredible breakfasts with fresh bread and fruit each morning and our best meal of the trip with homemade local cod specialties and a fantastic tart for dessert. They even let our boys join their friendly daughters watching Portuguese tv while my wife and I got to enjoy the Portuguese sunset with a local wine after dinner. No wonder the boys started shouting “Ola” to everyone they met shortly after.
Evora’s history is incredibly well preserved. Just outside the massive medieval walls of the town, the Roman Aqueduct still slopes gently into the town. Inside the walls, shops and houses sprang up under the arches of the aqueduct over time and still remain. At night, the floodlights illuminate it in warm tones making a perfect path back home.
Following the aqueduct into town, we turned down Rue do Cano, a traditional medieval street where the buildings sloped overhead, feeling more like a canyon. As we followed it toward the town center, we later turned onto Rue da Mouraria, the old Moorish quarter where whitewashed walls overlooked the narrow streets.
This eventually brought us to the town’s large university, The College of the Holy Spirit. While we didn’t take the full tour, we found large ornate classical buildings harboring decadent libraries and foyers, impressing students and visiting dignitaries. From here we followed what must be one of the steepest streets in Portugal, complete with cobblestones, up to the center. The boys loved the adventure of bouncing up the street in their stroller. Thankfully there was an interesting building at the top to pause at and pretend to investigate while I caught my breath.
At the center of the city are the three most famous historical sights, the cathedral, roman temple, and Pousada convent. The cathedral reaches high into the sky with its massive towers and impresses on the inside with golden gilt decor everywhere the eye can see.
The roman temple stands right in the center of a square as it has for centuries. The columns are in pretty great shape considering the amount of time they’ve stood there. The original purpose isn’t completely known though it’s now unofficially known as a temple to Diana. It’s an incredible reminder of the breadth and scope the Roman Empire possessed at its height and the incredible power it held being able to administer a province and influence the culture this far from Rome.
There’s also a little park next to the temple with tables and a nice view out over the city and surrounding country side for a nice break.
On the other side of the temple is the Pousada Convent, a former convent and now hotel and museum. Best of all though is a cafe in the former cloister courtyard which, being enclosed but open, was perfect for letting the boys run around while we relaxed. We ordered a Sangria after a flash of inspiration somehow told me not to get the normal beer here and were offered an “aggressive” one. We of course accepted. While we sipped, the boys ran around playing with their toy cars on the various columns, foundation blocks, and grass which had probably been there for centuries. We stayed for nearly two hours, a veritable lifetime in toddler travel time.
A bit more on the outskirts, we continued our exploration of the other antiquity sights around town. We discovered the Roman Arch and Roman baths nearby. Though the baths were inside a museum, large parts were visible from outside and the scale of the buildings there was incredible. Apparently Evora wasn’t even that big of a destination for the baths, they were so common elsewhere in the region.
Back toward the cathedral, we set off down Rue Cinco de Outubro, the town’s main shopping street. I loved to see that there was a street fair set up, but instead of tacky junk, it was populated only with stalls selling books from a variety of local bookstores and libraries. Portugal is rich with bookstores and we noticed them everywhere we went on our trip. Halfway down the street we stopped in Gente da Minha Terra, a small local craft store selling handmade items made locally. We brought home a few sardine related items as souvenirs.
All the way down the street we hit the town’s largest plaza, Prada do Giraldo. Visiting at the beginning of June we were lucky to stumble upon the region’s wine festival. For less than 5 Euros, we each got a glass and as many sample pours from over 50 local wineries as we wanted. A band even played throughout the festival while locals caroused. We enjoyed a variety of wines from perfectly chilled white wine to more full bodies reds and even some fortified wines from the south of the region.
Once we had our fill, we meandered down to Restaurante Tipico Guiao for an early dinner. Recommended as child friendly, we had great friendly service throughout. The boys enjoyed a traditional veggie stew and pork cutlets while I had some incredible pork medallions. We opted to skip the wine as we kept our glasses knowing we’d return to the festival later. We enjoyed the traditional food and decor while the boys devoured their food.
Nearby we found the Royal Palace of Evora and it’s incredible gardens. On this day, the university graduation ceremony took place in town, and it seemed like afterward all of the students went to these gardens with their families to get pictures in their traditional garb. In Portugal, college graduates wear a black cape – think Harry Potter – emblazoned with logs and patches from the school and their activities. It felt like the biggest game of Quiddich was going to break out. Inside the gardens we found peacocks wondering around and a variety of beautifully landscaped trees and flowers.
After stopping back at the wine festival, we started back out of town. Just under the aqueduct on the outskirts of town was one of the more famous wineries, Cartuxa, where we decided we just had to stop. Though we got in too late for a tour or tasting, we grabbed a few bottles to take back to our great home away from home.
The horses and dogs were waiting up for us.