In a week or so of very mixed weather, we drove north from the Algarve in radiant sunshine. I was certain that luck would desert us as we crossed the border into the Alentejo. For a little while hazy clouds veiled the sun, but then Mertola was displayed in all her glory.
If ever you want to step back into Portugal’s Moorish past, this is a fine place to do it. I don’t intend to do a lot of talking, partly because I don’t have the time, but also because these cobbled streets cast their own magic. All you really need to do is follow.
Your first sight of the town, as you cross the bridge over Ribeira de Oeiras, is the castelo perched high above you. It’s enough to whet your appetite. There is parking on Estrada de Circunvalacao and from there Alves Redol leads quietly upwards, until you reach the viewing point in the photo above. Below, tables are laid at a riverside restaurant and the Guadiana squirms away into the distance.
On Largo Vasco da Gama, the blue and white of ‘Casa Guadiana’ is tucked into a corner where you melt in summer. Needing to stretch our legs first, we pass by the tiny Mercado and the Tourist Information centre. (where you can acquire a town map) A remarkable walled street invites you to follow it’s contours. Could you decline?
The doors, balconies and mysterious chimneys captivate. Each one a story in itself. I stop to watch a lady shaking and pegging out a tablecloth. And then there’s the beautiful clock tower, Torre do Relogio. Alluring, isn’t it?
Rua Combatentes da Grande Guerra follows the river. Just another clue to the turbulent history reenacted here, in this serene and peaceful setting.
I’ve passed by the Camara Municipal, with its stylish red balconies. Red and ochre compliment the white so well, the shabby blending well with the chique. Turning up Rua Dr. Antonio Jose de Almeida, I am but following my nose, not sure where to look next.
The decision is made for me when I spot this playful graffiti on a peeling wall. Isn’t it beautiful? And on the other side of the narrow street, an elegant vermilion door, with a single flower tucked into the window. Never forget to look up too! Overhead, ornate drain pipes open mouths wide.
Intent on the lovely distractions, almost without realising it you’ve climbed up to the castle walls and are looking down on the Oeiras tributary of the River Guadiana. Time to inject a little history as we approach the castelo and the lovely Igreja Matriz. The Mother Church began life back in the 8th century as a mosque. In 1238, Christian knights conquered the town, led by Santiago ‘Mata Mouros’.(the Moor killer) The Koran was replaced by the Bible, and the mosque converted to Nossa Senhora da Assuncao. A keep was added to the castle, but the church retains its ‘mihrab’ (prayer niche) to this day.
New pathways and landscaped gardens have been added since I was here last, and a huge project is ongoing to excavate the ruins of the town and elaborate mosaics. In May every odd year a Moorish festival takes place in Mertola. I must ensure to attend in 2017 to inspect progress.
I peered with interest at the ruins and promised myself to find the site online when I got home. Here it is. For us it was time to head back down, past Igreja Matriz, and search out somewhere to relax. Ever alert, my other half had noted a cafe at the back of the small Mercado. ‘Cafetaria Manu’ has a tiny terrace overlooking the Guadiana, and you can buy cake or a simple sandwich to accompany an excellent glass of wine.
From the eastern end of the Algarve, Mertola is easily reached on the virtually traffic free IC27, which leads north from Castro Marim. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit, and hope that you did too.
This is a scheduled post and I won’t actually be home until Thursday, so I apologise if my responses are a little scanty at first. I didn’t want to leave the gap between walks for too long, and needed to write this while it was fresh in my memory. Thank you all for your lovely company and support. I only have a few shares this week but I’m hoping you’ve been saving them for my return.
As usual, details are on my Jo’s Monday walk page. Just click on the logo above.
I’m starting with a lovely man in Hamburg and an unusual look at life – thanks, Tobias!
A head for heights will help but is not essential to accompany Anabel, but money could be!
And Jackie tells me that Chinatown is great for food :
Geoff’s rambling again! I think we should humour him, don’t you?
This next is a bike ride so I’m afraid you’ll have to jog to keep up with Kathrin!
Hope this finds you happy and well. I’ll be back in person soon. Roving temporarily suspended….