Santiago do Cacém

Jo’s Monday walk : Santiago do Cacém

‘Where shall we go for our anniversary, hon?’  Greeted with the usual shrug and ‘anywhere you want’.  After 31 years I know he doesn’t mean this literally, and current circumstances are such that even I hesitated to suggest anywhere too exciting.  Chicago, Japan and the Isles of Scilly passed fleetingly through my mind, before I settled on a more practical choice, the Alentejo.  Not too far, in driving terms, from our Algarve home, and much of it, for us, still uncharted territory.

The Troia peninsula, just south of Setúbal, holds great appeal, but it’s high summer and the beach hotels are expensive and likely too busy.  So, pointing my nose in that general direction, I settled on slightly obscure but potentially interesting, Santiago do Cacém.  A castle and a church, perched high on a hill.  What could be better….?  Yes, that was the spouse’s reaction when he saw the height of the hill in question.  But we started slowly, chancing upon the TI, beautifully located in gardens, and with an adjoining café.

I freely admit that I had little idea of what else there might be to see, but the gentleman in the TI was very helpful.  We had already passed signs for the Roman ruins of Miróbriga, on the outskirts of town. Time to start a gentle ascent to the castle.  There’s nothing I like better than a meander through quirky streets of crumbling houses, shored up by their smart neighbours, and with a smattering of compelling street art.

A towering pink fire station, dangling laundry, a neglected church with chorus of cherubs and Manueline doorway, a square with pelourinho (or pillory) and magnificently rusted door handles.  Not a bad haul for a couple of streets.  And the tiny courtyard with the shrine to a beloved pet.

So many distractions, I had scarcely noticed the gradient of our climb but finally we reached the Castelo de Santiago do Cacém, built by the Moors.

Originally the castle had 10 square towers and semi-cylindrical turrets, externally defended by a barbican, some of which have survived.  The ancient church of Santiago is integrated into the south east wall.  I had forgotten that the castle, abandoned in the 1700s, had become the town’s cemetery in the 19th century.  Glancing through the archway I saw the tombs and hesitated, not wanting to be disrespectful.  The palace and gardens of the Condes de Avillez adjoin the castle, and for a while I wandered in their atmospheric shade.

Then realisation dawned, and we entered the grounds of the ruined castle.

Rarely have I been in a more serene and lovely place.  I wandered among the tombstones, marveling at the details, and then climbed to the castle walls.  A solitary caretaker was busy removing and tidying, and gave us a cheery wave.

Reluctantly I made my way back through the stone archway, but there was another treat to come.  The door to the Santiago Church was ajar, and I stepped quietly inside.  A lovely young woman beamed at me and gestured that I should come in and enjoy the beautiful surrounds.

The gilded wood carvings told of hours of craftsmanship.  We exchanged smiles again, behind our masks, complicit in our appreciation.  Heading downhill, there was still a colourful surprise in store.  An art gallery, maybe?  I wasn’t sure.

I hope you enjoyed today’s wander.  We had the best view from a hotel room that I can remember in quite some time, and we made it to the top of the hill.  Next week I’ll take you to Miróbriga and the Roman ruins.

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Thanks again everyone, for the appreciation and for keeping me company on my rambles.  Not too many walks to share this week, so please find time to visit.  And if you have a walk you’d like to share, feel free!

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