Our brief exposure to Obidos last night had excited our interest, but by the time we arrived at 10.00am so too had the tourist buses and there were tourists swarming everywhere. As Lonely Planet suggests, scamper away from the main tourist track to get more of a feel for this white washed little hill town. We headed for the castle walls, and virtually circumnavigated the town, catching glimpses of town life, as well as views across to Casa D’Obidos.
A coffee was needed before heading on our road trip to Evora, which will be our base for the next 4 nights. We selected a little cafe away from the main cobble stoned street, partly on the basis that a young man was sitting out the front enjoying a cup of coffee. We got talking to him, and he turned out to be a Croatian tour guide taking a breather from his tour group whilst they roamed the streets. Very charming young man, with, of course, relatives in Australia!
Then it was into ‘the beast’ for a rather zig zagging path in search of sights to see, villages to visit, on the way to Evora. There are an amazing number of eucalyptus plantations in Portugal – we assume they are being grown for timber. It sets off a discussion as to whether the eucalypt is native to Australia, and a subsequent Google search. The answer is that yes it is, so these are introduced eucalypts, which it turns out were initially introduced in 1866 as little native forest remained at that time. It was hoped that the eucalypts would help stop erosion. Then around 1966 Scandinavian timber companies moved into Portugal and planted hardy & fast growing blue gums in large swathes, which essentially crippled village economies as they bought up what used to be arable land, and the plantations negatively impacted on the water table. Now, the exotic blue gum is the most prevalent tree in Portugal, which has resulted in a reduction of local flora and fauna. Since the 1970’s there has been a groundswell of opposition to the eucalypt, as it is essentially Portugal’s version of the rabbit in Australia – an introduced pest.
Anyway, suffice it to say, our driving has taken us past lots of gum trees. The scenery on this drive is pretty non existent, and becomes very flat and dusty once we turn into the Alentejo region.
We have selected a little town called Coruche as a possible town of interest, and a lunch spot. But, when we get there at 1.30 on Saturday afternoon virtually everything is shut up tight, and there is not a soul to be seen. However, in wandering the empty streets we realise that there is an urban art installation happening in Coruche, as we stumble across some weird and wonderful art:
We finally find a couple of cafes open opposite the now closed market, and select one that advertises ensaladas. In we go, and have our order taken by a man who speaks impeccable English. He then disappears into the tiny kitchen, and some 40 minutes later (!!) emerges with 4 excellent salads that have been plated with care, and panache.
We make a quick detour to see the bull fighting ring, fortunately closed, before returning to the car and our onward push to Evora.
We are now in cork country, and the fields are full of cork and olive trees. We need to find out about cork cultivation as we have many questions – how do they harvest the cork? How often? Why are the trunks painted an ochre colour? What do the numbers painted on the trees mean?
A few kilometres outside Evora sits a significant standing stones site – Cromeleque dos Almendres and Menir dos Almendres, in the tiny village of Guadalupe. We swing by to take a look before heading into Evora. The Cromeleque dos Almendres is the oldest stone circle in Europe, pre-dating Stonehenge by 2,000 years.
From here it is a short 12km to Evora, and our accommodation – Albergaria Do Calvario (http://adcevora.com), which sits just inside the old city wall (with its own parking, yes!).
The greetings from the young women at reception are warm – we are ushered to seats outside in the courtyard for a welcome drink, whilst they take the bags to the room and park the car for us. It is very pleasant sitting in the warmth outside, until the loud chatter of the American and English fellow guests drives me to the sanctuary of our very attractive room.
The girls suggest we should book a restaurant for tonight, and another one for the next night as there are few options open on a Sunday. The restaurant I had been hoping to visit as it is in my 1001 Restaurant you must visit before you die book is unfortunately closed as they are on holiday ( Botequim da Mouraria). Instead we choose Dom Joaquim, which is in both Lonely Planet and the hotel guide.
It is good to see that Dom Joaquim has locals as well as tourists in it when we get there at 8.30pm. The hotel had warned us that the servings were large so we decide to order 3 dishes between the four of us (although in truth only three can eat all 3 dishes as Hazel cannot eat pork). We enjoyed the appetisers that were already laid out on the table (although we turned down the olives and the sliced sausage) – marinated mushrooms, marinated mussels and little quail eggs, with some very yummy bread. We asked our waitress for wine recommendations, and both the White and the red she suggested were excellent. The mains were indeed hearty, with lots of potato and swimming in oil (and salt). The tuna was like nothing we had ever tasted before – if I had not been told it was tuna I would have said it was corned silverside, very strange. The pork cheeks were tender, and cooked with chestnuts, yams and potatoes. It came with a spicy apple sauce, which was really the star of the dish. The slow cooked lamb was also very tender, but only came with potatoes. All well cooked, but very heavy and oily. We felt in need for something light and cleansing to finish off, and had been told they make their own gelato. All four chose our favourite flavour, coconut, but only one (me, the guts) could finish their serve – rather than being the palate cleanser we were after, the ice cream tasted similar to copha, leaving an unpleasant coating all around the mouth. Ah well.
Another long day in Portugal, so we gratefully fell into our very comfortable beds.