Estremoz, a town of 14000 people, appears like a vision on the shimmering landscape as you approach it by car. It’s ancient walls give way to vineyards planted in iron-rich soils, making the wine produced here some of the best in Portugal.
The highest point of the city is the Torre das Três Coroas, the tower of the three crowns which marks the location of the best place to stay in the city, the Pousada Rainha Santa Isabel. The view from the top gives you a good idea of the town and the countryside around it. If you stay at the Pousada, you can head up the tower in the evening, enabling you to check for enemy camps before heading to bed. The olden days when everyone had weapons weren’t so safe as we make them out to be.
If you look down and see the large plaza, that’s where the celebrated Saturday market of Estremoz is held.
The Clay Figurines of Estremoz
Estremoz has had a tradition of producing clay figures since the 18th century that you can see in the Museu Municipal Prof. Joaquim Vermelho, the municipal museum, where you can also visit a shop where you can watch the folks who can make them to order, as you see in the picture below, or you can simply buy one off the shelf. Like the clay whistles of Rutigliano in Italy, these are famous throughout the land.
For lunch you can visit an Adega, a wine tavern with rustic food, some of the best in Portugal. We recommend the Adega do Isaías restaurant on Rua do Almeida, 21. It’s a wine bodega that serves wonderful local food and home produced wine in a rustic atmosphere. Don’t miss the pata negra pork from black-footed pig that they grill right out front. It’s fantastic. Wash it down with what was fermented in the big pots you see scattered about, the amphorae called “talha” that were used to make and store vinho de talha, a wine made the same way as the Romans did.
If you have a car, you might wish to visit the rather famous marble quarries of Estramoz. According to the Aria Stone Gallery
Estremoz is famous for their marble production. In fact, there is so much marble in Estremoz, that it is used nearly everywhere in the city. From stairs, doorsteps, fountains, and even pavement mosaics and facades of buildings, marble is all around! Coming in second to Italy, Portugal is the second largest marble exporter in the world and approximately 85% of all marble from Portugual is quarried from Estremoz.
Unlike the marble extracted from the mountains above Cararra in Italy, there are a large number of quarries in the area reach some which start at nearly ground level and reach 150 meters in depth. You can drive by and peek down, as you see in the picture above.
From Marble to Menhir: The Rocha dos Namorados
There is a very interesting carved rock outcrop called a “menhir” that you can see just outside the town of Estramoz. Locals call it the Rocha dos Namorados. Since it looks like a uterus, some call it the “uterus rock.” You can even call it the “fiance’s rock” if you want. Nobody will stone you for it.
Which brings us to all those stones you see in the picture. You see, in ancient times (through the present) a young lady amenable to the idea of getting hitched would stand just to the left of the outcrop in the picture, turn around so her back is to the Rocha dos Namorados, and heave a pretty big rock over her shoulder. She was trying to get it to stick on top without knocking another rock off.
Here are the three possible outcomes:
- She misses: No marriage for her in the next year!
- She gets her stone to stick on top: She’ll be married within the year
- Her stone gets to the top but knocks another stone off: She’ll have an affair with a married man!
Estremoz for wine lovers
There are many wineries within a very short distance of the walled city of Estremoz. These are listed with visiting hours on the website of the Alentejo Wine Route.
Where to Stay
Our favorite place to stop for a few days is the Pousada Rainha Santa Isabel, now called the Pousada Castelo de Estremoz. The 14th century castle was built on the order of King Dinis I of Portugal for his wife, Queen Isabel. There is parking on site, and dining in the Great Hall is fabulous.
For those wishing a rural stay, to the east of Estremoz is the highly-rated Hotel Rural Monte Da Rosada, a rustic, traditional Portuguese farmhouse surrounded by olive groves and vineyards.
Estremoz makes a fine base from which to explore the Alentejo region. Enjoy at least a couple of days here.