My name is Marta and welcome to my article on the best things to do in Monsaraz! I was born in a small town in northern Portugal called Amarante, which offers the perfect mix of history and nature. Amarante is located just 45 minutes from Portugal’s second largest city, Porto. If you’re ever visiting the north of my country, then both Amarante and Porto are must-sees. I’d be delighted to act as your tour guide and show you my roots!
Since I work in tourism, I often get the opportunity to explore hidden gems and small towns of Portugal – especially places that boast a rich history and culture. On last summer’s getaway, I discovered the Alentejo region of southern Portugal and spent a day in Monsaraz. This small, medieval town was on my travel bucket-list for a while and it did not disappoint! My day trip there was enough for me to fall in love with Monsaraz at first sight.
Monsaraz is a village of whitewashed houses and unobstructed views of one of Europe’s largest artificial lakes, Alqueva. The town is so well-preserved that when you enter the walls, you’re transported back in time. Getting lost in the narrow streets and reaching the top of the castle – Monsaraz Castle – is the best way to get a feel for this lovely Alentejo town.
All in all, Monsaraz is an ideal travel destination for those seeking peace and serenity – with a delightful balance of nature and places steeped in magical history. In 2017, Monsaraz was named one of the 7 Wonders of Portugal by winning the Monument Villages category – making it even more special!
A memory I’ll never forget from my visit to Monsaraz was the view from the top of the castle. I could see an immense landscape spanning over the artificial side of the Alqueva Lake, one of the most beautiful landscapes I’ve ever seen and photographed. It was sensational! But by no means was this the only unique experience I enjoyed in Monsaraz. Below I’ll outline the seven best things to do to help you immerse yourself in the town’s charm.
7 Best Things To Do in Monsaraz
1. Lose Yourself in Rua Direita and Rua de Santiago
These ancient streets wind their way through the heart of Monsaraz. Rua Direita, or “Straight Street,” lives up to its name by providing a direct route through Monsaraz. The cobblestone path is flanked by whitewashed houses adorned with colorful flowers and green plants, spilling from balconies and pots. These buildings, with their rustic architecture, have been standing for generations – serving as witnesses to the town’s history.
The captivating atmosphere of Rua Direita is enhanced by the warm glow of antique lamps that illuminate the path at night, casting romantic shadows on the stones. As you walk along this street, you can’t help but imagine the number of locals and visitors who have strolled along the exact same cobblestones – each contributing to the town’s tapestry of stories.
As you venture onto Rua de Santiago, another of Monsaraz’s main arteries, you’ll encounter even more layers of culture. The whitewashed walls and quaint houses give way to small shops selling local crafts, traditional textiles and artisanal goods – allowing you to bring a piece of Monsaraz back with you. The details adorning both of these streets are a photographer’s dream: wooden doorways, decorative ironwork and hidden courtyards!
2. Climb to the Top of Monsaraz Castle
Climbing to the top of Monsaraz Castle is an exhilarating experience that rewards you with an awe-inspiring, all-encompassing view of both the town and the vast Alqueva Lake, which, while artificial, possesses an ethereal beauty that perfectly complements the historical charm of Monsaraz.
Monsaraz Castle, perched majestically atop a hill, is a formidable structure with a history dating back to ancient times. As you make your way up the winding cobblestone path that leads to the castle, you’re greeted by the imposing stone walls and battlements that once served as defensive fortifications. Then, as you ascend the tower, your anticipation grows!
From the top, you’re treated to a panoramic view that stretches as far as the eye can see. On one side, the town unfolds before you – a labyrinth of narrow streets and whitewashed houses. It’s like a living museum, where every building and alleyway tells a story of the town’s history.
On the other side, the magnificent Alqueva Lake comes into view. This vast body of water, formed by the construction of the Alqueva Dam, sparkles in the sunlight – creating a mesmerizing contrast with the arid landscape that surrounds it. The lake extends to the horizon, its peaceful waters reflecting the sky. For an even more magical experience, be sure to visit at sunset to see the town and the Alqueva Lake bathed in warm golden hues.
3. Buy a Souvenir at Coisas de Monsaraz
Buying a souvenir from the Coisas de Monsaraz shop is a wonderful way to take a piece of this charming town’s unique character and history back home with you. This local shop is a treasure trove of handcrafted items, and mementos, that reflect the heart and soul of Monsaraz. The cozy store sells everything from ceramics and pottery, to t-shirts and bags.
4. Enjoy a Meal at Sabores de Monsaraz
Don’t miss out on the opportunity to have a traditional meal at the Sabores de Monsaraz restaurant. This is your chance to savor the culinary essence of Monsaraz and experience warm hospitality from the friendly owner, Isabel, and her staff. The only thing that matches the food here are the views, looking out towards the shores of the Alqueva Lake and beyond!
5. Visit the Monument Dedicated to Cante Alentejano
Leaving Monsaraz behind and heading for the Cante Alentejano Monument is a journey that not only reveals the area’s natural beauty, but also offers you a connection to the local traditions and recognition of this unique art form. Cante Alentejano is a music genre performed by men based on vocal music without instruments, originating from Alentejo. It’s recognized on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list.
The monument features symbolic elements, including statues and plaques, that represent the singers and their deep connection to the land/culture. It’s not just a static piece of art but a dynamic representation of the living tradition of Cante Alentejano. The fact that this monument is also located on a belvedere means you’ll be treated to yet another breathtaking view!
Cante Alentejano is more than just singing, it’s a deeply ingrained part of the region’s identity. The voices and harmonies of the singers often evoke the spirit of Alentejo, its history, and the struggles and joys of its people. As you stand before the monument, you may feel a profound sense of awe.
6. Stay Until the Late Afternoon to Watch the Sunset
Staying in Monsaraz to enjoy the sunset is a nice conclusion. It’s an ideal time to capture stunning photographs and appreciate the town’s beauty in a different, more enchanting light – as well as giving you the possibility of dining alfresco. There are often restaurants open with outdoor seating where you can savor a delicious meal while watching the sun go down. Dining with a view is a memorable experience for all travelers!
7. Explore More of the Alentejo Region
Exploring the wider Alentejo region on your Monsaraz visit is a fantastic idea, as it allows you to discover the landscapes that this part of Portugal has to offer. One attraction to consider is Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz, a river beach that provides a refreshing escape from the summer heat.
Where to Stay in Monsaraz
On my visit to Monsaraz, I was staying in Elvas in order to get to know other places in the region. But Monsaraz does have some amazing places where you can rest and spend the night right in the town’s center such as Casa Dona Antonia, Dom Nuno – Turismo de Habitacao, Monsaraz Inn, Vila Planicie and Montimerso SkyScape CountryHouse (all great options)!
How to Reach Monsaraz
The best way to get to Monsaraz is by car. Another alternative is by bus to the town of Reguengos de Monsaraz – where you can take a taxi to the town, which is about 10 to 15 kilometers away. Monsaraz is around 180 kilometers from Lisbon, 460 kilometers from Porto and 30 kilometers from neighboring Spain (close to Spanish cities such as Badajoz and Merida).
Final Tips for Your Visit to Monsaraz
Don’t forget to take sunscreen, light clothing, comfortable shoes and a swimsuit if you’re going in summer. In summer the heat is high and in winter the temperatures are mild. Any time of year is a good time to visit Monsaraz. Remember to take your camera to record every detail. Go with expectations because they will be met! Take the opportunity to disconnect and recharge your batteries, creating unforgettable memories.