Portalegre stands at the foot of the Serra de Sao Mamede. This large, pleasant city which is the regional capital of the Alto Alentejo (high Alentejo) made it’s money from the carpet making industry established many years ago by the Marques de Pombal and also silk factories in the 16th and 17th centuries. It is a city that hasn’t had to rely on agriculture for its wealth like other towns and cities of the region.
The best entrance into the city is by taking Rua 1 de Mai. A lovely route that follows the old city walls. It is possible to go through one of the ancient gates to the main squares. Wherever you walk in the city there seem to be panoramic views all the way.
The surrounding area has a wealth of beauty spots including the Parque Natural de Sao Mamede. Here the land is still farmed in the traditional way with small fields and meadows among chestnut trees. Bears still roam free and eagles fly high in the pastel clouds. Marvao is a short drive away through the park and worthy of a detour as the town is perched on one of the area’s highest peaks.
But if you only have time to visit the town itself then there are many things to keep you occupied. For example; the wonderful cathedral built in 1556 and the churches of Sao Francisco, Sao Bernardo and Santa Clara. Each one charming in its own way.
Three museums worthy of taking note; Museu Jose Regio, Museu Municipal; displaying a wealth of religious history, including a collection of sacred art, as well as a notable collection of contemporary Portuguese paintings. Also, beautiful hand-crafted tiles from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Museu de Tapecarias de Portalegre; a museum of the traditional art of tapestry and carpet making, one of the most important local industries.
Leading from the main cathedral square to the Museu Jose Regio on Rua 19 de Junho there are some fine examples of 17th and 18th century houses.
Finding a room shouldn’t create any problems as there are a plethora of hotels, pensions and at least three pousadas in the area.
For a taste of regional cuisine try Restaurante Leitao in the square where all the cafes are, Largo dos Cafés.
Portalegre is a fine example of the towns clustered together in the high Alentejo and in my view worth visiting especially in May and June when the meadows are a kaleidoscope of colourful wild flowers.