Travel Guide to Monsaraz Portugal
Alentejo's Hidden Gem
The tiny village of Monsaraz is one of Portugal’s hidden gems. It is one of the most beautiful villages we’ve been to in Portugal, and it’s probably our favorite place in Portugal’s Alentejo region. If you love Medieval towns, photogenic alleys, stunning views, boutique hotels, and wineries, it’s time to plan your trip to Monsaraz, Portugal.
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Reasons to Visit Monsaraz Portugal
We added Monsaraz to our epic Portugal road trip itinerary on a whim. We didn’t know much about it, but we had a feeling we would love it, and we were right! We’ve seen so many stunning places in Central Portugal, the Douro Valley, and Alentejo, but there’s something magical about the village of Monsaraz. Here are some of the reasons why you should visit Monsaraz:
- Monsaraz is one of the most beautiful villages in Portugal.
- Monsaraz is very close to Lisbon. You can to Monsaraz from Lisbon by car in two hours!
- Monsaraz is a museum village, meaning a visit to Monsaraz feels like stepping into a time capsule.
- Monsaraz was the winner of the category “Monument Villages” in the 2017 contest of the ‘Seven Wonders of Portugal – Rural Villages’
- It’s so tiny you can cover everything in a couple of hours (but it is so lovely you’d like to come back for more).
- Monsaraz is very close to Alqueva Lake, the largest artificial lake in Europe, and a beautiful area to explore
- The views from Monsaraz over Alqueva Lake are breath-taking.
- There are many charming villages near Monsaraz, including São Pedro do Corval, home to one of the largest artisan communities in Portugal.
- Monsaraz is located within an area that is a Starlight destination. Alqueva is the first site in the world that was certified as a “Starlight Tourism Destination”.
- Wine lovers would enjoy visiting the many wineries around Monsaraz.
- Some of our favorite boutique hotels are located close to Monsaraz.
Best Time To Visit Monsaraz, Portugal
Alentejo has a typical Mediterranean climate with dry and hot summers and short rainy winters.
The best time to visit Monsaraz is during the spring when everything is green and blooming flowers cover the fields of Alentejo.
Summers are very hot (over 40°C) and the plains of Alentejo are extremely dry. However, there is a certain charm in these neutral tones against the groves of olive trees and oak trees, and you can spend the hottest hours of the day at the hotel’s pool or at one of Alqueva’s river beaches. The grape harvest season also takes place around mid-to-late summer, during which you can enjoy unique harvesting experiences in some of the local wineries and farms.
Autumn offers pleasant temperatures and warm colors, and winters are chilly with an average of 10-14 rainy days a month. Read more about Monsaraz weather.
Where Is Monsaraz
Monsaraz is located in Reguengos de Monsaraz municipality in Portugal’s Alentejo region, close to the Spanish border.
How To Get To Monsaraz
The best way to get to Monsaraz is by car, but there are other ways to get to Monsaraz. For example, you could take a train to Evora and from there a bus to Reguengos de Monsaraz or a bus from Lisbon to Reguengos de Monsaraz. However, from Reguengos de Monsaraz, the only way to get to Monmsaraz is by taxi.
Anyways, since Monsaraz is tiny and secluded, we recommend renting a car so you could enjoy everything the region has to offer.
Lisbon to Monsaraz: 185 km. about 2 hours by car via A2 and A6
Evora to Monsaraz: 55 km. about 45 minutes via IP2 and N256
If you’d rather not rent a car and still like to see Monsaraz with the hassle of public transportation, you can take an organized tour from Lisbon or Evora.
Recommended Tours to Monsaraz from Lisbon and Evora
If you’d rather not rent a car and you think a day in Monsaraz in enough for you, go on a day trip to Monsaraz with an organized tour from Lisbon or Evora. With this highly recommended tour from Lisbon you can visit both Evora and Monsaraz and enjoy some wine tasting in Monsaraz. You can also take this Monsaraz tour from Evora. You will get to visit both Monsaraz and Sao Pedro do Corval. You will get to see Monsaraz, enjoy wine tasting and visit a famnily-owned pottery plant.
History of Monsaraz, Portugal
Monsaraz is considered one of the oldest Portuguese settlements in the south of Portugal. Neolithic remains indicate that the history of this hilltop village dates back to prehistoric times. Throughout the ages, Monsaraz has known its fair share of battles. Thanks to its strategic position and high vantage point, it has been occupied by various people over the years, including the Romans, Muslims, Mozarabs, and the Knights Templar, to name a few.
The name ‘Monsaraz’ originates from the word Xarez/Xerez, which is a translation of the Arabic word Saris/Sharish. Saris or Sharish is the Arabic name for the Gum Rockrose, a plant found all around Monsaraz.
Until the mid-19th century, Monsaraz was the capital of the municipality. This title was passed along to the Reguengos de Monsaraz in 1890. Since then, it seems Monsaraz has been stuck in time, which is part of its charm.
Things to Do in Monsaraz Village
As we’ve mentioned before, the village of Monsaraz is pretty tiny. It consists of two main streets with a few alleys crisscrossing them. You will also find a scenic pathway along the fortified walls. It is easy to cover everything in a very short time, but we suggest taking your time and enjoying the laid-back atmosphere of this charming open-museum village. Here are some of the things you must see and do in Monsaraz, Portugal:
The Four Historic Entrances of Monsaraz
There are four historic gates or entrances along the ancient walls of Monsaraz. The main entrance is called Porta da Vila (Village Door), and there are two impressive semi-circular towers on each side of the gate. Above the gate’s arch, there is also a memorial stone dedicated to the Immaculate Conception, put there by King João IV in 1646. On the north side of the walls, you’ll find Porta d’Évora (Evora Door), which is also guarded by a small turret. Porta d’Alcoba is the archway entrance closest to the Castle of Monsaraz. The fourth entrance is called Porta do Buraco, and it’s the least preserved gate.
The Castle of Monsaraz
Monsaraz Castle is located on the south-western side of Monsaraz. The entrance to the castle is free, and the view from the top is breath-taking. The keep or the Torre das Feiticeiras (the Witches Tower) provides stunning views of the surrounding area, including Lake Alqueva, the rooftops and houses of Monsaraz village, and the Alentejo countryside with its patches of olive groves and vineyards. To get to the castle, follow one of the main streets till the end.
The Castle of Monsaraz and the town’s walls were built before the invention of firearms; they are pretty high and built mostly from schist stones. The construction of Castelo de Monsaraz started during the reign of Portugal’s King Alfonso III and was finished years later by his son, King Dinis. In the 17th century, during the Restoration Wars, military engineers added a ring of walls around the town whose shape was inspired by a Franco-Dutch fortification style of a defensive star (similarly to Elvas Castle). The new fortifications allowed for artillery support and were less apparent and less vulnerable than the old ones. The new design turned Monsaraz into an impregnable citadel which was part of the defensive system of Elvas, Juromenha, Olivença, and Mourão.
The castle of Monsaraz was abandoned in the 19th century when Reguengos de Monsaraz became the municipal capital of the region. As a result, some of the castle’s buildings collapsed, but the walled structure remained and was used for parades and celebrations. Nowadays, it is still used for festivals and celebrations such as the feast of Nosso Senhor Jesus dos Passos.
Monsaraz Festival Tip: the feast of Nosso Senhor Jesus dos Passos takes place on the second weekend of September. During this festival tha town wears festive colors and there are various celebrations, processions and even bullfight events.
Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa
Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa also known as The Parish Church of Monsaraz, is located at the main square (Largo D. Nuno Álvares Pereira) off Rua Direita. The Renaissance-style church was built in the 16th century over the ruins of another gothic church that had been destroyed due to the black plague. The church’s walls are built with schist and whitewashed, as customary in the Alentejo region where temperatures can reach over 40°C during the hot summer days. The church’s beautiful façade is adorned with a tile panel, and above it, there is a large cross. Inside the church, you’ll find the ornate marble tomb of Gomes Martins Silvestre, a Knight Templar who served as the first mayor of Monsaraz. Outside the church, there’s an impressive Pelourinho (ornate structures common in Portugal) made from marble from the town of Estremoz. Around the square, there are a few remarkable buildings, including Casa Monsaraz, the former town hall of Monsaraz, and Igreja da Misericórdia, a 16th-century church.
Museu do Fresco
Next to Igreja Matriz de Nossa Senhora da Lagoa, you’ll find Antigos Paços da Audiência which used to be a local courthouse. Inside, you’ll find a tiny museum, Museu do Fresco, with a small collection of religious books and additional items. The main piece of the museum is the medieval fresco, O Bom e o Mau Juiz (The Good and the Bad Judge). The fresco depicts a courtroom scene of a good judge guided by angels and an evil judge guided by demons. There’s a small entrance fee to enter the museum.
Interactive Center of Jewish Culture / House of Inquisition
Not far from Monsaraz Castle, on the southern-western side of Monsaraz, you’ll find the Jewish Heritage Center (also known as House of Inquisition) which was opened in 2016. The Jewish Heritage Center aims to provide an in-depth look into the history of the former Jewish community of Monsaraz, which was persecuted during the Portuguese Inquisition. The museum is very small but houses an exhibition on the city’s former Jewish residents and Sephardic culture, including a permanent audiovisual show.
Explore The Cobbled Alleys of Monsaraz
The small, cobbled alleys of Monsaraz are a joy to explore. You’ll find many more historical monuments, photogenic whitewashed houses, and picturesque views. We always like to get lost in such small winding streets and find treasures as we go. Make sure to admire the stunning views of the plains of Alentejo and Alqueva Lake.
Despite the small size of this walled city, there are actually a couple of more churches within its walls. One of them is the Chapel of St. Joseph (Capela de São José) with its kind-of-frightening staircase and lovely shop at the front. The other one is Igreja de Santiago (Church of Santiago) which was transformed into an art gallery and houses various exhibitions. Next to the Porta do Buraco, you’ll find the old cistern which was used for storing water during a siege.
The Shops of Monsaraz
There are many beautiful, unique artisan shops in Monsaraz. We found them to be more authentic and less touristy than other souvenirs shops in Portugal. Perhaps it’s because many authentic handicrafts are made in Alentejo. From cork items and hand-painted ceramics items to the traditional tapestries.
Two shops that are especially worth mentioning are Casa Tial and Loja da Mizette. Casa Tial specializes in various food items, liqueurs, olive oil, wines, and local sweets, so stop there for something sweet or buy some delicious souvenirs.
Our favorite shop in Monsaraz was Loja da Mizette. You’ll find there a selection of locally made wool items, including the traditional shepherd coats called manta as well as modernized items made from wool such as bags, pillowcases, handmade soaps, and more. We were so impressed with the handmade items that we visited their factory in Reguengos de Monsaraz, Fabrica Alentejana de Lanificios. We spent a couple of hours learning about the traditional weaving techniques and filming the weaving process still made by hand on traditional looms. The local artisans at the plant transform the fabric of the traditional manta into an decorative items such as blankets, rugs, runners, ottoman puffs, cushions, computer cases, wall decorations and more.
There are also a few ceramics shops in Monsaraz, but if you have enough time, we suggest going to the source and visiting the pottery village of São Pedro do Corval.
Capela de São João Baptista (Cuba Muçulmana)
The Capela de São João Baptista Chapel is the oldest monument in Monsaraz whose history dates back to the 14th century. Due to its design, some historians believe it is a Moorish “cuba” from the 11th or 12th century. While we were taking pictures of the area around Monsaraz, we’ve noticed the round roof of this tiny Capela which fitted so nicely amongst the star-inspired fortifications of São João bastion, and wondered what it was. It can be easily missed, but from what we’ve read, inside the capela you’ll find murals from the beginning of the 17th century.
Things to Do in the Monsaraz Region
If you have a bit more time, we suggest spending at least 2-3 days in the area of Monsaraz. We loved its laid-back atmosphere, the rural scenery, the picturesque Lake Alqueva, the gastronomic scene, and the unique attractions in the region. It quickly became one of our favorite places in Portugal. Here are some of the things you can see and do around Monsaraz, Portugal:
Visit São Pedro do Corval For Ceramic Shopping and Pottery Workshops
We love visiting local artists, so we couldn’t wait to visit the pottery village of São Pedro do Corval. São Pedro do Corval is located only a short drive away from Monsaraz. It is a tiny village with a small community of artisans renowned for its ceramics worldwide. If you love ceramics, you must visit this small village. You can buy some authentic ceramics at the local shops/family factories or even participate in a pottery workshop.
We visited the pottery shop of Olaria Bulhão and witnessed a live demonstration by António Marques Bulhão and his daughter, Manuela Marques. António started his journey as a potter at the age of 11 and later opened his own pottery studio more than 40 years ago. Most of the ceramics at Olaria Bulhão are still made by hand by António and his daughter who decorates the ceramic items in traditional designs. You can visit Manuela at the shop to buy authentic handmade ceramics directly from her or perhaps to participate in a pottery workshop.
One thing that makes Monsaraz so special is the extraordinary scenery and the views of Alqueva Lake, one of Europe’s largest artificial lakes. If you have the time, spend at least one day roaming around Alqueva Lake. The view is stunning, and there are plenty of things to do around the lake. Here are some recommendations for visiting Alqueva Lake:
- Visit some of the historic villages around Alqueva Lake. Two of the best are Moura and Mourão. You’ll find a few historical monuments around Moura, and in Mourão you can explore the Castle of Mourão and enjoy the scenic views of the lake.Check out Alqueva Dam.
- Visit Miradouro do Alqueva
- Rent a houseboat or join a river cruise at Marina de Amieira. They also have a variety of water sports activities such as kayaking, canoeing, wakeboarding, and more.
- Go hiking around Alqueva Lake. Check out the walking trails of Alqueva
Cool Off at Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz
Summers are extremely hot in the Alentejo region, so why not cool off at the river beach of Monsaraz. Praia Fluvial de Monsaraz is located at the Nautical Centre of Monsaraz. You’ll find there sand and grassy areas as well as shade, a lifeguard, children’s facilities, and a bar/restaurant. There is another river beach you can visit near the town of Mourão.
Go stargazing at the Dark Sky Alqueva Reserve
Alqueva is the first site in the world that was certified as a “Starlight Tourism Destination”. There are only a few places in the world where you can find good atmospheric conditions for proper stargazing, and Alqueva is one of the best places to see star constellations and the Milky Way. The towns around Alqueva Lake dim their lights during the night-time to reduce light pollution so visitors can watch the sparkling night sky.
The official Dark Sky Observatory is located in Cumeada, near Reguengos de Monsaraz. You can book a stargazing session or a solar observation at Dark Sky Observatory – make sure to book a while in advance! There is another observatory in Courela da Coutada, just near Monsaraz. The Alqueva Lake Observatory (OLA) offers stargazing sessions and other activities. Check out all of their stargazing activities!
Portugal is famous for its wine and wine estates, especially the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. However, there are many wine regions all over Portugal, and Alentejo is one of Portugal’s leading wine regions.
Alentejo’s soils and climate provide excellent conditions for high-quality wines. Alentejo is mainly known for its red blends, but Alentejo’s white wines have been gaining more recognition worldwide in recent years. There are many unique wineries in Alentejo; some use sustainable practices while others use the ancient techniques of making wines in huge vintage clay pots (Vinho de Talha).
When you visit Monsaraz, you must visit at least one winery in the region. One of the most beautiful wine estates in the area is Herdade do Esporão, but there are many more wineries near Monsaraz. Check out some of the wineries around Monsaraz.
Olive Oil Tasting in Monsaraz Alentejo
Portugal is famous not just for its wines but also for its olive oil. The Alentejo region is the largest oil-producing region in Portugal. The history of olive cultivation in the area dates back to the time of the Romans. Olive oil is intertwined with the local culture and cuisine of Alentejo. So, if you love gastronomical experiences, you should go olive oil tasting while visiting in Monsaraz, Alentejo. You can combine wine-tasting, and olive-oil tasting in your visit to Herdade do Esporão, one of the most beautiful estates in the region. You can also visit Lagar de Varas do Fojo – Museu do Azeite (olive oil museum) in Moura to learn more about the history and production of olive oil in Alentejo. You can also look for additional olive oil producers in Alentejo.
Megalithic Monuments Around Monsaraz
Many megalithic monuments can be found in the vicinity of Monsaraz. So if you love these kinds of historical monuments, make sure to visit some of them during your trip to Monsaraz, Alentejo. The most famous megalithic monument is located just near Monsaraz, Xarez Cromlech. This is not the original site of this stone circle, whose original location was flooded following the construction of Alqueva Dam. Some of the other monuments that can be found around Monsaraz are: Menhir of Bulhoa, Menhir of Outeiro, Antas do Olival da Pêga and more. Check out some of Monsaraz’s megalithic monuments on the map.
How Many Days to Spend in Monsaraz, Portugal
If you’re wondering how many days you should spend in Monsaraz, we don’t have a clear answer for you. It all depends on the time you have and your interests. We spent two days in Monsaraz and felt we’d love to spend at least 1-2 more days here.
You can cover the village of Monsaraz in a few hours, but part of the charm of Alentejo, is taking your time, spending some time visiting the local artisans, exploring the scenic routes of Alqueva Lake, going wine tastings and stargazing, and just relax. You can easily spend five days in Monsaraz, exploring the area and enjoying the relaxed atmosphere while getting to know the hospitable people of Alentejo and the local traditions.
However, if you are one of those people who can’t be in a rural region for a long time and miss the constant chatter of urban life, then a day or two in Monsaraz should be enough for you.
What to Eat in Monsaraz – Restaurants & Food
We’ve heard great things about Alentejan cuisine, and we couldn’t wait to try the local food. Alentejo cuisine is all about fresh ingredients and traditional homecooked dishes. The food is simple yet rich and delicious. The Alentejan cuisine is primarily known for its wood-oven bread with crunchy crust (Pão Alentejano), lots of black pork dishes, wild boar, codfish, asparagus, locally-produced cheese, and lots of olives and olive oil.
Some of the traditional dishes you should try in Monsaraz are Açorda – a traditional bread soup with garlic, herbs, olive oil, and sometimes pieces of codfish and an egg on top. Another famous dish is Migas – a leftover dish made with crumbled bread fried and mixed with herbs, garlic, olive oil, and meat. There are also lots of traditional stews and traditional sweets. One of the most famous traditional desserts is Sericaia, the Portuguese version of egg pudding usually served with sugar plums and cinnamon. Another thing you should try if you have the chance is queijo de Serpa, a creamy cheese made in the town of Serpa. It has a strong aroma and is made from sheep’s milk.
To be honest, our favorite place to eat was our hotel’s restaurant. We stayed at Montimerso Skyscape Country House, and they have a fantastic chef. Every dish she made was so delicious; we just had to come back for more!
However, there are a few recommended restaurants in Monsaraz. Visit Sabores De Monsaraz and Casa do Forno for authentic traditional cuisine. There’s a variety of roasted meat dishes, traditional dishes like pork and clams and cod dishes, and traditional soups. At O Gaspacho you’ll find cheese plates, salads, tortillas, toasted sandwiches, and gaspacho, of course. It’s an excellent place for a lighter lunch. For lunch with a view, try Taverna Os Templarios, which has a great view over Alqueva Lake. For more options, check out all of the restaurants in Monsaraz.
If you’d like to try something a bit different, a modernized take on traditional Alentejan food, you can visit the restaurant of Herdade do Esporão (and go wine-tasting at the same time).
As we’ve mentioned before, some of our favorite boutique hotels are located close to Monsaraz. There are also a few accommodation options within the walls of Monsaraz. Since there are no big hotels around Monsaraz, you should book your hotel way in advance. Here are the top guesthouses and hotels in and around Monsaraz:
Dom Nuno – Turismo de Habitacao – Probably the best options to stay in Monsaraz. Located at a renovated historic house, Dom Nuno offers spacious rooms, a homey atmosphere, and excellent views over Alqueva Lake. In addition, there’s a beautiful garden, a terrace, and a parking lot close by. Check prices for Dom Nuno.
Casa Dona Antonia – Turismo Rural em Monsaraz – This lovely family-run guesthouse is also a great choice if you wish to stay within Monsaraz’s walls. Its décor is very traditional, and it has a beautiful rooftop terrace with stunning views of the area. Check prices for Casa Dona Antonia.
Hotels Near Monsaraz
If you have a car and don’t mind staying outside of Monsaraz’s walls, there are some fabulous hotels near Monsaraz.
Montimerso Skyscape Country House – We stayed here during our visit to Monsaraz, and we absolutely loved it! The hotel is located a few kilometers away from Monsaraz, and it has stunning views of Alqueva Lake. Montimerso was designed to integrate seamlessly with its surroundings and was built with sustainability in mind. We especially loved the infinity pool with the breath-taking views of the lake, the spacious rooms with an outdoor terrace, and the chic design that combines traditional materials and natural colors and textures in a modern setting. The atmosphere is homey, and the staff is incredibly friendly. As we’ve mentioned before, we loved their restaurant, the setting, the fantastic food, and the staff. It was one of our favorite hotels in Portugal! Check out the prices at Montimerso Skyscape.
São Lourenço do Barrocal – This is one of the most amazing hotels in the Monsaraz area. The hotel is situated in a large estate that features olive groves, vineyards, beautiful gardens, historic megalithic monuments, and many more treasures. The private rooms and family cottages are beautifully designed with muted colors, natural materials, and traditional pieces from Alentejo. The hotel also offers a spa, a farm-to-table restaurant, wine tastings, and more. Check out prices at São Lourenço do Barrocal.
Horta Da Coutada – This lovely guesthouse is situated very close to Monsaraz. The rooms are beautifully designed with a mix of modern pieces and regional style. There’s an outdoor pool, gardens, and a fruit orchard. It’s a great choice with a budget-friendly price tag. Check out prices at Horta Da Coutada.
Vila Planicie – Another budget-friendly hotel that is located very close to Monsaraz. It offers outdoor pools with views of Monsaraz countryside and spacious rooms with traditional design. Check the prices at Vila Planicie.
Should You Visit Monsaraz in Alentejo
If you haven’t understood yet from this lengthy post then YES, you should definitely visit Monsaraz while in Portugal! This was the last leg of our road trip in Portugal, and it quickly became one of our favorite places in Portugal. If you have the time, you should spend here at least a couple of days and explore the slumbering streets of Monsaraz, the scenic views of Alqueva Lake, visit the local potters and weavers of Alentejo, go wine tasting and enjoy the fresh ingredients and unique flavors of the Alentejo cuisine. But if you don’t have a lot time, you can visit Monsaraz on a day trip from Lisbon or Evora!
Essential Tips for Your Monsaraz Trip
- If you visit during the summer months, make sure to stay in a hotel with a swimming pool. We visited Monsaraz, and we started our days very early in the mornings so we could rest at the hotel at noon and continue exploring the area in the afternoon.
- Make sure to book ahead – hotels, restaurants, and wine tasting sessions. The area might not be as touristy as other parts of Portugal, but most of the hotels and restaurants are much smaller and can fill up pretty fast.
- Most of the gas stations are located around Reguengos de Monsaraz, so make sure to fill up your tank or you will be stranded in the middle of nowhere.
- When you visit Monsaraz, comfortable shoes are a must!