The Northern Alentejo, Portalegre is an almost mythical region. Reality lies here, waiting to be unveiled, in the endless plains and mountains, in the water that entertains and cures, in the great open spaces in the midst of nature or in those built by man both for ancient wars and for peace. Authenticity lies here, in the nobility that our forebear’s lent to the stones of the dolmens and menhirs, to the armorial bearing of the manor houses and to the unique flavours generated in secret in the ancient convents and wineries. The truth also lies here, in the festival and the fair, in the music, the dancing, and in the local art, where tradition is maintained.
What to do in Portalegre
The Cathedral, built in 1556, suffered profound alterations between 1737 and 1798 and exhibits beautiful tile panels and paintings. Three convents, São Francisco, Santa Clara and São Bernardo are also worth seeing: the latter, built in 1518, contains the marble tomb of its founder, bishop Dom Jorge de Melo, and is one of the most elaborate in Portugal. Museu Municipal displays from religious art to a wonderful collection of Portuguese ceramics, and Casa Museu José Régio (a well known writer who lived from 1901-1969) has various collections of religious art and folk art objects. You can drive from Portalegre to the peak of São Mamede, 1025 metres (3040 feet) high, along a winding road with fine views throughout the way.
Dating from Roman times and sprawling on one of these green slopes, it has preserved within its walls a remarkable patrimony: churches, fountains, mansions, Gothic doorways and the characteristic maze-like Judiaria (Jewish quarter), with its small white houses, cobbled alleys and a synagogue dating from the 13th century. Also worth visiting are the Baroque Church of St. Mary, the 18th-century Town Hall and pillory, the carved stone fountain of “Fonte da Vila” or the 13th-century chapel of São Salvador do Mundo (Saviour of the World). Within the walls of the Castle (now in ruins) which gave the town its name, the small chapel of Nossa Senhora da Alegria (Our Lady of Joy) exhibits splendid polychrome floral tiles from the 17th century.
What to eat in Portalegre
The cuisine of the municipality of Portalegre follows the culinary traditions of Alto Alentejo: Tomato Soup, Potato Soup, Bean and Cabbage Soup, Dogfish with garlic, Sarapatel (offal stew), Offal Soup, Mashed Bread and Potato with fried pork, and lamb stew are some of the region’s typical dishes. In addition, of course, to the deliciously rich “convent” sweets.