Tourist First

Travel notes and advice from around the world. Above, the daily flight from Managua at the San Carlos, Nicaragua, airstrip.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Portugal: Evora, Capital of Cork

Food is one of the best things about Evora. Here the proprietor at Botequim da Mouraria
explains dinner options to very fortunate diners.
 Although its walled medieval heart is so well preserved that the entire inner city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, Evora is much more than old buildings, narrow streets and a Roman ruin or two. It's the center of Portuguese gastronomy, a place where ham and pork come from acorn-fed black pigs, where bakeries might offer a half-dozen variations on the pasteis, the custard tart that seems essential to the Portuguese, and where a wine list might have offerings from a vineyard within walking distance. Evora is the largest city in the Alentejo wine region, which stretches from southeast of Lisbon to the Spanish border.
     Besides food and drink, there are the ruins of a first- or second-century Roman temple. There are at least two magnificent churches, one with a side chapel, Capela dos Ossos or Chapel of Bones, adorned with bones from 5,000 or so human skeletons taken from nearby cemeteries.  Out in the countryside are megaliths from the neolithic age that are thought to be from about the year 5,000 B.C.E. or 2,000 years older than Stonehenge. These stones, most well less than two meters tall, are aligned with the winter and summer solstices and the spring and fall equinoxes. Some of the stones were engraved with images, though most are so worn that they can be seen only using specialized phtography. There also is a dolmen, a neolithic tomb, that can be seen and peeked into but not entered. It's from about 3,000 B.C.E. and was used for multiple interments, with decomposed bodies pushed out of the way to make room for new ones. (We toured these sites with Mario Carvalho, an archaeologist with Ebora Megalithica Guided Tours. Click HERE for its website.)

For the itinerary of our April 2017 Portugal trip
and links to hotels, click HERE

     You'll also see a lot of cork trees, many missing the bark on their trunks.  The countryside around Evora is, like a good bit of Alentejo, used for growing cork trees, whose bark becomes corks for the wines that are produced here. Cork groves and vineyards are the rural landscape.
     With all these attractions, and only an hour and a half from Lisbon, it's not surprising that Evora is a big destination for both Portuguese and international tourists. We stayed three nights at Albergia de Calvario, also known as ADC, just inside the old city's walls. Other guests included a group of Harley Davidson motorcyclists from Siberia, along with non-motorcyclists from France, Spain and Germany. Despite all the tourists, the city's large student population keeps it from seeming too touristy. There are almost as many shops selling trendy clothes and other accouterments for student life as their are shops selling cork novelties and other souvenirs for tourists.
       After some research and recommendations from a nephew, who had been in Evora a few months before us, and from our hotel, we chose three very different restaurants for our three dinners here.
       First was a Saturday dinner at Momentos (click HERE), a newer place created by a gentleman who introduced himself as Jorge and said he has worked in restaurants all over Europe. While it offers some traditional Portuguese dishes in its sleek dining room, it goes beyond bacalhou (salt cod), veal and pork, and it always adds its own twist, and places a decidedly non-Portuguese emphasis on vegetables. It is the only place in Portugal where we were offered amuse-bouches.
      The evening of Easter Sunday saw us at the cozy Luar de Janeiro (click HERE). We made the reservation days before we arrived in Evora because we feared restaurants might be closed for the holiday. Not to worry -- plenty were still open as were most shops. You would not have known it was the Christian world's holiest day. We knew that rabbit and goat would be on the menu, creating a dilemma for me since I really like both and seldom see them. Fotunately, rabbit was included in the small plates that came shortly after we were seated. (You don't order bread, olives and other small plates, but unless you send them back immediately, you have to pay for them.) The rabbit appetizer freed me to order goat as my main dish. With a dark and plummy Alenjeto wine, we had a wonderful dinner.
     Our most anticipated dinner was on Monday at Botequim da Mouraria (click HERE), where just getting seated presents a challenge. It's open only Monday to Friday for lunch and dinner. It seats only 10 people at an L-shaped bar. I don't know about lunch, but dinner is pretty much only one seating. If you're not one of the 10 people waiting when it opens at 7, you might as well give up. We arrived at 6:30 to find several people already waiting. By the time it opened, there were 10 of us on line. Dominges, the proprietor, waited on us in sequence. The first people in line, a group of three, got to order first and were diving into their appetizers before we got to order. The last people to enter had quite a wait before they could eat. Behind the bar was a leg of ham, complete with hoof and held in a rack, from which Dominges carefully took tissue-thin slices. Has anyone ever had better ham anywhere else? During the course of our meal, Dominges had to turn away hungry petitioners, certainly more than the 10 people he was feeding.
     The next morning we got up and got out of town, having had a very filling time in Evora.

Saturday lunch in Evora on Rua Alcarcova de Baixo, a little street near Praca do Giraldo, the main square.
 The pink barrel at right is the symbol for Piparoza, a wine and tapas bar.

Ruins of a Roman temple occupy a prominent place in Evora.

The Chapel of Bones dates to the early 1600s. Think of all the lives represented here.

The roof of the Se Cathedral offers views of the countryside around Evora.

A passage in the cloister at Se.

A side chapel at Se.

One of several reliquaries at Se.
Cartuxa wine bar serves wines from the Cartuxa winery,
just outside the city walls and within walking distance.
A ham, complete with hoof, is in a rack at Cartuxa, awaiting slicing.

We had dinner here our first night in Evora.

That's Jane at a window at Albergio de Calvario.

Note  the "RUS" on the license plate. These Harley Davidson bikers were from Siberia.

Beef cows find shade in a grove of cork trees.

The bark has been removed from the bottom part of this cork tree. Cork production is big business around Evora.
Cork can't be taken until a tree is 30 years old, and then only every nine years after that. The cork isn't consideed
good enough for use in wine bottles until a tree's third harvest. "You plant cork trees for your grandchildren,"
we were told.

Archaeologist Mario Carvalho explains extremely faint engravings on a megalith near Evora.

The entrance to a neolithic dolmen or tomb. It was
carelessly excavated and now is in danger of collapse.

A view down into the dolmen. Bodies were left here in fetal positions. Once they were decomposed, the bones
were pushed against the walls to make room for more bodies. The tomb dates from about 3,000 B.C.E. 

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