The other day it was quite windy on the coast and so we decided to head inland, and we didn’t stop until we got to Mértola. A stunning town up in the hills, still in south east Portugal but not in the Algarve. Mértola is in Alentejo, which is the region bordering the Algarve in the north and also happens to be the main cork and wine producing region in Portugal. In fact Alentejo produces more cork than anywhere else in the world. It is, however Mértola, I want to focus on today. It took us about 2hrs to drive there from Olhão, going on N2 via São Brás de Alportel, a town with a confusing number of roundabouts, and Almodóvar. En route you pass over Pelados – which is around 1900 ft – doesn’t sound high but for this part of Portugal is high and the views are stunning.
It is downhill from Pelados to Mértola, but at times it doesn’t feel like it and the views across the hills are wonderful. At times it reminded us of the mountain meadows in the American Rockies, at a much lower height though of course! It is a lovely change from the flat coastal area, and whilst you drive through quite a few villages, be prepared for lots of sheep and not much else at times. We took it very slowly enjoying the views, and the roads were so quiet it was a nice drive for the driver too.
Finally you approach Mértola across a high bridge, and the castle, cemetery and town loom above you on a large hill with the Guadiana river below you. The photo on the left was taken from the car shortly before we cross the bridge, whilst the one of the right was taken from the castle keep looking back down to the bridge. The bridge is single tracked, but don’t worry there are passing places either end and it is obvious if anyone is coming the other direction.
Mértola is dominated by its small castle, first constructed by the Moors and later redeveloped by the knights of the Order of Santiago. The castle I think is a must visit as the views are fabulous from the walls and the keep, and there is also a good video. Entry was free when we visited, but I wasn’t sure if this was usual or because they are building a new visitor centre.
The Mosque, now a catholic church is also worth going inside. The town, has a fascinating history and even if you don’t fancy any of museums, then there is still plenty to see as you roam the jumble of cobbled streets, many of which are not wide enough for cars despite the evidence to the contrary of parked cars!
After a wonderful lunch, found by chance when walking behind some locals, we returned to Olhão via the IC27 which is a much faster road but still very empty and pretty. We will definitely be returning to Mértola, partly because the lunch was so good, partly because the drive was so lovely and partly because there is an Islamic festival in May celebrating the Moorish occupation between 700 and 1100. The main reason though is Mértola has cast its magic upon us.