Most of the English websites and guidebooks focus on Mértola’s fascinating history, its extraordinary beauty and its proximity to a national park, but if you explore the Portuguese and Spanish websites then you will discover they are drawn to this sleepy town for very different reasons. In fact what draws them is here is proudly proclaimed at the northern entrance to the town.
When we had first driven past the artwork a few years ago I hadn’t really noticed the words. I had simply thought this was a rather splendid piece of art welcoming visitors to Mértola and celebrating the wildlife of Alentejo. However this year on our stroll back from dinner I finally took in what it said. It is a celebration of the local wildlife but not quite in the way I had first thought. Take a took at what is written underneath Mértola. Yup this town is Portugal’s hunting capital!
There are around 130,000 hectares of municipal hunting areas and hunting reserves and thousands of hunters descend each year to shoot wild game including hares, rabbits, partridges, deer and wild boar. For the past seven years a hunting fair has been held in October to celebrate this fact. A significant proportion of the fair is given over to all things gastronomic. I would enjoy those elements of the fair as I love eating wild game and the way it is cooked in Alentejo is superb. However I know not everyone enjoys meat so if you are a vegetarian or vegan here’s a great site hosted by Wendy which explains how you can survive a few days in this town. The only thing I would add to what Wendy has shared is please be aware that the stocks in dishes will always be meat-based, and also check they have used olive oil rather than another favourite – lard. I’m hopeless at photographing food so cannot share with you what we ate on this night, so let’s return instead to the art. I had admired this work in the daytime but at night it looks absolutely glorious.